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realjimbob

REALJimBob

Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

The Mongoliad: Book One (Foreworld, #1)

The Mongoliad: Book One (Foreworld, #1) - Neal Stephenson,  Greg Bear,  Mark Teppo,  E.D. deBirmingham,  Erik Bear,  Joseph Brassey,  Cooper Moo The Mongoliad is apparently an attempt to answer the question of why the Mongol hordes stopped their sweeping invasion across Europe. An epic tale of historical fiction told as two parallel stories. The first follows a group of knights, a fairly rag-taggle mixture of knights from different countries - many not even speaking a common tongue - but united under their common purpose as the Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae. Not always a Christian order, but now appearing keen to at least appear part of the Christian faith, even if parts of the order still cling to some of the older ways. They are joined by Cnán, a Binder (does anyone have any idea what a Binder is?) who acts both as their guide and as our view into the group. As an outsider she is curious about the order and it's behaviours and that curiosity provides a useful tool to allow us to explore that same curiosity.

The second story is told from the Mongol palace of Karakorum, where Ögedei, the Khagan and son of Gengis Khan, sits in power over the whole Mongol empire. When he's not drinking himself into a stupor. In a device than mirrors Cnán, the palace is joined by a young Mongol, Gansukh, sent to court by the Khagan's brother to watch over the Khagan and try and curb his drinking. Again, as an outsider, we're allowed to use his inexperience to understand the workings of the Mongol court as well as the characters, their histories and all the political interplay.

Each chapter alternates between the two stories; within each chapter the story moves convincingly from one character to another. I assume that of the half a dozen or so authors, each tended to write a single character. This works very well as each character presents a believable and consistent personality through out the story.

Growing out of a group of authors who started to learn western martial arts together - smashing the shit out of each other with swords - I guess it was never likely that a book wouldn't be too far behind. Instead, they went a step further and wrote the book together online. Fans could sign up at the website and for a small subscription they could preview the chapters and supporting material as they were updated - an example of the Kickstarter idea in action, but this way supporters get early access to the book itself.

If there's one thing a book of this sweeping epic magnitude really needs it's maps! Maps! Maps! Maps! Characters are moving across Europe, and referencing places even further afield, but honestly without a detailed understanding of the geography and history of the time it gets confusing. Very confusing. Very quickly. I can't see any reason for the lack of inclusion of maps in the Kindle edition - there are maps on the website and I assume they are in the paperback edition, leaving only the Kindle edition appearing to be a rush-job.

The other problem the book has is that it doesn't end. Well, the book ends, obviously, but the story doesn't - a style of writing that I've found increasingly annoying with George R.R. Martin's mammoth series A Song of Ice and Fire, where the story just stops, ready to be picked up again in the next book. Didn't book series used to be stories within a larger story? Each book capable of standing on its own but designed to be read within the wider context. Now it seems that series are just not possible to dip in to, you have to read from the start (and hope that your author doesn't wait a couple of years before delivering the next - yes, I'm looking at you George). Each book is now just a very big chapter in the even larger novel. It seems so frustrating...