Saturday, June 8, 2013

"The Mongoliad: Book Three": Review

I reviewed Part One in March and Part Two last week, so you can tell I raced through this. It sustains the authors' characteristic love for choreographed, blow-by-blow marathon fight scenes, adding lethal archery showdowns in the rocky ravines of Mongolia and continuing--as two of the four subplots finally begin to converge--equestrian chases across the steppes. It also incorporates real-life figures into the sprawling plot, which prefers combat to talk.

The tale of the Shield-Brethren venturing into the Mongolian heartlands to exact revenge--while stars Cnán and Percival from Part One are barely heard from, and newcomers from Part Two Raphael and Benjamin (of Tudela, a real-life figure I expected they'd make more use of) hunker down too low-profile--still has enough suspense with Vera and comrades outrunning Mongol hordes to continue the story as expected. The climactic showdown among rival archers remains vivid and well-staged. The authors late on excel at a couple of death scenes, and make them into truly moving moments.

A feature I liked was that you get a fair hearing for the Mongols, represented by Gansukh as always, and the power struggles based on true chronicles resonate, even if as I suppose in history they take their good time to come to fruition. This can bog down the pace, but it's necessary for verisimilitude. A compromise between action that dominates much of the book and background?

As for the Hünern struggle, it too is well-staged. Zug, Kim, and their Malaysian ally Lakshaman rally the valiant underdogs, and the conflicts between Livonian and other knights play out in the way one expects for an epic of intrigue. The long battle at the Mongolian fortress occupies much of the middle of the book, and it allows the tellers to expand their scope beyond the Circus of Skulls hand-to-hand combat of the earlier chapters and installments. Again, alternating between fighters makes for a more engaging way to see into the strategies and mindsets employed by rivals.

Finally, the plot based on the ascension and short reign of Pope Celestine V (before Pope Benedict XVI the only pontiff to resign--as opposed to one who abdicated) as the cardinals break the impasse to elect a successor to Gregory IX amidst the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick's Roman threat makes for another long depiction of intrigue under diplomatic rather than martial cover. Fr. Rodrigo's visions get worse, the Grail may make a cameo, and the Binders show how they deliver their messages. All this skullduggery does drag, but the wonderful performance of foul-mouthed (he sounds like a rags-to-riches street-smart "reality-t.v. CEO") Frederick as "stupor mundi" makes him the "wonder of the world" indeed to those who deal with him. A bonus: the authors have imagined a wonderful scene to show how a man who's told he's now pope appears to take on a confident aura and a rhetorical skill that dazzles those who try to foil him.

As one patient character reflects as she leaves Rome, she takes the "unknown road forward." I wonder if another installment will appear? A few are left standing on the "enemy's" side at the conclusion, so plenty of ambiguity remains--as in the side-story appended to the Kindle version, "Seer" with Andreas in the French Pyrenees as the Albigensian heretics are hemmed in--also shows. (5-9-13 to Amazon US)

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