Thursday, June 6, 2013

"The Mongoliad: Book Two": Kindle Book Review

Compared to Book One, it's as lively, needing less plot exposition to set the Binders, Shield-Brethren and their Livonian foes, the Mongol horde, and the capitulation of Rus into medieval context. Book Two will diverge considerably. Little overlap concerning protagonists: it's mostly new figures stepping on stage to ride on, scheme, drink, skulk beneath the streets of Rome, parry in the revived Circus of Swords, and advance the Brethren eastward over the Don into the steppes.

There's almost no Cnan and in her place Ocyrhoe in Rome conspires with knight Raphael (who gets in the Kindle edition a nicely handled "Dreamer" novella where he tells the story of the Fifth Crusade's siege of Damietta to Brother Leo, tied into Francis of Assisi's real-life meeting with the Sultan Al-Kamir in 1219 mingled into an account of the saint's stigmata on LaVerna a few years later). Raphael and comrades venture east for revenge on the Mongols.

Meanwhile, Raphael's struggle in Egypt and after between compassion and anger is echoed by Fr. Rodrigo, who has found Ferenc on the graphically, mystically, nightmarishly rendered battlefield after the apocalyptic Magyar defeat at Mohi. "Crushing them between two lines, like a blacksmith crushing a fly between calloused palms" is how Rodrigo recalls the bloody effect of the Mongol invasion. It's still unclear as to why Rodrigo has gone to Rome, but he meets the cardinals imprisoned to vote for the successor to Gregory XI, who are in a deadlock as to his successor. There, the story of Ocyrhoe will intersect, although as much here, it's open-ended at the end.

Likewise, Lian and Gansukh come into their own from the first book as they try to evade the Mongol leaders while a Chinese guerrilla attack interrupts, or advances, their plans to escape. The night flight of lit arrows makes a great set-piece, and the tellers enjoy the dappled canvas they paint on. I admit that characterization may give way to action, but reading about archers, swordplay (we meet Kim from Korea at the Circus; the back-and-forth battle between him and Shield-Bearer Andreas is handled well to increase tension), and clerically driven backstabbing makes for entertainment.

The story lines in Rome, the steppes and Brethren, the Mongol-occupied Lignica in Rus, and the Mongol push itself all move along the second installment. It's no surprise that they are unresolved. For after all, this is the transition between the start and the finish of this epic. (Amazon US 5-2-13)

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