Tuesday, June 4, 2013
"The Mongoliad, Part One": Kindle Book Review
It's difficult to evaluate the impact of what's a third of a saga. This may cause impatience, but it's akin to the start of a long multi-season series on cable. So, I'm flexible and forgiving, knowing it takes a while to warm up and get the action rolling. There's action, don't worry, but there's also lots of exposition and cultural contexts that must be integrated.
Similar to a first panel of a triptych, or the first installment of a wartime saga, I find that the characters of Cnan the Binder, Zug the Japanese warrior, Percival the inspired knight, Lian the Chinese slave-girl, and Gansukh the restive Mongolian all add depth to the telling. But, it's challenging to weigh in on the impact of this as it's obviously a third (or less with the subplots and spinoffs of the Foreworld Saga in the making). You won't know a lot about them and their comrades so far, but that adds to the interest of the plot, as it lures you deeper ca. 1250 CE.
There's some tonal difference as this is written by committee, but no more than a series directed and written by different hands that you may watch on a network. No real poetry ("Sinner" had a lovely lunar metaphor one eerie early night, but the efficiently told, no-nonsense if sometimes effusively brawling and blustering main text never pauses for much elegance), but lots of martial play. You can tell that experts contribute to these portions. They provide blow-by-blow commentary. Zug and Haakon grapple for pages at the Circus of Swords, and you can follow every parry and thrust. Gansukh's fight a few pages on, by comparison, feels rushed and anticlimactic. Showdowns may wear down one's patience, even if the norm for a 500 pp. medieval epic.
Sufficient mystery awaits, as in Cnan's mindset and Percival's mysticism, for suspense. These people gradually emerge, but true to a medieval setting, they tend not to gush or emote. They hold back their feelings as they do their conversations: to remain watchful, wary, and cautious in an era when too much worn on one's sleeve results in that arm being severed, or one's helmeted head.
I find it intriguing this comprises a corporate-owned "secret history transmedia franchise"; certainly the Kindle version with a prequel, "Sinner," about the Shield-Brethren amidst the German arm of the Inquisition, and the map, cast of characters appended, and handsome line drawings all enhance the text on my Touch. It's a model likely to prove more common as people read on Kindles, smartphones, and PCs, and one to which fans can add content and comment on a story's creation. Let's hope quality control--as Neal Stephenson's editing skills were needed--continues. (Amazon US 3/29/13)