Why I Read It: Because I really like Neal Stephenson’s works.
Where I Got It: The library.
Who I Recommend This To: Historical fiction and action adventure fans would appreciate this book.
Narrator: Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2012)
Length: 13 CDs
Series: Book 1 Foreworld Saga
Apologies for any misspelled names in this review – after all, I did listen to the book.
Set in 13th century Europe, the place is being over run by Mongols. A small band of warriors and mystics think they can save much, if not all, of Europe from the expanding Mongol horde. Of course, the Mongols have a different viewpoint. Cagnan, a capable hunter and tracker who knows Mongol ways, joins a band of mixed and overly optimistic warriors: Illyrian, Eleazar, Ishtvan, Roger, Percival, Teran, Rafael, Hakoun, and others. they have all witnessed the absolute slaughter and desolation left by the Mongols, brought down upon those who defy them. Meanwhile, the remaining sons of Genghis Khan vie for power, grabbing for more and more lands. Ghansook, a Mongol warrior, is sent to keep an eye on Ogedei (one of the Great Khan’s sons), as he tends to sink deep in his cups nightly.
First, this novel is a spin off of something much larger – a multimedia telling of a saga, the Foreworld Saga. I am not too sure what happened to that original intention, but I can tell you that this book is freaking amazing. I kind of expected each chapter to be written by one or two authors. However, the entire novel flows smoothly, moving from character to character, scene to scene, with no stuttering as one might expect from a book that involves so many unique authors. There is more info HERE in the Wikipedia article.
This book is rich in history and character detail. While there are a plethora of characters, they are each introduced in unique and memorable ways, making it easy to keep them straight in one’s head. Cagnan was fascinating to me because she really doesn’t have any higher calling to stop the Mongols. Her people have ordered her to assist the heroic band in safely crossing some Mongol territory and that is what she is there to do. Along the way, she learns a grudging respect for this mismatched band of suicidal, and homicidal, fools (or heroes if they turn out to be successful).
On the other side of the coin we see some of the leaders of the Mongols, such as Ogedei, and a few of the people who serve him. We glimpse his wives, and we spend some quality time with the warrior Ghansook who was ordered to try to modify his drinking habits. Lian, a learned Chinese woman, is tasked with teaching the brutish warrior some palace manners. In turn, he gives her archery lessons. You can imagine that I got rather attached to some of these Mongols – they weren’t simply part of a devilish horde intent on over running brilliant Christian Europe.
There’s plenty of quick wit humor and well choreographed fight scenes (some masses, some one-on-one). Brilliant characters are drawn from a variety of cultures: Russian, Hungarian, Norman, Irish, Mongol, Chinese, Japanese, among others. While there are few female characters in this character rich book, I can forgive the oversight because this book was simply a pleasure to listen to.
Narration: Luke Daniels was superb as usual. There were a ton of accents and he nailed them all, making each character distinct. He was able to switch quickly between sexes, accents, and ages as people bantered swiftly back and forth in the story line.
What I Liked: Huge sweeping panorama of humanity; not one sided; the banter between the characters; excellent fight scenes; a touch of the spiritual; fantastic narration.
What I Disliked: I think there were a total of 4 female characters and really we only get to see 2 of them in any depth.
What Others Think: