The following refers to the iOS app edition of this book and as such may contain information which goes beyond the published paper version.
I’ve been formulating my thoughts about this book for a long time. So long,in fact, that I have mostly forgotten what it was that I really wanted to say.
This book is purportedly the first in a major series of works set in the “foreworld” universe. This “universe” bring the world as it could have been in in 1241.
This book started as a serialised novel published in an epistolary format which started sometime in the latter half of 2010 and continuing into 2011.
The book is wide in its scope. We follow the fortunes of several individuals and groups.
Firstly. We have the remaining knights in western europe trying to confound the Mongol horde in their attempt to dominate the globe. They are hopelessly outnumbered by the mongols and are fighting for supremacy amongst their own orders.
We have a group of cardinals debating and deciding the fate of a new pope, but being manipulated by political intrigue in Rome. Into that Melee rides “Rodrigo” a humble priest who teams up with a Hungarian soldier on the battlefield at the massacre of Legnica.
We have Gansukh and Lian in the court of the Khan of Khans in Karakorum, running the gauntlet of the machinations in that environment and attempting to influence the policy and direction of the Khan.
We have a band of adventurers who set out to take the battle from the west right to the heart of the Mongol empire. The path of the hero if you like.
Then there are the mysterious Binders, a group of female mystics who specialise in covert observation and communication. In this we can see the hand of Stephenson and his intense desire to fit cryptography into everything.
In all it’s a big cast, a wide scope, a broad brush and, in my opinion, it doesn’t work.
It reads like a book written by committee and without proper overall editorial direction.
There’s at least one good book in here but this one isn’t it. It lacks the depth of stephensons usual work and has none of the philosophy seen in such books as snow crash or anathem. It has none of the wit of the baroque cycle and is lazy historical fiction. In some cases the dialogue was unrealistic and diabolical.
It’s taken me this long to finish it, as I have had it sat on my iPhone for way too long and I ceased caring about any of the characters shortly after I picked each one up. Perhaps there are too many? There are certainly too many authors. There was a huge delay in episode delivery at one point in 2011 and this was very frustrating. It led to a backlog and i think that this is when I finally lost the plot with it.
Are there any good words? Yes, the fight scenes are very well written and highly detailed and do provide some welcome focus in a book which is, quite frankly, flabby.
Thank goodness its finished.