This is the final novel in Conn Iggulden's violent, bloody, exhilarating, dramatic, masterful series on Genghis Khan and his descendents, focusing on...moreThis is the final novel in Conn Iggulden's violent, bloody, exhilarating, dramatic, masterful series on Genghis Khan and his descendents, focusing on Kublai Khan as he transitions from scholar to warrior to Great Khan of the Mongol empire.
You know, as much as I loved this book and the series, the thing I most took away from the story arc is the confirmation that men are pigs. No, dogs. No, pig-dogs. And I don't mean men as in “the human race.” I mean men as in the gender. Men are the ones who revel in war, who drive their armies across the land because the land they've got isn't good enough. Men are the ones who destroy cities, melting down precious artifacts so they can stare at the bars of pure gold and silver in glee, who set fire to libraries because they don't contain any knowledge they need, destroying generations worth of learning. Men are the ones who kill the men and children in enemy villages/towns, who kill the women but not before passing them around and raping them several times over, keeping them around to act as slaves for a few years before the women finally give out from the abuse. Men are responsible for all the misery in the world.
Anyway, to proceed to the actual review and step off my soapbox: I hate to categorize novels along gender lines, but I have to admit that there are historical fiction novels with storylines aimed more towards men (having more action, war, bloodshed, violence, etc. and less “mushy” stuff) and women (having more romance, personal conflict, drama, basically lots of “mushy” stuff). Iggulden's Genghis series is most definitely a masculine historical fiction series: heavy on the violence, light on romance. However, that's not to imply that characters are cardboard cutouts and no time is spent on character development. Far from it. As with all of Iggulden's previous books in this series, each character is imbued with humanity--the good, the bad, the ugly, the saintly. No one character is ever mixed up with another due to vague descriptors or similar voices.
Speaking of characters, though there are many others in the novel, it's Kublai who takes center stage (naturally). The evolution of his character, from a sheltered scholar to canny general to visionary leader of the Mongol nation, is fascinating to watch. Iggulden lets us peer into the mind of this legendary man, lets us see his fears, his machinations, his strategies and battle plans; only with Genghis did we see this kind of intimacy, their outer strengths as well as their inner fears and doubts. And I believe Iggulden did this on purpose, to forge a link between grandfather and grandson, creator of the Mongol nation and its savior.
For the first time, I actually have a nitpick about one of Iggulden's books, and it concerns the character of Guyuk, who seems to undergo a 180 degree shift in personality. While, admittedly, we didn't see a lot of him in the previous novel, what we did see of Guyuk seemed to imply that he was somewhat happy-go-lucky, willing to go where others led, and not much inclined to put up a fuss if plans seemed to go awry. Suddenly, though, in Conqueror, Guyuk has become a narcissistic psychopath: Things must go his way or else people begin to die. Perhaps it was the delay in him being named Khan that brought about this change in personality, but when he does, finally, become Khan, he remains a bloodthirsty (beyond even Mongol standards) tyrant, so that when his death comes, it's a welcome relief, both to the Mongol nation and to the reader. Perhaps that kind of personality shift is completely natural under such stressful circumstances, but it was still jarring.
Aside from the minor point, once again I was blown away by Conqueror. The power of Iggulden's writing is damn near awe-inspiring and it makes me quite eager to pick up his other series concerning Julius Caesar.(less)
This is not a nice book. This is not a tale of King Arthur of which Disney would approve. It's not romantic, glossy, subtle, or sanitized. There are n...moreThis is not a nice book. This is not a tale of King Arthur of which Disney would approve. It's not romantic, glossy, subtle, or sanitized. There are no chivalrous knights, the kind which spring from the pages of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table. There are no lessons of magical shape-shifting as in T.H. White's The Once and Future King. And there are certainly no rites celebrating the strength of female divinity as portrayed in Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon.
This is a down-and-dirty book. It's brutish, thuggish, full of crude men, cruel battles, harsh realities and bleak futures. Set in the dawn of the Dark Ages, the days when Rome has been crushed, its influences eclipsed and all traces of Roman law and infrastructure are being savagely snuffed out by the sweeping hordes of Vandals and Visigoths, Saxons and Franks, The Winter King is a tale of a time when life is short and one's value is determined, if you're a man, by the strength of your sword arm and, if you're a women, by the power and wealth behind your father's name. It is a story of the one man devoted to peace in this time of chaos. Arthur, some say king of Britain, some say warlord, a man of myth and legend who manages to come to new life between the pages of Cornwell's novel.
Yet, despite the barbaric nature of the story which unfolds in The Winter King, there's nothing gratuitous about it. The opposite, in fact. Everything, from the death of a soldier to the rape of a captive woman to the sacrifice of a prisoner of war is carried out in the most casual, matter-of-fact manner, a method of storytelling which only enhances the tale's sense of realism, giving the narrative a level of depth and gravity missing from many books which glorify the spilling of blood and go into almost gleeful detail whenever degradation or humiliation occur. In this manner, Cornwell accurately and vividly paints a portrait of a land in turmoil, where all traces of Rome's colonization are slowly being eroded, pillaged, buried and forgotten. A land under constant threat from marauders without and treachery within, where your ally today can become your enemy tomorrow for the right amount of gold. A land convulsed by religious dissent just as much as it was by invasion and politics, its Old Gods fighting for supremacy with the new god of the White Christ, pagan against Christian, magic against piety.
Though Cornwell is a talented tale-weaver, there are a couple of nitpicks I have with the book. First off, he tends to repeat himself, giving a description of someone or something only to repeat it a couple of paragraphs later. Now, if the repetition occurred at a greater distance, with the vast and often complex array of place-names, characters and descriptions, that reminder of who rules where and invaded or conspired with which tribe can be a much needed aid. However, even I, the most addlepated of blondes, can remember information long enough not to need a refresher of said information three paragraphs later. Second, the spitting. Everyone. Spits. A lot. Whenever I put the book down for a break, I felt as though I needed to take a bath from all the flying phlegm. Now I'm sure all the spitting, to ward off evil, to seal a curse, to call on lucky spirits, to show disdain, is historically accurate or at least appropriate, but after a while it was just plain gross and distracting. Hell, I would've settled for a few bouts of pissing or defecation in place of the spitting, just to break the mucus monotony.
However, despite those little quirks, which did tend to ease up towards the end of the book, this was a well-written, fast-paced, compellingly-told story. The battle scenes were written in an almost terse manner, revealing the carnage and destruction wrought without reveling in it. The dialogue never felt stilted or awkward, which can sometimes occur in the best of adventure novels, making character interactions feel real and absolutely human. And Cornwell has a deft hand at piecing together the often disparate Roman and Ancient British place names with the even more prehistoric monuments and landscape features, giving the reader an almost tangible sense of that isle's immense history. As much as I've enjoyed reading other interpretations of Arthurian history, those with a feminist slant, those with a more modern, Americanized, "democracy for all" slant, Cornwell's novel is the one which feels as though it were the actual truth, a factual account of this shadowy period of history which somehow became lost to time.(less)
*Disclaimer: I was contacted by the author and given a copy of the e-book in return for an honest review. I've never met or corresponded with...more4.5 stars
*Disclaimer: I was contacted by the author and given a copy of the e-book in return for an honest review. I've never met or corresponded with the author previously, nor have I read any of his other books. No compensation for this review, monetary or otherwise, was received by me.*
I have to admit, what first drew me to this novel was not its subject matter, although I am a huge fan of the Regency period. No, it was the description of the hardbound book Goodreads had on offer as part of their First Reads program. From the brief given: “This is a limited edition hardback, very very high spec, and designed along the lines of the travel books of two centuries ago. It weighs 2 kilos (almost 4.5 lbs), has fabulous marbled endpapers, a silk bookmark, a pouch at the rear with inserts, and six huge fold-out maps. The paper is wood-free, and the cover embossed with raised gold type.” Who could resist that? Lust bloomed in my heart and I desperately wanted to win a copy... which I didn't. So I had to settle for being contacted by the author and given an e-copy (which isn't too bad a deal considering I was thrilled by the offer; yes, I am still geeky enough and silly enough to become giddy when an author contacts little ol' me, a reviewer and blogger of very minor importance). Yet even without the fancy wrappings of the special edition hardback, I fell in love with the book: It hooked me immediately.
Tahir Shah has taken the story of Robert Adams, an illiterate American sailor who spent years in the desert of Northern Africa and saw the fabled city of Timbuctoo, and fleshed it out with fictional elements, expertly marrying the two until it's difficult to tell what's fact and what's fiction. Which is perfect because the result is compelling and immensely readable. The tale of Robert Adams is a true one: He was an American sailor who was shipwrecked off the west coast of Africa. He, along with the rest of the crew, found themselves surrounded by Moors, who stripped the men naked and imprisoned them. Adams spent the next three years as a slave, passed from owner to owner until he was ransomed by Joseph Dupuis, the British Consul at Mogador. At one point, Adams and another white man, a Portuguese fellow, found themselves guests of the king of Timbuctoo, who treated them as oddities and allowed them to roam about the city. After his release, Adams became stranded in London, where he had to survive as a beggar before he was eventually found, half-naked and starving. His tale was dictated to the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, yet it was widely decried as being untrue due to the fact that Europe was in the midst of Timbuctoo mania. The city had become the center of many a tale concerning its riches, specifically gold. It was the new El Dorado, with streets and houses said to be constructed from the warm yellow metal, and many men had set out over the years in order to find it, men most of whom never returned home. Adams was the first to not only reach Timbuctoo but to also come back and recount what he'd seen, and his description of it as being a simple place, with no gold in sight, was not what those men pinning their hopes on the city's riches wished to hear. Adams, after finally returning to America, disappeared from historical record, allowing his detractors to continue in their quest to discredit Adams' achievement, even though his tale had been reviewed and corroborated by the British Consul in Morocco.
This, all on its own, makes for a harrowing and dramatic tale, yet Shah has managed to infuse it with additional, albeit fictional, details, thereby deepening the pathos the reader feels for Adams, who throughout the novel, simply wishes to return home, in Shah's narration because of the woman he left behind, Adams' wife and the love of his life. Timbuctoo also revolves around the characters with whom Adams interacts, from the secretary of the Company to whom Adams is dictating his tale, Simon Cochran, who first acts as Adams' guide and minder but who eventually becomes a friend and confidante to the American, to Sir Geoffrey Caldecott, director of the Company and a man with a very slippery character, even to the Prince Regent himself, portrayed in all his frippery and buffoonery and empty-headed excess. Not to mention a few luminaries of the period, such as Lord Byron and Caroline Lamb. As a result, the novel is multi-layered, introducing many characters, major and minor, along the way, each with their own tale to tell or angle to add to the main story line.
Make no mistake: Though this is a Regency novel, in the strictest of definitions, it's completely different from those commonly known as “Regencies.” There's romance here, yes, but so much more. There's a depth of detail and magnetic storytelling which truly sets this novel apart. As Adams narrates his tale, we are thrust into the sere and unforgiving heat of the Sahara; we can feel the sand burrowing into our skins, the sun raising blisters on our naked backs and unprotected heads, feels our mouths turning to dust as our saliva dries up. Yet, equally, when we navigate Regency London alongside Adams and the others, we are just as much enveloped in the sights and sounds and smells of that era. When reading those London scenes, what really struck me was Shah's ability to convey the casual, almost off-hand cruelty of that period, the dismissive attitude towards those who were poor or diseased or in any way “other” to those who were more fortunate, not to mention the appalling ignorance towards basic information, whether it be scientific or geographical or medical, which today we take for granted. For those of us who admire the era and become caught up in its fripperies, it's a stark reminder that there was a dark side to the Regency period, an underbelly easily ignored in the face of the wonderful fashions and literature and romance which typically take center stage.
It's a near-perfect novel, yet I had a couple of issues with it, minor, yes, but ones which still affected my reading. The first was how the novel was set up: The chapters were exceedingly short, sometimes only a page long. In a way those short chapters worked when it came to the multiple characters, as they helped keep them all straight and gave a sense of immediacy and animation to those scenes where two or more persons' actions took place at the same time. Yet, conversely, those short chapters often had an abortive effect on the action: Just as things were building up, getting me involved in what was being described, the chapter ended, bringing me out of the story with a jolt and making the reading of the book similar to being in stop-and-go traffic. For those scenes where such movement and action wasn't required, I would've preferred having longer chapters which would've allowed me to sink into the story and really savor it. My other nitpick is truly trivial: Shah interspersed letters written by two of the characters in between some of the narration, which I loved; however, the language used wasn't “flowery” enough, didn't seem “Regency” enough. I know, I know, it's such a tiny, insignificant point, not even worthy of being included. And yet I did. Let the excoriating begin.
In the end, I don't think I can recommend this book highly enough. It's a brilliant imagining of one of the most dramatic real-life adventures in history, creating a wonderfully layered, complex, action- and drama-packed novel. Thank you, Mr. Shah, for giving me the chance to read it.
Update as of 9/17/2012: I've since received the lavish hardcover copy of this novel. Actually, this update is a couple of month overdue--forgive me. Anyway, to the hardcover edition, it is just as beautiful and beautifully-designed as I'd imagined. The marble end papers are simply marble-ous *groan* (I had to do it!), the inserts and maps are fascinating, and the book has such a wonderful heft to it, enhancing the story being read. Just as I had imagined it would.(less)
The book which introduced me many years ago to the wonders and beauty of ancient Egypt, Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, continues...moreThe book which introduced me many years ago to the wonders and beauty of ancient Egypt, Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, continues to enthrall me to this very day and holds a permanent position on my bookshelf. It is also the benchmark by which I judge all historical fiction novels with an Egyptian setting. Michelle Moran, I'm sorry to say, your book doesn't pass.
When I read well-written novels of ancient Egypt, such as the one mentioned above, or Margaret George's The Memoirs Of Cleopatra, or even novels concerning the field of Egyptology, such as the most excellent Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, I am immersed in the sights, sounds, scents, and textures of this mysterious and mesmerizing land, to the point where I can almost feel the sand on my face and sun on my skin. Not so with Nefertiti. Oh, don't get me wrong, Moran regales the reader with descriptions of the palaces and temples, people and land encountered in her story, but with all the passion of an inventory or checklist. Carved pillars? Check. Lots of gold? Check. Nile? Check. But there's no connection between what's being described and an actual human experience. Where's the scent of lotus blossoms, incense, and crocodile dung? Where's the hiss of wind-swept sand? Where's the chaotic, musical jumble of foreign tongues from Egypt's busy trade centers? Where are the wails of professional mourners as they traipse through the streets, the haunting notes of sistrums and lyres carried on the wind from temple celebrations, the calls of vendors and merchants singing their siren songs to entice people to the bustling market? Where was the life? The book reminded me of a sarcophagus: richly detailed on the outside, hollow on the inside.
The other thing which bothered me, and this quibble isn't limited to Moran's work, is the complete disregard of the ancient Egyptian language. Granted, it's much easier to use the Greco-Egyptian names of cities and gods we're all familiar with and doing so in novels concerning modern Egyptology is one thing; however, for novels set in Kemet (ancient Egypt), it's almost an insult not to use proper Egyptian names. By putting a glossary up front, it's quite easy for a reader to become familiar with Men-Nefer rather than Memphis or Auset instead of Isis. In this manner, the names of Kemet could be reclaimed from obscurity.
I realize all authors of historical fiction write from their own perspective, orienting the events of whatever period they're writing about to support the story they're weaving. That's quite natural and to be expected. I just happen to strongly disagree with and dislike the particular spin Moran has given to these historical figures. This is compounded by the fact that Moran used the research of Dr. Joann Fletcher, an Egyptologist with a spotty record for accuracy. Moran would've been better off referring to the work of Dr. Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian with an infectious enthusiasm for the history of his country. He's also quite the stickler for veracity. However, since Hawass is something of a controversial figure, there's also the work of Salima Ikram, Joyce Tyldesley, Barry Kemp, and Kate Spence to choose from, any one of which would've been a better resource.
All in all, while I appreciate the research and work Michelle Moran put into her novel, I just didn't like the story she was trying to tell.(less)
Disclaimer: I was asked by the author, Ben Lokey, to read and write a fair and honest review of this book. No monies or other favors were promised or...moreDisclaimer: I was asked by the author, Ben Lokey, to read and write a fair and honest review of this book. No monies or other favors were promised or exchanged by either party in return for this review and I had never had previous contact with said author.
At first glance, Beauty Possessed seems to be your typical, self-published historical fiction novel. Enthusiastic, but rough, a good, solid story buried beneath multiple editing errors. However, upon completing the book, I realized Beauty Possessed has less merit and more errors than I imagined it would. Going in, I was all prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the book and had high hopes for it. After all, as a fellow writer, I understand the blood, sweat, and tears which go into producing a novel. That said, I think Lokey needs to bleed, sweat, and cry a bit more.
Lets talk about the editing. The book as it stands now is approximately one step up from a rough draft. It needed to go through at least two more rounds of editing to clean up the formatting issues and story inconsistencies, not to mention the biggest boo-boo of all: the flip-flopping P.O.V.s. The novel starts out in the 1st person from Evelyn's P.O.V., which worked, as it created a lovely, intimate feeling to the story, but then it switches to 3rd person omniscient. Not to mention, when the story is being told in the 1st person, it occasionally becomes an omniscient P.O.V., with Evelyn knowing what other people are doing after she's left the scene. For example, on pg. 72, Evelyn, in her 1st person P.O.V., relates “I found Stan's cab waiting for me. Edna and Nell came out just in time to see me get into the cab and pull away. They were not happy. Apart from the crowd, standing in the shadows, was the man with the handlebar mustache. As the crowds dispersed, he stayed, lit a pipe and waited. A moment later, the cab came around the corner and stopped in front of my apartment across the street. I hopped out and ran up the stairs and through the door, and the cab pulled away. The man wrote something down in a small notebook, then walked off.” Okay, how did Evelyn know what the man did with his notebook after she'd entered her apartment building? Did she have X-ray vision or ESP? This kind of awareness of hers occurs many times throughout the book. Even if Evelyn were writing in hindsight, she would still only be able to narrate those actions she witnessed, with the occasional "I was told later" type of addition. Pick a P.O.V. and stick with it. If you want to use the 1st person narrative yet have other views of the story, use the 1st person with Stanford and Thaw and switch viewpoints chapter by chapter. Alternately, stick with the 3rd person omniscient; that way you can show actions your character wouldn't know about if you were using the 1st person. Frankly, the first couple of chapters really set up the book well, before things got sloppy, and I really enjoyed the 1st person viewpoint using Evelyn's voice. It felt as though I were interviewing an older Evelyn, in some nursing home sitting room, a more settled and more wrinkled version of herself, and as she related her story chapter by chapter, gradually the old twinkle returned to her rheumy eyes and some of that sexually charged flirtatiousness returned to her movements.
The formatting is sloppy. Lines often run together and you can tell line at the rear was supposed to start a new paragraph, but for some reason it didn't, probably because space(s) were left at the end of the previous line. Also, when Lokey's trying to convey separate events happening at the same time, in a sort of mosaic scene, he runs the paragraphs describing those events together. Each paragraph, each viewpoint, should be separated by either a soft hiatus or set of lines or an asterisk. Not only would it make who's doing what clearer, it would also add drama and a sense of tension to the overall scene he's trying to create.
The story inconsistencies are truly troubling. Lokey writes about events out of order, which is strange as he has Evelyn's own autobiography to act as a timeline, not to mention several reputable non-fiction books out there detailing the lives of Evelyn, Stanford White, and Harry K. Thaw. For instance, when Evelyn loses her hair after her appendectomy, Lokey writes that this happened when they were in Europe and that Thaw took Evelyn to a wig shop where her head was shaved. However, Evelyn's hair loss took place immediately after the operation, while she was still recuperating in the private sanitarium. Evelyn's mother held her up in the bed while Harry's valet, Bedford, did the shearing. She was never bald, but instead was given a crew cut. Also, Lokey describes Evelyn as describing herself as being all of 4' 10” tall, yet all the sources I've read place Evelyn at 5' 3” tall. Those sources also say she was born in 1884, not 1885. (Yes, there are some questions about that due to Mrs. Nesbit lying so many times to fit Evelyn's age to whatever the situation required; however, it's usually safe to assume a starlet is older than what she'd like people to believe, not to mention we have Mrs. Nesbit's recollection that Evelyn was born in an even year.) Lokey mentions the infamous incident with the “girl in the pie” as taking place shortly after Stanford White met Evelyn, yet that event occurred before Evelyn was in NY, according to her own autobiography and other sources, taking place in 1895, and the girl popping out of the pie was not naked, as written by Lokey, but clad in transparent black chiffon. What was truly strange was when Evelyn makes her first trip to one of Stanford White's apartments (or love nests), the one on West 24th Street. Lokey has her describing it as an ordinary building with a toy store for a front. Um, that toy store happened to be FAO Schwartz, only the most famous toy store in the world. True, in her autobiography Evelyn herself describes it as only a “toy store,” yet we know it's FAO Schwartz, so why not describe it that way?
The most disturbing part of the novel is the psychology of the characters, especially Evelyn. Why she tolerates and eventually marries Thaw is never fully explored or explained, which, I assumed, was the whole point of this novel being written. Yes, Evelyn herself is immature and essentially still a child, which works well with Thaw's infantile mindset, but that doesn't explain why, after being exposed to Thaw's dark side, she would continue to associate with the man. Greed and the desire for lots of pretty things can only go so far. Basically, I'm not given a hint as to motivations for any of the characters. I had hoped to discover some reason, albeit fictional, for the personages involved in this spectacle to have behaved the way they did. That was lacking. It seems to me Lokey was simply perpetuating the image of Evelyn as a gold-digger, a whore, a woman who was only after what she could get and deserved every bit of horror perpetrated upon her, instead of illustrating Eveylyn as a girl of 16, 17, who was at the mercy of the world, having an incompetent mother to (vaguely) supervise her and no idea of how to cope with the situations in which she was placed. I mean, this was a girl who was trapped between the powerful and persuasive White and the deranged and persistent Thaw, with no one to rely on for support. No wonder she ended up the way she did. Lokey also perpetrates the rumor that when Evelyn had her attack of appendicitis, it was actually a cover for an illegal abortion, a story based on rumor and supposition by the yellow press and vehemently denied on the stand by both Evelyn and John Barrymore.
The actual writing, the technicality of it, was serviceable, but not brilliant. The dialogue was, on the whole, well done and the narration could occasionally be engaging and colorful. However, it moved too fast, rushing the reader through events and scenes without giving the reader a chance to absorb the atmosphere. This was especially noticeable in those scenes where Evelyn was meeting the big names of the day: Harry Houdini, Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, among others. I will say one thing, this quick pace made the book a fast read; there certainly were no slow, boggy sections to drag the novel out. The other good point about the novel is Lokey didn't info dump; relevant information was given in just the right way to illuminate the scene without detracting from it.
There are some good bones to this novel. It just needs a lot of cosmetic work (and some structural work) before it should be presented to the public.
I'm sorry, but I just have to throw in the towel. I gave it the ol' college try (which is a phrase I've used before, but this time is apt as I'm actua...moreI'm sorry, but I just have to throw in the towel. I gave it the ol' college try (which is a phrase I've used before, but this time is apt as I'm actually going to college; part-time, true, but it counts and... I'm babbling, so I'll be moving on). I gave myself until 150 pages for the story to finally get good and capture my attention/imagination, but it never happened. One hundred and fifty pages in, I put the book down and almost sobbed with happiness because I didn't have to keep trying anymore.
The author obviously did her research. There's a great deal of historical detail: cultural, military, religious, geographical. And it's done in a way which doesn't beat you over the head in a "look at me and all the research I did!" sort of way. Yet, for all that, it didn't capture me or immerse me in either the setting, the story, or the characters. Writing about a culture completely foreign to me, the author failed to connect me to the story even on a basic human level--it started foreign and it stayed foreign. As I read, I couldn't help but keep thinking about Conn Iggulden's masterful Genghis series and compare his writing to Lapierre's. Both stories deal with cultures completely foreign to Western lifestyles and mores, Iggulden's with the Mongol empire of the late 12th and early 13th centuries, Lapierre's with the Muslim tribes of early 19th century Chechnya; both stories are well researched. Yet Iggulden's, even with its foreign subject and the sometimes off-putting actions from the characters, actions which go against Western standards of appropriate behavior, pulled me in to such a degree that I barely noticed the differences between his characters and myself; I felt what they felt, I ached when they ached, I exulted when they exulted. I was in the story. Not so with Lapierre's novel. Her characters were simply names on a page; their actions frustrated, disgusted, and baffled me and I didn't understand their motivations at all. They remained decidedly and defiantly foreign.
But what really pissed me off about Lapierre's book was the fact that, even 150 pages in (one-third of the book), we hadn't even started on the main story. Supposedly the novel is about the real-life story of Jamal Eddin, the son of Imam Shamil, who was provided as a hostage to the Russian empire in order to seal a truce of peace between the two warring nations. Jamal, a young boy when he's "adopted" by Czar Nicholas I, grows up in the glittering imperial court and though he maintains his Muslim faith, he becomes an accomplished courtier. However, his faith becomes a problem when he falls in love with Elizaveta Petrovna Olenina, a beautiful Russian aristocrat; in order to marry her, he must convert to Christianity, a move he's willing to make. Until he's called back to his homeland, to his Muslim faith and rightful place as leader, and he must decide: Love or Honor. (Hence the title, see?) Sounds fabulously dramatic and romantic, yet at 150 pages in, we've only just gotten to the point where Jamal's father decides to give in to Russia's demands and send Jamal to them as a hostage. That's one-third of the book gone and we haven't even gotten to Russia yet? As Charlie Brown would say, Good grief! That certainly doesn't leave a lot of time to watch Jamal grow up in the imperial court, which should account for several years, not to mention the development of the romance between Jamal and Elizaveta or the final act to their story. Now, I can see spending some time in Jamal's childhood, setting his character up; I could totally get on board with that treatment. If only that had occurred. Instead, during all the time spent in Jamal's childhood, we really only see his father, Imam Shamil, and his father's actions: Shamil's quest to become the holiest of holy men, Shamil in his holy war to cleanse the world of every single Russian, Shamil as he rids the tribes of all traitors by systematically slaughtering all those who push for peace between Chechnya and Russian, even if that means eliminating entire villages, women and children included. Hell, the man even has his elderly mother whipped for acting as mediator in a push for compromise, because "Allah" told him so. Jerk-off. Not a character to inspire any kind of sympathy in me. So, anyway, it's all Shamil with just a little bit of Jamal sprinkled in. It's very frustrating, not to mention a very questionable move on the author's part. If it were me, I'd show Jamal's childhood from his P.O.V. and only a little bit at that; just enough to set up the situation and his abduction to Russia. Later, as an adult, during dramatic moments, Jamal could flashback to his childhood memories and use them to follow his father's example or avoid his father's mistakes.
Stylistic choices aside, this novel, what I read of it, bored me to tears and didn't inspire me to invest any emotions in either the characters or story. Which is a shame because I heard such great things about Alexandra Lapierre and was really looking forward to immersing myself in what promised to be an exciting and romantic novel. A promise which went unfulfilled.(less)
I'll be honest. Normally I shy away from self-published and independently-published books for the mere fact that I have a very strident and s...more4.5 stars
I'll be honest. Normally I shy away from self-published and independently-published books for the mere fact that I have a very strident and strict editor in my head. When I read books, even mainstream, big house-published books, and find errors, that editor aches to pop out and start flaying the pages with a bold red pencil. Knowing that self-published works suffer even more as they lack the polish a professional editor can achieve, I just don't want to put myself through that kind of anguish, as I would no longer be reading the book for pleasure, but constantly seeking out and destroying all the errors. Not to mention many of the stories put out there are often amateurish, juvenile, and downright execrable. However, almost none of those things apply to The Sekhmet Bed, and my inner editor and I were able to enjoy the book with a minimum of red pencil usage.
I won't bother to synopsize (that's a word, right? If not, it is one now) the novel as it's been done so by others, in a clearer, more concise way than what I could achieve. I will say that publishers should be sitting up and taking notice of Ironside. She's managed to write a novel full of compelling characters as well as intense, atmospheric settings. Frankly, she leaves Michelle Moran in the dust; anyone who compares Ironside to Moran is insulting Ironside. The interactions between characters feel real and authentic; the insertion of mystical elements doesn't compromise the integrity of the historical setting as they're not presented as though they're really happening (except to the person experiencing them, which is only natural; people who have divine visions believe they're real, even if no one else does or understands what they're talking about). The "bad guy" character, Mutnofret, is sufficiently despicable, yet she occasionally shows flashes of humanity in the way she wavers from her actions and shows doubt--which is how "bad guy" characters ought to be written. Even the protagonist isn't perfect as she does things which are questionable and acts out, behaving quite badly at times. About the only character who isn't as fully developed is Thutmose and that's probably because for a lot of the novel he isn't present.
It's obvious Ironside did her research as she was able to deviate from some of the accepted theories concerning the characters in an authentic manner, unlike some authors who maybe skim some of the research and decide, to hell with it, they're going to write the story the way they want to, no matter how things really happened. One of the interesting deviations was the way Ironside presented the marriage of Ahmose, Mutnofret, and Thutmose. The prevailing theory is that Thutmose was originally married to Mutnofret--who may or may not have been related to Ahmose as well as Amenhotep I--they had three or four sons, and then Mutnofret died well before Amenhotep I died and Thutmose married Ahmose. However, by making Mutnofret not only a contemporary of Ahmose, but her sister and sister wife, Ironside neatly introduces a built-in package of tension and strife into the royal household, giving her a rich storyline to mine for drama. This alternate history is presented in such an authentic manner, it's easy to believe that it could've been true.
Ironside also did what I've been ranting about for years: she used the true Egyptian names for divinities and titles rather than their Greco-Egyptian counterparts. That said, for some of the gods she kept their Greek names, i.e. Osiris and Hathor rather than Ausar/Asar and Het-Heru (which means 'House of Heru [Horus]', just as an aside), which seemed rather strange. However, I was just happy that she even bothered using the ancient Egyptian language in the first place. It has annoyed me for quite some time when I see historical fiction set in ancient Egypt and an author is using the Greek transliterations of Egyptian words. How difficult would it be to use Ausar, Auset, Heru, Tehuti, Nebt-Het and simply place a glossary in the front of the book? It doesn't take long to understand that Tehuti is Thoth or Nebt-Het is Nephthys and using their real names makes the novel that much more authentic.
Other than a few editing errors (punctuation errors, the occasional misspelling, missed capitalization) which are to be expected, the book was surprisingly well-written, taut and streamlined. Surprising for the mere fact that I didn't expect it to be so; I expected to find a lot more extraneous narration or choppy dialogue. There was none. Which means finally I've found a writer of ancient Egyptian historical fiction who can wipe the stench of Michelle Moran from my brain. Which also means I'm eagerly looking forward to the next installment in Ironside's series.
By the way, I'm simply an armchair Egyptologist. I've been fascinated by the subject for many, many years, but I've never undertaken a scholarly investigation of the subject. My (scanty) knowledge comes from years of absorbing books and other works on the subject. So if something I've pointed out as being wrong isn't, in fact, wrong, then I accept that I'm the one who's wrong. Is that enough wrongs to make a right?
Disclaimer: I was asked by the author herself to read and write a fair and honest review of this book. No monies or other favors were promised or exchanged by either party in return for this review and I had never had previous contact with said author.(less)
Eva Stachniak is an excellent writer. She immerses the reader fully into the story, allowing one to hear the susurration of silken petticoats...more3.5 stars
Eva Stachniak is an excellent writer. She immerses the reader fully into the story, allowing one to hear the susurration of silken petticoats, feel the chill bite of the howling Russian winter wind, smell the perfume and mildew which permeated the grand yet dilapidated Winter Palace. She does so with complex sentences, unlike some historical fiction writers *cough* Philippa Gregory *cough* who can't seem to string together sentences more involved than the "See Jane, See Spot, See Jane and Spot" variety, weaving together a intricate and compelling story. Eva also managed to introduce numerous characters without overwhelming the reader or constantly repeating how each character related to another and the importance of said relationship as some writers *cough* Philippa Gregory *cough* do, relying on the reader's intelligence to keep names straight (as well as a handy list at the back of the book, identifying the major players in the Russian Court).
However, I did encounter a few problems. The first was the story really wasn't about Catherine the Great, at least, not in the way I had imagined the novel might be. The book is told from the first-person perspective of Barbara, or as she's known in Russia, Varvara, the daughter of a lowly bookbinder who comes to the court of Empress Elizabeth and eventually becomes her "tongue" or spy. Varvara's job is to ingratiate herself with the young Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, the future Catherine and bride of Empress Elizabeth's nephew, Ivan, in order to spy on her activities and report back to the Empress. Along the way, Varvara becomes conflicted over her duties as she finds herself truly liking the naive Grand Duchess and instead of helping the Empress, she begins to help Catherine become a power player in the Russian court, actions which inevitably lead to a clashing of forces and a palace coup. While the story told is powerful and entrancing, I found it was more about Varvara and her fortunes and follies than anyone else; Catherine, while present, seemed to be a side note. Yes, we see Catherine change from a frightened, lonely young woman to a confident manipulator of her surroundings. However, all the thoughts we see are Varvara's. All the emotions and upheavals we experience are Varvara's. Everything of Catherine's is second-hand and, thus, less poignant. Also, the first-person narration didn't always serve the story well and this is something I'd like to dwell upon for a moment. It seems to be the "in" thing lately to have historical fiction novels told from a first-person perspective, often from a secondary source. Why? If you want to have first-person narration, why can't the principal character do the narration? Why does it have to be first-person? Why can't we go back to the tried-and-true third person omniscient narration? Or be truly daring and try an epistolary narration? Because, and here's the problem with first-person narration from a secondary character, you lose some of the immediacy and flow of the tale, especially if, as in the case with The Winter Palace, your character leaves the main action. For seven years, after she displeases the Empress and is forcefully married off, Varvara is banished from court and the novel focuses on her time spent with her husband and child. As such, we hear about the actions of Catherine, who is supposedly meant to be the main thrust of the novel, from tertiary sources--letters, reports, rumors--passed on to Varvara. If this is a book about Catherine, why is Varvara the one we sympathize with, suffer with, ride along with? Shouldn't it be Catherine?
Ultimately, that is the reason behind my rating. While the writing is beautiful and the story excellently told, it's mislabeled. It should be subtitled A Novel Set in the Court of Catherine the Great. Because, in the end, it's Varvara who takes center stage, about whom all the other characters dance.(less)
Okay, I'll admit it, I've never read the original Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have seen the movies starring Johnny Weismulller an...more3.5 stars
Okay, I'll admit it, I've never read the original Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I have seen the movies starring Johnny Weismulller and Maureen O'Sullivan. I know, not the best way to be introduced to the series considering how much the books were changed from page to screen, I'd imagine, but you've got to admit, Weismuller's Tarzan created quite an impression in the cultural consciousness. So, since I haven't read the books, I don't know how Burroughs portrayed Jane, but I would imagine in not the most flattering of ways--a lot of cowering, crying, and “Oh, Tarzan, help me!” So it was rather exciting to see a book about Jane which both told the Tarzan story from her perspective and was also written by a woman. Even better, the novel is authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, meaning the author couldn't just slap something together and call it a story of Jane.
In 1905, intelligent, headstrong, adventurous Jane Porter is a fish out of water at the University of Cambridge, not to mention an unabashed 'old maid'. Happiest when she's at her father's side, studying anatomy and dissecting corpses, she's the only female student at Cambridge's medical program as well as a budding paleoanthropologist. She idolizes female explorers such as Mary Kingsley and yearns to one day prove Darwin's theory that the human race came out of Africa. So when an American adventurer named Ral Conrath invites her and her father to join his expedition to West Africa, she naturally jumps at the chance. When they reach that 'Dark Continent' and begin their trek into its interior, it's just as marvelous and exotic as Jane had imagined. Mother Africa's jungles also hide dark secrets... and so does Ral Conrath. When Jane and her father find themselves in peril, Jane discovers the one thing which will turn her entire world upside-down: Tarzan of the Apes.
This is not an adventure novel. This is a romance novel with some adventure sprinkled in and those adventures, except for the last act, come in between a lot of discourse: Jane reminiscing about her life in England, Jane narrating her travels in Africa, Jane and Tarzan discovering Tarzan's past. It's only in the last third of the book that we stop reflecting on the past and concentrate on "here and now" actions. The amount of reminiscent narration might be difficult for some, especially those who are anticipating a pure adventure novel mirroring the original Tarzan novels. However, I found the background stories just as interesting as the main one and didn't have a problem with the lack of “non-stop” action.
What I did have a problem with was the third act reveal, the big denouement that all the previous archaeological and anthropological discoveries had been leading up to. I'll be honest, when I saw a YouTube video of Maxwell speaking about this book and her inclusion of the “Missing Link”as a plot point, I rolled my eyes. Then, as I read, I discovered it actually worked; after all, it's not like the story of Tarzan is super-realistic, so why not included a living missing link? I eventually got on board with it. But I could not swallow the finale. (view spoiler)[Basically, Maxwell writes about an ancient Egyptian wonder, buried within the depths of a volcano, accessible through a crude yet abundant gold mine. This wonder, a three-thousand-room ancient Egyptian labyrinth, was supposedly visited by Herodotus and written about in his Histories. As they move through the cave, they see frescoes and murals of amazing complexity, of celestial bodies, the moon in its phases, the planets of the solar system, of geological features both native to Africa and foreign such as arctic wastes and snowy peaks, not to mention a map which looks amazingly modern. That alone is, well, laughable; the Egyptians were an amazing race of people, able to create and do many, many things. But arctic explorers? Diviners of celestial phenomenon thousands of years before we had the ability to see that far into space? Um... no. But that's not all; this “New Egypt” in West Africa also contains a library which equals, if not excels, the library at Alexandria. Oh, yeah, and a dissection laboratory, with knives and probes, and an image painted on the wall of a Caucasian man, his skin flayed, his torso opened, with his muscles and organs depicted perfectly. Good grief! Did they also discover penicillin and the DNA sequence and the cure for polio and mumps as well? (hide spoiler)] It was just too ridiculous, too over-the-top. It was as if Maxwell suddenly channeled H. Rider Haggard for the last act, which would've been fine, actually, and quite in the spirit of Burrough's original novels. But it wasn't in the spirit or tone of the novel Maxwell had written up to that point. Up 'til then, Jane was quite grounded, relatively speaking, giving a nice reality to the story and character of Jane Porter. To me, the third act just felt like a huge stumble.
Until that stumble, I was quite impressed with Maxwell's writing. When I got the book, I opened it up to the first page, just to glance at it before putting the book down to be read at a later date. I never put it down; instead, I kept on reading... and reading. The writing caught my attention immediately. Jane Porter is a fun and interesting character; yes, she's a modern woman, which may ordinarily be out of place in an historical romance, but here it's just fine. The early 20th century was all about the modern woman, so Jane's ambitions and character traits aren't at all unusual. The prose is dynamic, with action and drama scenes both having a real sense of depth and emotion; the dialogue is compelling, though it does tend to get a bit overdone in Ral Conrath's case, as if to really point up the fact that, when he does show himself to be the villain of the novel, we know absolutely that he's “The Villain.” I think what Maxwell did best was show the evolution of Jane; even though she considered herself an independent woman, out in the jungle she realized just how sheltered she'd been. Watching her grow in both physical and mental strength, seeing her conquer her fears and doubts, not to mention those prejudices and assumptions which had been ingrained in her was, I think, the true force of the novel. Yeah, the romance which developed between her and Tarzan was compelling, but not as much as Jane's maturation as a person.
It may sound weird, but I really enjoyed the part of the story when Jane, who is injured when she first meets Tarzan and is rescued by him, questions how her bodily functions were taken care of during her unconsciousness, and recognizes how Tarzan took care of them while caring for her. It's kind of a gross subject, sure, but one that's nearly always glossed over in fiction, even though it's a normal human behavior. That Maxwell included it is rather brave of her, I thought.
The story is book-ended by the appearance of Edgar Rice Burroughs himself. When we first see Jane, it's through Edgar's eyes as he watches her give a lecture on the missing link she found during her African adventure. When he, rather fan-boy-like, introduces himself to her and asks to hear her story, Jane begins to tell it both to him and to us. At the end of the story, we come back to Edgar as he ponders what he heard. Jane gives him permission to tell her story in whatever way he sees fit, giving Maxwell the out she needed in order to have “her” Jane do things differently from “Edgar's” Jane. As the novel wraps up, Edgar is already reweaving Jane's tale into the Tarzan books with which history is familiar, which ties both versions together neatly.
In the end, up until the last act, I truly enjoyed the novel. I felt it kept the spirit of the original (as far as I could tell) while infusing it with a breath of fresh air. If that climax just hadn't been quite so eye-rolling....["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Research - 5 stars (at least as far as blacksmithing goes) Execution - 1 star Writing ability - 2 stars
Originally published in Germany in 2006, The Copp...moreResearch - 5 stars (at least as far as blacksmithing goes) Execution - 1 star Writing ability - 2 stars
Originally published in Germany in 2006, The Copper Sign was picked up and translated by Amazon.com's AmazonCrossing publishing imprint. Now, I don't know if it's the fault of the translator or if it's the fault of the original prose, but despite the book's history, it still reads as a self-published work. There's a good book in here and a competent editor would've brought it out. As it stands, though, one has to wade through a lot of chaff to get to the few kernels of a good story.
First off, there's the length: over 600 pages. And this is just the first novel of a trilogy. This book could've been cut down into a trilogy all by itself. That said, most of those 600 pages are devoted to a whole lotta nothing. I give credit to the author: It's obvious she loves the art of blacksmithing and it's just as obvious she's studied it in a great deal of depth. However, like many authors, it's just as obvious she had a hard time deciding what research to cut from her story and so decided just to put all of it in. As a result, we get many passages detailing (and I do mean detailing) the work put into creating a medieval sword and other ironworking skills. After a while, the book begins to read as a treatise on medieval metallurgy, which, in context, would be fascinating, I'm sure. But not in the middle of a fiction novel. A few brief passages here and there, highlighting specific points of the process would've given the reader plenty of insight into how medieval craftspeople worked without bogging the narrative down.
Speaking of the narrative, to be honest, there really wasn't one. There was no over-arching plot, just a series of vignettes in which the main character, Ellen, moves from one location to another. Ellen would change location, there would be a small conflict, she'd move and the cycle would begin again. There was no great growth of character and no building of the story towards a great conflict to be resolved in the final act. Speaking of those multiple small conflicts, after a while they became tiresome and quite ridiculous. Though news didn't travel as far or as quickly in that time period, stories of criminals and people wanted for crimes would've been grist for the gossip mill and would've nearly flown through the network of merchants, tinkers/peddlers, jongleurs/minstrels and others who traveled between towns and villages. Ellen, who during the tale is accused of murder and a few other crimes, simply moves to the next town when, pardon my language, the shit hit the fan, and manages to set up shop as a blacksmith, a female blacksmith, mind you, which was no ordinary thing. Every time she moves, she manages to avoid ever being recognized or charged for the crimes--for which she's innocent, but that's beside the point--with nary a bailiff or magistrate sniffing around her shop to harass or arrest her. I'm sorry, but that stretches the limits of reality. No one is that lucky, especially when Ellen is equally unlucky in having all these tragedies occur in her life, tragedies which spur her nomadic movements and fuel each vignette. The whole novel just didn't flow properly, never mind the fact that it was just so one-dimensional. However, what really struck me about the plot was just how little the characters interacted with the times in which they lived. As the reader, you never got a sense of the history, of what was going on with the politics of the time. Sure, kings were mentioned and war campaigns were talked about, but it was in a secondary, off-hand way. Even though Ellen met with Henry, the Young King (son and crowned heir of Henry II), the whole scene felt as though she was simply meeting with another character and not an actual historical personage. There was no sense of place to the entire novel. It could've been set in any time, in any country. About the only details of life in that particular time period which permeated the story were details concerning the middle/lower classes and even those details were limited to narrow section of the population, that of the craftspeople which populated the towns and countryside.
Then we come to the characters, none of which I ever identified with or sympathized with or even particularly liked. Ellen herself was bipolar: One moment she would be stubborn and proud and so very, very prickly; the next she would be meek and pious. Most of the time, though, she's either mean or disparaging to those around her, which means she spends the rest of the time wondering why they're angry with her or sad because of something she said. And, of course, every man who met her fell in love with her in some way, even when she was disguised as a boy. Puh-lease! That particular angle drove one of the characters, Thibault, the villain of the piece. Thibault first meets Ellen when she's disguised as Alan and apprenticed to the local blacksmith. Thibault finds himself attracted to this "boy" and flagellates himself for his dirty desires. When he eventually finds out Alan is Ellen, he loathes her with a dark rage even as he still desires her, which drives his actions throughout the book. His rage/passion drives him to perpetrate dark deeds, including murder, all to clear the way for him to make Ellen his woman. (view spoiler)[And this, despite the fact that Ellen is his half-sister, which she tells him a couple of times and which he refuses to believe. (hide spoiler)] Basically, Thibault is a one-dimensional pig; a cad, a rapist, a bully, a loathsome man. He's a standard, black hat wearing villain with no depth. You hate him because he's hate-able and that's it. The remaining characters were either your standard archetypes or ciphers, placed in the story for Ellen to find or interact with, but that's about it. About the only one with potential was Isaac, another blacksmith we meet towards the end of the novel and, naturally, another love interest for Ellen. His personality actually progresses and develops some depth, making him quite unique.
Fox's writing is passable, though obviously in need of editing, as with the rest of the book. There was a sense of awkwardness to the whole thing, especially as concerns the dialogue, and this occasional inelegance would be enough to jar me out of a scene and make me wish the passage had been written in a more pleasing fashion. To be honest, until I read the author bio at the back of the book, I would've sworn Katia Fox was a young adult. Her use, or should I say, over-use of exclamation points reminded me of a teenager's journal. Characters, in their speech, would enthuse! About the smallest things! Things which weren't exciting at all! After a while, 'Find the Exclamation Point' became a game, though not a drinking one; I would've been hammered after a page or two.
I doubt I will read the other two books in the series. Firstly, because I didn't find The Copper Sign all that enthralling or leaving me breathless for book two, as the back of book claims one will be upon finishing the novel. And secondly, I honestly can't see any of the characters having much left to say or do; they didn't do that much in this book. The concept behind this novel is intriguing and with a competent editor, The Copper Sign (and subsequent novels) could've probably been something spectacular. As it stands now, though, I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone. Sorry.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
With this, the fourth entry in Conn Iggulden's masterful series on Genghis Khan, the story has become even larger than before. Though Iggulden tried t...moreWith this, the fourth entry in Conn Iggulden's masterful series on Genghis Khan, the story has become even larger than before. Though Iggulden tried to avoid the, as he called it, “Russian novel syndrom” by introducing a new character on every single page, there are still enough new faces to keep things interesting. And even though the occasional character disappears and seems to have been forgotten, don't worry, you won't miss them for long, once you find yourself swept away by the action and drama of the other storylines.
I remember in World History, when we briefly learned about the “Mongol horde,” seeing those maps that had a big red splotch over the central Asian continent which tapered down to an arrow and that arrow swept over eastern Europe, pointing directly at western Europe. The teacher (and the textbook) droned on about how the Mongols thundered out of Asia and took Russia by surprise, knocking that country and its armies flat before going on to rape, pillage, and destroy cities in Romania, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Eastern Prussia, and Croatia. Just as the horde was ready to invade Italy, the Mongols returned home, leaving only smoldering rubble and dazed but lucky survivors in its wake. Yet that information never really penetrated my imagination. I could see how close the Mongols came to taking over the known world, but I never comprehended the actual meaning behind that close-call. Not until I read this novel and saw this campaign of destruction through the vivid writing of Iggulden. This army of warriors, with their never-before-seen tactics and mobile units, if they hadn't returned to Asia, could have taken over the world. Think about that for a moment. No renaissance, not as we know it; no Tudor dynasty, no Elizabethan era; no Ferdinand and Isabella. The ships that traveled to America might not have been headed by Christopher Columbus. We could conceivably be speaking Mongolian or Chinese right now rather than English. The Mongols were that successful. Empire of Silver brings that success to life in the most sensory, dramatic, and terrifying way.
The novel begins three years after Genghis's death and his son, Ogedai, is the heir to the empire Genghis built. But he's not Khan, not yet. He's put off the coronation ceremony in order to build his capital city, Karakorum, an achievement of which his father would've never even conceived and a project which many see as pure foolishness. Unfortunately, Ogedai's delay makes his ambitious brother, Chagatai, bold. His challenge to Ogedai's position reveals a terrible secret Ogedai has been carrying for years: his heart is fatally weak and has been for years. He suffers silently through the twinges and pains in his chest, medicating himself with gallons of wine and the dangerous powder of the foxglove. This revelation adds an air of desperation to the actions of all the brothers, none more so than Ogedai as he broadens the reach of Genghis's legacy by sending out armies into southern China and across the vast expanse of Russia's landscape to the formerly impenetrable heart of Europe.
As with all of Iggulden's novels in the Genghis series, this one is no less action-packed, no less dramatic, no less heart-pounding or pulse-racing. More than any other historical fiction novelist I've read, Iggulden excels at placing us right in the midst of battlefield action. The movements and tactics of the armies, the speed and immediacy of battles, the mud and sweat, fear and blood, the reality of war and death is expressed on the page with such breathtaking skill the reader feels his heart rate quicken and his palms moisten. I cannot stress just how amazing this ability is, both from a reading and a writing standpoint. Yet this kind of kinetic writing doesn't come at a sacrifice to the rest. Far from it. Iggulden has the ability to place the reader into the minds of his characters, allowing us to see their motivations and urges, from the dramatic and sinister, to the quiet moments of family interactions or the wandering thoughts of someone who is bored. Even something as simple as a character suffering from saddle sores is conveyed in an almost poetic manner.
Bottom line, this series started at the top and has maintained its stellar qualities through each succeeding entry. There's been no sophomore slump, no weak link in the chain. Each novel is stellar and if they could be read as stand-alones, I'd recommend picking this one up today. But you'd be missing out on so much, so, please, start at the beginning; pick up Genghis: Birth of an Empire, continue on through Genghis: Lords of the Bow and Genghis: Bones of the Hills before picking up Khan: Empire of Silver (so you can finish with Conqueror). Read them. Savor them. Once you start, I promise you won't want to stop. As the Yorkshire Evening Post put it: “Empire of Silver serves as confirmation that Iggulden's majestic series has developed into an historical fiction master class.” Amen.(less)