Rohase Piercy's Reviews > Against Walls

Against Walls by Bryn  Hammond
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it was amazing

Well! I don't usually tackle long books (unless it's Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell') so I was rather hesitant about starting this one - especially as it's the first of the trilogy, and one might expect the others to be equally weighty - in addition, the world of twelfth-century high Asia is completely alien to me, I know nothing about Mongolian culture and very little about Genghis/Tchingis Khan. But once I'd made a start I was drawn in, chapter by chapter, until in the end I couldn't put it down.
The author has obviously immersed herself in the period, the culture, the history, in every detail - the novel is based on historical records, particularly the 'Secret History Of The Mongols', written from Tchingis Khan's own account of his life by those who knew him. 'Against Walls' covers his parents' story, his birth, childhood and adolescence, his marriage and early exploits up until the point where is he declared 'Khan' (King) by his family and supporters. The style is very idiosyncratic, veering from formal, archaic forms of address to modern-day idioms and slang in conversation between family and friends, to authorial commentary on the historical perspective, inserted into the narrative with no warning just wherever and whenever the author feels it is needed. It should all make for a rather chaotic read, but actually it works wonderfully and the quirky style brings the characters to life and saves the narrative from dry academic detail. And talking of detail, nothing is glossed over or guessed at - we learn how the Mongols lived, cooked, washed their hair, cared for their animals, disciplined their children, arranged their marriages, settled their disputes both domestic and tribal, approached their shamans, worshipped their Gods, tolerated the encroachment of Christianity and faced the ongoing threat of China with its walls, cities and alien values. Also, the position of women is handled both realistically and respectfully, with the tradition of female warriors and Queens given full acknowledgement with some wonderful feisty female characters.
I learned so many new phrases and concepts reading this book - there's a helpful glossary at the back as well as a 'dramatis personae' to refer to - I'll just list my three favourites:
'Otchigin', the youngest brother of a family whose role it was to stay at home and look after the his aged parents, his brothers' wives and children, and the flocks when the other males went to war - and also, in the event of his brothers' deaths, to take on responsibility for their wives and if possible impregnate them so that tribal numbers would not ultimately suffer after a defeat! How practical is that?
'Anda', an oath-brother, whereby hangs the tale of many a bromance …
… and last but not least, the Mongol cheer of support and appreciation, 'hur ah'. Yes, that's where it comes from apparently! Who'd have guessed?
This is Genghis Khan as you've never imagined him before - the author would say, as he really was. I never thought I'd end up giving it five stars, but that's the kind of book it is! Do give it a try!

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Reading Progress

September 23, 2018 – Started Reading
September 23, 2018 – Shelved
October 9, 2018 – Finished Reading

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