I recently got the chance to read The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, E.D. deBirmingham, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, and Cooper Moo. Fair warning, Neal Stephenson is my favorite author, so I am likely to read any of his stuff with my fanboy glasses on. Now, you might have the same reaction I did when you see all those names. That’s nearly enough for a curling match, you might say. This seems like a lot of authors to write a book, even a series that is as long as this one promises to be. So, what gives? Unfortunately for you, I want to get into the question of is it good first. Sorry.
So, is it good? Yes.
Alright, moving on.
(sounds of scuffling)
Barbra Dillon, editor extraordinaire: Seriously? No mention of the setting? The characters? The writing? The story? Ben, if you don’t get me something I can use here, you’re fired!
Ben Rhodes: Ok! Ok! Watch where you’re pointing that thing! I’ll explain everything.
So, in the order mandated to me by my sweet and charming boss, I will address the setting first. This is a novel set in the spaces between the historical facts regarding the Mongol invasion of Europe. Technically, an alternate history, the story follows a group of knights who travel on a great quest to attempt to halt the Mongol horde. We also follow the goings on in the Mongol court, to lend accuracy and humanize the apparent villains. The book offers an unflinching account of the filth and depravity in the year 1241.
The characters all give the impression that they are well-rounded. There are a few that we never get too close to, but there are small details that show up here and there which reveal a great deal of thought. I don’t want to get too spoilery, but one of the things I most enjoyed about this was the opportunity to see excellent writers introduce characters from totally separate worlds.
The writing is clean and easy to get into. There are, perhaps, two passages in the entire book that were difficult to follow, when I was reading way past my bedtime. Overall, this is a terrifically engaging book that pulled me along at least as quickly as The Hunger Games. I finished the book in roughly five days, despite the fact that I kept my daily allotment of video games, TV, and my day job.
The story is a nice, straight forward, action-type quest. Think Lord of the Rings without all that pesky fantasy. Group A tries to walk and ride from here to there. Along the way, interesting things happen.
MINOR SPOILERS, like back of the book type spoilers, in the next paragraph.
In this case, group A is an order of knights who are, perhaps, the best fighters of the European style. “Here” is Europe, and “there” is the seat of the Mongolian Empire. “Why” is to assassinate the most powerful man in the world. “Along the way” is a tremendously good read.
So, why does it take a metric ton of writers to write one normal-sized volume in a normal-sized series? There are two reasons. The first is the tremendous amount of detail that goes into the history here, especially with the fights. The driving force behind this book was the desire to (perhaps, for the first time ever,) get the martial arts exactly right. The authors here all regularly practiced sword fighting, and decided that it was time to accurately describe the art in a book. So, every fight is painstakingly worked out, and refined, and practiced, and broken down, and…you get the picture. The second reason there are so many authors is the incredible pace that progress on this book takes.
This book does not follow the traditional publishing route. Or, perhaps, it follows a more traditional publishing route. The Mongoliad: Book One is the bound collection of the first set of chapters in a serialized online novel. Generally, once a week, a new chapter is released. These are available on various Android and iDevices, as well as at the website. This is something that I didn’t know until I finished the book. I don’t imagine that an audience that reads a lot of comics would be interested in a novel that is released a chapter at a time, but the volume I read (a textual novel if you will) was a great way to enjoy the story. Now, I have to decide if I want to cough up for a subscription to the digital version.
Five frighteningly accurate historical sword fights out of five.