The Mongoliad Book Two: A Review (And a brief discussion of The Empire Strikes Back)

13665175There was a little bit of space between reading volume one and two in this rather interesting series written by 7 authors: Greg Bear (Arguably the most famous), Neal Stephenson, Mark Teppo, Nicole Galland, Erik Bear, Joseph Massey, Cooper Moo).

I found the disjointed yet inter-weaving storylines from the first volume to be compelling and interesting. It’s very clear in volume two the same approach continued: assign a writer (or two) to a certain setting or character group and let them write that part. I applaud the unique approach, as I’ve always been curious about author collaborations and how well they actually work. The first volume ( and you can read that review here) seemed to have its proverbial shit together, as the characters were somewhat disjointed but still had an overarching theme in common (Mongols vs. Christendom, or really everyone else on the Asian-European landmass).

In book two, we get a few new characters and a new setting: Rome. A crazy priest, his somewhat savage boy companion (Get your minds out of the gutter) another binder-child girl (Binders are essentially tribal messengers…you’ll have to read it or be a history professor to understand), and a plethora of imprisoned cardinals struggling to elect a new pope.

Some of the novelty of the divergent storylines wore off in volume two. Its a comparatively short work when put next to volumes one and three, and the new papal/Roman environment felt underdeveloped. The old favorites are back (at least the ones that didn’t die), and the Shield-Brethren Knights are still trying to both distract and take down the entire Mongol dynasty with just a handful of well-armored Christians.

And the strength of book two, much like one, still lies in the martial description. Its very clear these folks did their homework, both historically and aesthetically, and the combat scenes feel alive and fluid. A fair portion of this book is dedicated to the Mongol version of gladiator combat, as well as militaristic skirmishes between Mongols and Knights. Some of the smoothest and most understandable descriptions I’ve seen since reading Dan Abnett are in these two books, and the historical accuracy is a cherry on top of that bloody cake.

The pleasant surprise of the first volume was the decidedly more intriguing story of the internal political struggle in Mongol capital, with a side of longing romanticism. Gansukh the steppe warrior struggles to save the Khagan (the BIG Khan) from his dependence on alcohol, and also kind of has a thing for a Chinese slave/etiquette teacher named Lian. The in-depth look at court politics, subterfuge, and social conflict provided an interesting counterpoint to the heavy-handed action movie that was the knights’ portion of the storyline. The interweaving continues in book two, with Lian and Gansukh getting bolder (and naughtier) with their affair.

The new cast of characters in Rome is where volume two struggles. The whole thing, setting, plot evolution, etc. just happens too fast, and it isn’t clear how it ties into the narrative from book one. Every time a chapter started for the Rome setting, I groaned (figuratively). I honestly believe keeping this entire storyline out of the book would’ve been an improvement. Maybe they’ll change my mind in book three (which is currently underway…no change yet).

The middle book, to me, can sometimes make or break a series. When a reader (or viewer) starts to experience a work of literature or media that they know has three parts, the expectation is simple: Volume one I meet the characters, and Volume three is the exciting conclusion. So…where do we get the meat of the story? In volume two. Its why Empire is so clearly the best Star Wars in the trilogy (and if you disagree, hold up two fingers. Great. Now shove them in your eye sockets.) Unfortunately for the Mongoliad, volume two is quite weak. What started off with promise out of the gate is now limping toward the finish line. At the end of the day I am reading the third volume, so it couldn’t have been that bad.

I’d say Mongoliad Book Two gets a 4 out of 7 superfluous authors, since the book has seven. In all honesty the attempt to write a series with a septuple-headed writer is commendable on its own. I struggle with having just one person arguing amongst himself, I couldn’t imagine seven. Although I may have at least that many personalities in my head when I’m writing.

Ahem.

Signing Off.

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