Ok, so I may have come down a bit hard on the ol’ Mongoliad boys with the last review. The third volume basically made-up for some of the screw-ups in the second and re-captured some of the majesty that made the first volume so enjoyable.
First a quick re-cap – Seven uber-nerds (I’m assuming), with varying degrees of commercial writing renown, set embark on a journey to write an epic historical fiction trilogy about the conflict between Christian Europe and the Mongol horde. That might be a captivating book on its own, but its actually what Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Mark Teppo, Nicole Galland, Erik Bear, Joseph Massey, and Cooper Moo set out to do. And they succeeded.
Book three again had several different plot lines featuring divergent characters, but in this volume at least two of the groups wound up reuniting (they started off together, but lets ignore that for now). We got the story from the Mongol point of view, plenty of grim solider dialogue from multiple crews of Christian military orders, and some political intrigue in the form of a sede vacante in Rome. Are they all related? Tangentially yes. How? I don’t know, but they are. Good lord people, seven of them wrote it. Lets cut some slack where slack is due.
I’ll try not to bore you with too much plot re-hash, since you should read the damn things yourselves. The vast majority of the plot lines were wrapped up in typical medieval fiction style (“She rode off down the road, not knowing what lie ahead.” or “The party was reunited and there was much rejoicing.” or more definitely, “They died.”) but the endings felt natural. A few story lines from the preceding two volumes were cast aside and forgotten, but you didn’t miss them too much.
I had a bone to pick with the Rome setting and the papal intrigue in the last volume, and while still definitely the weakest setting, some of the issues I had were resolved. It felt like the authors embraced some of the absurdity in the base idea, and moments within the narrative were pure comedy. My favorite line (paraphrasing) “They had just elected a madman to be the next pope, and now they had to decide what to do about it.” has got to be a candidate for funniest lines of prose anywhere. Or maybe it’s funny because I was raised Catholic.
As a whole, this trilogy was entertaining to read, if a it sluggish in the second volume. I’d recommend it to any fan of historical fiction with the slightest bit of fantasy (no real magic, just some inexplicable happenings here and there) will enjoy this one. The combat and action sequences are smooth and fluid, the settings are vibrant, and the martial characters reveal a softer side after (or before) all the blood and killing that bridges the gap between the bloody battles.
The trilogy overall gets 4 out of 5 spirit poles. And that’s not a euphemism. Or referencing priest from Poland.
The Mongoliad itself is much bigger than the three books I’ve reviewed here. It’s actually set in the “Foreworld” setting, an alternate-historical, fan-driven universe that mirrors our own but apparently brings some cultures into conflict that may never have intersected in real life. The Mongoliad Cycle, as its referred, spawned from one of the author’s (Neal Stephenson) dissatisfaction with the authenticity of his sword-fighting scenes. So he gathered up some medieval fighting geeks, studied some sword-play, and then they all contributed to writing some stories. Maybe the coolest origin story for a book ever.
The project was originally serialized on a fan-contribution website, and the Subutai Corporation (Creators of Foreworld) even recognize some fan fiction as “side-quests” for their larger publishing endeavors. I wanted to look at the three Mongoliad books as strictly prose, but the origins and motivations behind the story are almost as interesting as the prose.
If you want to learn more, check out the Wikipedia page, since I am lazy.