Monday, October 12, 2015

The Mongoliad (Book One) - Neal Stephenson et al.

The Mongoliad started life as a serial novel, in the tradition of Dickens, combined with a multi-author collaborative approach, in the tradition Several of the authors involved have a solid pedigree as long as your arm (for example, Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson), and others are doing their debut work.

In this case, the work is centred around the potential fall of Europe to the Mongol horde in 1241. Whilst initially billed as an alternate history, it felt more like historical fiction; whilst there do appear to be some `alternate' insertions, they blend seamlessly into the narrative. Within the broad narrative sweep of the collapse of Europe, the reader is given several core character viewpoints - one a steppes-warrior embedded within the city of a Mongol Khan, struggling with the differences between city and steppe, power and responsibility - and the other, a group of knights in a military order, on a journey to attempt to prevent the end of western civilisation.

Each chapter is relatively short, as one might expect from a serialisation - and whilst this does mean there are a few bumpy prose transitions, it also means that each chapter is admirably focused. The reader is moved along sharply, each page bringing a new action, a new consequence, a new insight into a character, a new twist.

Perhaps the only real complaint about the above approach is the conclusion; whilst this is `Book One', it ends rather abruptly; it feels more as if the latest serial `episode' has finished, rather than the narrative coming to a fluid conclusion. It may be worth bearing in mind that this abrupt end might charitably be described as a cliffhanger - if the reader wants narrative closure, they will have to get the next episode in the sequence from the author's website, or wait for the next book to be published. The cliffhanger nature of the text is hardly unique, but seems a bit abrupt, even in a genre prone to similar narratives.

Perhaps the greatest thing about this collaboration, for me at least, was being unable to tell where one author left off and another began. The prose was uniformly tight, focused, and flowed nicely. The dialogue fitted, and each character had a sufficiently distinct `voice'. The world was drawn cleverly, and skilfully evoked.

Overall, as a text, this works very well. Each piece is integrated, and the authors seem to have blended their talents together to create something new and exciting, whilst managing to avoid - or at least ameliorate - any individual flaws. This is a fast-moving, page turning text; I found it gripping, and rather difficult to put down.

Certainly worth reading, and highly recommended for both alternate history and historical fiction fans - just bear in mind the continuing serial nature of the work.

No comments:

Post a Comment