Review of Katabasis from the Mongoliad Cycle

May 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

KatabasisKatabasis (Mongoliad Cycle #4)
By Mark Teppo, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo, and Angus Trim; Performed by Luke Daniels.
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / martial arts / fantasy / monks / conquests / Mongols / Russia /

Publisher summary:

With the death of the fearsome Ögedei Khan, the Mongol invasion of the West has been brought to an abrupt halt. The defenders, a band of brave warrior monks known as the Shield-Brethren, limp homeward again across a frozen, bloodied wasteland. But where — and what — is “home” now that the threat of invasion no longer shapes their lives? Thirteenth-century Europe has been saved from annihilation at the hands of the Mongols, to be sure, but new and terrible threats are at hand: political and religious turmoil threaten to turn the warriors’ world upside down once more. Painted against a rich backdrop of medieval mysticism and Russian folklore, Katabasis weaves together the tales of victor and victim alike in a fearless exploration of what it means not just to survive, but to truly live again.

When I reviewed The Mongoliad: Book Three in the Foreworld Saga, I didn’t realize that there were to be a 4th and 5th entry into the series. The book ended with the end of a major story arc (if not the most satisfying of endings) and I thought it was okay to leave it there.

But the story didn’t end there. Where the story in the first three books in the series really covered the story of the Christians versus the Mongols, this book follows the Shield Brethren into Russia while the Mongols mostly start gathering to find their new Kahn of Kahns. There was a greater supernatural element in this book than in the previous ones, and it was interesting to see characters I thought we had left at the end of the first book (or thereabouts) make a reappearance. At the crux of this story seems to be old religion versus new religion. It is hinted that Cardinal Vieshi, a cardinal in Rome who we met in the 2nd and 3rd books, is behind an attempt by the Levonian Brotherhood to defeat the Shield Brethren and help “modern Catholics” take a hold in Russia. The old religion, though, the Shield Brethren, the Shield Maidens, and the native Russians, are on their own mission to keep the old religion not only still around, but still relevant. As part of this, the Spirit Banner, guarded so carefully by the Mongols in the first three books, is a central part to the plot with Ferronantus, Raphael, and the Shield Brethren. In a bit of an oddity, Leanne (former slave Chinese woman in Ogedai Kahn’s retinue) has managed to save the sliver of…well, it’s still not exactly clear what it is, but it’s important enough that GonSuk had her protect it and it was attempted to be stolen from Ogedai in the first book. This gives her a tie–if she’s not really clear on what the tie is–to the Spirit Banner and the Shield Brethren.

In some ways, this was a complete story. There was a central conflict, and the plot moved to bring that to a relatively satisfying ending. In some ways, the plot lines here were less confusing than in the previous books. There seemed to be fewer plots and fewer characters to keep track of, generally speaking. However, at the end, it got muddled. I suppose it might be just me–I often have felt like I’ve been “missing something” while listening to these books and this one was no different. Something happened at the end that I didn’t quite grok, and it’s obvious that it will play out for the 5th (and final, I think) book in the main Foreworld Saga. I hope that when I finish that one, it will make more sense.

Luke Daniels did the narration for this audiobook, as with the other Foreworld and Foreworld Prequel books that I have listened to. Sometimes, his narration is fantastic. He does different voices for the characters and makes it easy to get drawn into the world. However, between the odd names, multiple plot lines, and sometimes difficult/foreign words, it can be hard to understand what he’s saying or what’s going on. As with the other books, this is one that I think might be easier to read the print first, or at least have a copy handy so you can refer to the Cast of Characters and/or re-read confusing parts. Sometimes, Daniels would do lines in a characters voice and…well, in character. So if the character was to be whispering or muttering, Daniels would do that. This would make it hard to understand what he was saying, especially when he used the thick accents.

All in all, I think I liked this book better than I liked the end of the first three books. I look forward to seeing what happens in the 5th book–which I note is not narrated by Luke Daniels.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Mongoliad, Book Two

December 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Mongoliad Book TwoThe Mongoliad Book Two
By Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Mark Teppo, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo, and Nicole Galland; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Length: 12.5 hours

Themes: / mongoliad / martial arts / fantasy / monks / conquests / Mongols /

Publisher summary:

In the aftermath of the Mongolian invasion of 1241, beleaguered Christians struggle with the presence of a violent horde and a world turned upside down. Apocalyptic fever sweeps through Europe, infecting even the most rational individuals, leaving all to wonder if they are seeing the end times — or an hour when new heroes will emerge from the ruins of cataclysmic defeat. An order of warrior monks, the Shield-Brethren, refuses to yield, plotting to overthrow the invaders despite insurmountable odds. Father Rodrigo Bendrito receives a prophecy from God and believes it’s his mission to deliver the message to Rome. Along with the hunter Ferenc, orphan Ocyrhoe, healer Raphael, and alchemist Yasper, Rodrigo sets out to reclaim Europe. But to save Christendom, someone must slay the fierce Khan of Khans. Brimming with intrigue and colorful characters, The Mongoliad: Book Two is a riveting, expertly rendered tale about the will to survive.

Much like The Mongoliad: Book One, The Mongoliad: Book Two tells a myriad of parallel stories, all centered around the Mongol conquests in medieval Europe. There isn’t much that I can say about this book, Book Two, that I didn’t say in my review of Book One.

This book continues most of the plot lines opened in Book One, and adds a couple more. I suppose/suspect that each different author wrote a different parallel story. I’m not sure that a book that is the overall length of the trilogy (the first two books are about 13 hours long each, the third is about 22 hours long) really needs as many parallel stories as the books seem to have–and that’s before I’ve started Book Three, which may add more stories. It’s like reading a story with as many parallel plot lines as The Wheel of Time series or the A Song of Ice and Fire series but with a fraction of the total page count. This makes it confusing to keep track of story progress (overall) and each of the characters. This is also made more confusing by the odd names used. As I wrote in my review of Book One, I suspect that this would be easier to read in print, or at least with a wiki of a cast of characters. I’m amazed that I can’t seem to find one online.

As with Book One, the book didn’t come to any conclusion, it just ended. At least this one didn’t end in the middle of a heated battle. Oddly, Book Two didn’t pick up exactly where Book One left off. This book started with a new plot line, one with a warrior traveling with a severely injured priest to Rome. I spent a good amount of time when I started Book Two listening and re-listening to the first part; I was trying to jog my memory to remember the plot line from Book One. It took me awhile to realize that the story was brand new for Book Two. The story lines so far seem to be:
– The brother knights on their quest to defeat Ogedai (spelling?) Kahn; they have sustained some losses but also have picked up a few extra travelers in their party, including a warrior woman. They also have a brother with them who has visions; he had one in Book One which we saw the outcome of in Book Two. He had another vision in Book Two, which I expect we’ll see the resolution of in Book One.
– The remaining brother knights trying to distract the Kahn’s brother and his traveling circus of fighters; these guys seem to be trying to form a rebellion from within the circus. Andreas is helping to lead this rebellion with the two most prevalent Mongol fighters in the circus.
– Ogedai Kahn’s point of view, where he is now under attack by the Chinese.
– GonSuk, an adviser/guard to Ogedai Kahn (as well as some of his fellow advisers/guards who are with and without him).
– The Levonian (spelling?) knights, who seem to be out to try to re-gain status in the world. They seem to be in conflict with the Rose Knights (the brother knights on the quest). Their role is not exactly clear yet, but it seems that they have ties to the church. This was a new story line for Book Two.
– The cardinals in Rome who are split into two factions for the election of the next Pope. This was a new story line for Book Two and it’s not exactly clear the differences between the factions.
– A wandering warrior and a young warrior girl (one similar to the warrior woman with the Rose Knights, though this young girl is still in training), who have been sent on a quest by one of the cardinals; the cardinal who gave them the quest to pass a message was killed. This was also a new story line for Book Two.

As much of a downer as this review seems, I’m still intrigued. I don’t get it, as this defies most of my typical “rules” for books. This time, I’m going to move right into Book Three, instead of reading a few books in between. Book Three is almost twice as long as Book One or Book Two. I enjoy this world, even though it seems like there are too many story lines and too much going on…with confusing characters. I do think that this world is better-suited to the prequels and the “Side Quest” books. I’ve already read two of the prequels (and have the other one, Seer: A Prequel to the Mongoliad, ready to read), and have three of the Side Quests ready to read once I’m done with the main story. Stay tuned for my review of Book Three, which will include an overall review of the main story line of the “series.”

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Mongoliad: Book One

June 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Mongoliad: Book 1The Mongoliad: Book One (Foreworld Saga #1)
By Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Mark Teppo, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo, Nicole Galland; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Length: 13.25 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Note: I received this audiobook as a complete package with a prequel, Sinner, included. This review only covers The Mongoliad: Book One, as I reviewed Sinner: A Prequel to the Mongoliad separately.

Themes: / mongoliad / martial arts / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

Fusing historical events with a gripping fictional narrative, this first book in the Mongoliad trilogy reveals a secret history of Europe in the thirteenth century. As the Mongols swept across Asia and were poised to invade Europe in 1241, a small band of warriors, inheritors of an ancient secret tradition, conceived a desperate plan to stop the attack. They must kill the Khan of Khans; if they fail, all of Christendom will be destroyed. In the late nineteenth century a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados provided Sir Richard F. Burton, well-known expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, a collection of long-lost manuscripts to translate — the lost chronicles of this desperate fight to save Europe. Burton’s translations were lost, until a team of amateur archaeologists discovered them in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste. From the translations and from the original source material, the epic tale of The Mongoliad was recreated.

The Mongoliad: Book One is a different sort of book. It pretty much violated all of my typical “rules” for a book, and I still find myself wanting to read on, to find out what happens in The Mongoliad: Book Two. I’m not sure the book is really a 3-star book, but I think it’s unfair to rate a book 2 stars but say that I want to know what happens next.

For those who don’t know, “The Mongoliad” was a bit of a “multimedia experiment” started by Neal Stephenson and some of his science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction friends. The end product, the volumes in the main story as well as the side stories, was a collaborative effort by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, and others. Originally published on the web (though the site seems to be more or less inactive now, with the authors stating that the published works are the preferred versions), it was originally intended to be a joining of authors and various media types for different forms of story-telling. Though it seems to often be sold/pitched as a fantasy novel, the story is much more historical fiction with some fantastical elements than pure fantasy. While that may frustrate some, it was just fine for me; I loved The Baroque Cycle, after all. The story weaves fictional tales using actual events from the Mongol invasion of Europe.

The Mongoliad: Book One is comprised with a few parallel story lines. Set in the Middle Ages, the two primary story lines are that of a group of knights on a quest (including Raphael, who we met in Sinner: A Prequel to the Mongoliad) and that of an adviser/guard to a Mongol Kahn. Through these “main” story lines, there are some side-stories in the novel, including some flashbacks as well as a plotline surrounding some of the brother-knights who are not on the quest but are left to keep the Mongol invaders “occupied” (including Andreas, who we also met in Sinner: A Prequel to the Mongoliad. The fact that I’m describing this so poorly is a testament to the first major issue I had with the book, an issue that is probably only an issue with the audio version: there are a lot of names, and a lot of names that sound the same…so it can be extremely confusing to keep them all straight when listening. The second major issue I have with the book is related, that because the stories go back and forth, it can be easy to get confused as to who is who when switching between stories, especially if it’s been a day (or more) since last listening. Luke Daniels, the narrator, did a good job with using different voices for each of the characters. But if you couldn’t remember which one was the adviser and which was the slave, then the voices didn’t help much. One other note on the narration: Luke Daniels is a good narrator, one who adds to the story without adding so much that it’s distracting. That said, in addition to the confusing names, there are also flashbacks and stuff in the story, and it was hard to figure out when the story was a flashback and when it was just moving on. I suspect a print edition may have been more obvious.

While I’m on the topic of “confusing characters,” another major issue I had with the book was that it felt like it was in desperate need of an editor. This may be a factor of “too many cooks in the kitchen” or maybe it was just the contribution from each author wanting to ensure the setup for the other authors was clear…or maybe it just needed more editing. It’s not the first of Neal Stephenson’s books I’ve said this about (*cough* Anathem *cough* Reamde *cough*). Interesting plot-relevant sections would be bogged down with–or worse, broken up by–seemingly interminable character- and world-building sections. I don’t mind world- and character-building, but I felt like it could have been done much more organically than it was done in this book. Here, it was either story or it was non-story world/character setup. It would have been much more fulfilling to learn about a feature in a town by seeing a character interact with it instead of a half chapter describing the looks of the buildings. Also, this was a book heavy on battle descriptions…descriptions that didn’t really matter to the overall plot/story arc except to say “the good guys won” or “the bad guys were defeated, but not without good guy casualties.”

This leads me to the final major issue I had with the book: it didn’t end so much as stop. Not only does it end in the middle of a fairly interesting scene, but none of the story lines are wrapped up; they are all left hanging. I hope that before I go onto The Mongoliad: Book Two, I can find a good synopsis online or a cheat-sheet to remind me of who was who and what happened, since I’m going to be listening to a (very different) book before I move onto the next book…and that’s the funny thing. I’m definitely going to listen to the next book (and probably the third book). I like the characters. I want to see if the knights will be able to complete their quest (if true history is any guide, I suspect they will), and how some of the side-quests turn out. I care about the adviser to the Kahn; he doesn’t seem like a bad guy, even if the guy he’s serving isn’t a great leader. I would like to see how some of the mystical/spiritual elements play out in the actual story. So, despite my significant frustrations, possibly because I do really like historical fiction, I’m going to continue with the series. I’m not sure this book is for everyone. I’m not sure that audiobook is the best way to consume the books. But despite its flaws, I actually want to know what happens next, so onward I go…

Posted by terpkristin.