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The Ten Thousand (Macht Trilogy 1) Paperback – 13 Feb 2014
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''However what the typical Fantasy fan is here for are the battles. It is here where Paul really scores, in those heart-thumping, screaming, blood-spraying combat scenes...Solaris Books have clearly seen what is a niche in the genre market; and they should be applauded for returning to publication an author whose efforts should be more widely appreciated. At a time when gritty fantasy seems to be a popular trend, 'The Ten Thousand' is perhaps a book whose time has come.'' --SFF World
About the Author
Paul Kearney studied at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Middle English and was a keen member of the Mountaineering Society and the Officer Training Corps. He has published several titles including the Sea Beggars series to critical acclaim, being nominated for the British Fantasy Award. Kearney lived in Copenhagen, New Jersey, and Cambridgeshire, but at present he makes his home a stone's throw from the sea in County Down, with his wife, two dogs, a beat-up old boat, and far too many books. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I would say this book could be likened to those by the late [and great] Mr David Gemmell,with plenty of action and mostly interesting characters, although some I feel could have been enlarged upon and some less so. I would recommend this book to readers of historical fiction or fantasy for that long journey but Personally prefer some of his previous works, especially his Monarchies of God books. Mr Kearney never disappoints me in his works just sometimes pleases less than others and this is one of those latter times. His books are always on my must buy when released list, so I am a fan. This one in summary... A good read but not quite the great one I hoped for.Hope this helps someone.
The entire story is directly taken from the classical Greek historical work "The Anabasis" by Xenophon. I realised that after about 30 pages but I hoped that Kearney was going to at least bring in a few new events or a different ending, but I was doomed to disappointment. Everything is taken straight from the history books; the Persian civil war, a city called Isca based on Sparta, the phalanx style of warfare. Then it just gets worse as it goes along. The river Oxus is renamed the Oskus, the Assyrian Empire becomes the Assurian Empire, the red cloaks of the Spartans, the names of Greek heroes, There is one difference however; in the original there is more about the adventures and battles on the march, Kearney's version rambles on about petty relationships far too much and the actual march to the sea has to be cut short. The was the biggest let down I have ever had in 55 years of reading books. It was an utter, absolute waste of money and I will drop it off at the charity shop this very afternoon.
The novel itself is clearly inspired by the historical 'Ten Thousand' - the legendary army of largely Greek mercenaries that marched at the behest of Cyrus the Younger who hoped to seize control of the Persian Empire from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Except instead we have Ten Thousand elite warriors of the Macht, whose services have been hired by a wayward Prince to try and depose his brother, the Great King of the Assurian Empire. The novel follows the story of the Macht, as they leave their own country to fight their way across a vast, hostile Empire. And when things inevitably go pear-shaped, the story focuses on their fight for freedom as they seek to return to their homeland.
The first thing that struck me about this novel was Kearney's writing. I'd never read any of his novels before, and pretty soon I realised what I was missing. Kearney's writing style is very visceral and evocative; I was able to imagine some of the scenes extremely clearly, such was the atmosphere and emotions that were created. Yet he's versatile as well, as skilled at writing a huge battle scene involving thousands as he is writing a love scene. The pacing of the novel is solid and I particularly liked the short chapters, as they helped to emphasize and maintain this pacing. Kearney however is not just a very good writer, but a talented storyteller as well. I'd even go as far to say that there are shades of the great David Gemmell about him, in the way he handles human emotions and other themes like loyalty and courage.
The world of Kuf (not a name I liked at first, though it grew on me) is refreshing in the sense that rather than being influenced by the medieval, it clearly has its roots in the ancient world. The land of the Macht bears some resemblance to the Greek city states of antiquity, while the vast continent of the Assurian Empire - populated by a number of exotic races - is similar in many ways to the Persian Empire, with a geographically diverse landscape and numerous cities. I would have liked to have seen more of these cities and the culture within them, however the nature of the storyline meant that this was not really possible. Still, the world comes through well enough. It's not world-building on the Erikson scale by any means, but Kearney has nonetheless created an interesting, dynamic world with a definite sense of history.
The characters, as always, take prominence and there are a number of interesting figures in this novel. From Rictus, a youth driven on by his troubled past, to Vorus, a man caught between loyalty and his own contrasting beliefs, to Jason, a commander who realises - amid the horror of battle - what he really wants from life. Kearney manages to give each character a motive and avoids the evil-for-evil's-sake problem that so often tarnishes other novels of the genre. Kearney's characters find themselves in many horrific situations, and part of the enjoyment of the novel is watching how they handle the oppression and how their beliefs grow and change. On a greater level, Kearney does a very sound job of portraying humanity, with all its strengths, weaknesses and quirks. There are some powerful moments here, though it's hard to discuss them without spoiling the story. Suffice to say the human lust for gold and its devastating consequences are brilliantly shown.
The battle scenes are another strong point. Kearney manages to portray the fighting in agonising detail, right down to the beads of sweat on the soldiers' foreheads. It's gripping, brutal and horrifically realistic (I could use the word 'gritty' but I'm sick of hearing it). Though as good as the battles are, it was the relationships between the characters and their own personal journeys that I found more interesting.
The Ten Thousand is not without its flaws. The first half of the novel is not as strong as the second and there is a bit of a sense of waiting for something to happen (which is perhaps inevitable given the storyline). When said event did happen, it was like a switch had been flipped: suddenly I was engrossed, whereas before the novel - while holding my attention - was not as absorbing.
I also think that some of the characters could have done with a bit more depth. Gasca in particular was one character who I felt could have benefited from a bit more 'screen time' and at times I wasn't wholly convinced by his relationship with Rictus. Their friendship seemed to develop very quickly, yet I'm not sure we see enough evidence to back this up (with the exception of one or two scenes).
These relatively minor criticisms however don't spoil what is a very good novel indeed. An enthralling tale of epic battles and the strength (and weaknesses) of the human spirit, told excellently by Kearney through his vivid, evocative prose, The Ten Thousand could well be one of the best fantasy novels released this year.
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