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on 23 May 2013
Having just reached the end of Mongoliad Book 1, I am frankly astonished that Neal Stephenson has allowed his name to be associated with this novel, which as another reviewer has accurately described it, feels like a failed children's GCSE project. I like many turned to this novel having been captivated by the rest of Stephenson's work, hoping to find something similar to the Baroque Cycle but set in the world of Genghis Khan. Sadly all of the hallmarks of Stephenson's prose and imagination are conspicuous by their absence - there is no shred of humour, no attempt at characterisation, and none of the entertaining Stephenson digressions that make the reader bow to his encyclopaedic grasp of his subject matter.

The writing is simply appalling. On multiple occasions, sections or chapters end on that sophisticated technique - the authorial question... "would she ever see her friends again??". Honestly. There are gaping holes in the narrative - several times I found myself going back a couple of pages to check I hadn't missed something - and the attempts at characterisation are laughable. It is rare to reach the end of any novel and have developed zero sympathy for or affinity to any single one of the characters. Pedestrian, dull... I could go on and on.

Obviously one can point at the book's multiple authors, and how the book actually evolved, to explain its shortcomings. Sadly I think this only excuses it to a very small degree. Perhaps my expectations were too high - after all I have just come from the Baroque Cycle, Diamond Age, Snow Crash, Zodiac and Reamde (plus the excellent Ready Player One by Ernest Cline for video game afficionados, highly recommended) - but this feels like it had no editorial input whatsoever, and is simply a shameful attempt by its publishers to exploit Stephenson's popularity.

Shame on you, Mr Stephenson.
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on 6 June 2012
I'm not sure why this book is published as a trilogy - the seven authors have most of the written material in the can, and the biggest names amongst them (Bear and Stephenson) are famous for the size of their tomes. Perhaps that explains why this book reads as if a long, rambling pre-amble, introducing us to three separate plot strands which are hardly connected. But a historical epic can be forgiven for taking its time with scene-setting.

What can't be forgiven is the introduction of do many 'main' characters. There are so many that it is hard to build up an interest in their actions - they ride on some horses, they get in a very detailed fight, they clean up after the fight (this novel is reaching for accuracy) and then they ride on their horses some more. Meanwhile, the b-plot about the shenanigans in the court of the Khan is far more interesting, but hardly given time to expand.

To read this book is to be given a lesson on why books are written by a single author. It is not a bad book, but it is nowhere near a great book - despite the names involved.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is a theory, put forward in the film Clerks II (I think) that the 'The Lord of the Rings' is about little more than walking. It's a theory with some validity. For 'The Mongoliad it's a cast iron truth. Whilst not entirely without merit, this is essentially a story about some heavily armoured knights doing little more than walk across two continents.

Regular readers of Neal Stephenson will know that many of his novels are slow to begin with. They offer long, detail heavy introductions, with asides and digressions. Plot seems secondary, yet Stephenson's novels are peculiarly compulsive; you find yourself gripped. As his novels progress, the depth of his storytelling becomes apparent. Narrative threads appear that you never saw coming, that leave the reader dazzled by his brilliance. During the Mongoliad,when nothing much had happened for two hundred pages, I wasn't overly concerned. I assumed that its threads would draw together in the final third to deliver a satisfying conclusion. This the first instalment of a new series, so perhaps I am being unfair, but this volume lacks any coherent conclusion at all.

The story starts with promise. Cnan is a 'Binder', one of a group of mysterious female spies. She tracks down a group of Christian Knights, with a message for their leader. From there a quest is born. Europe and Christianity are under threat from the rampant Mongol hordes. The knights decide the best way to neutralise the threat is to send a small detachment onto the Steppe to assisinate the Khan. The remainder of their force stays in a conquered city, to take place in a tournament. The tourney prize, the Mongols say, is the freedom of Europe. The third narrative strand is set inside the Khan's palace. It follows a rough but intelligent Mongol warrior, and the Chinese slave who is forced to tutor him in court protocol.

The blurb to this book talks of 'powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia', and 'uncovering hidden knowledge'. This knowledge is so well hidden with in the text, it seems not to exist at all. Neither does it feel like an alternate history as described in the blurb. It is merely a story, and a pretty dull one at that. The characters may not have existed, and the templar's order may be fictitious, but, so far, one could hardly argue that history was being rewritten. Instead, we have a long journey punctuated by fights. The fight scenes are very realistic, and described in great detail, which some readers will love, but I found them too long and drawn out. Realism has been allowed to win out over excitement.

I find it hard to sum up this book. I'm tempted to suggest it's flat because it was written by committee. It has no spark; blandness by collaboration? Maybe, but would I have noticed if I hadn't known in advance? Stephenson's books normally clock-in at around 1000 pages, this is 400. I would never have returned to Quicksilver if it had stopped at page four hundred, so perhaps is it too early to form a proper opinion of the Mongoliad too? (I liked Quicksilver so much, I appropriated it for my reviewer name)

This does not feel like a book that was meant to be in a series. It's not a neatly packaged first volume, but a larger book carved up. Whilst there are many loose threads, there is no climactic finale. Tolkien ended the Fellowship of the Ring with the scattering of the fellowship. This book fizzles out with a whimper. There are no characters/situations I am desperate to go back to; no cliffhangers begging resolution. All of the threads are cut off, apparently at random, with no apparent thought to maintaining tension.

All in all I was very disappointed with 'The Mongoliad' it contains some interesting characters and detailed combat scenes, but it is a monotonous read. I will carry on with book two, in the hope some of its promise is fulfilled. Stephenson likes to start slow but burn bright, I hope the Mongoliad does too.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 June 2012
I must say that I loved this and it went past really quickly for me - in fact I have already pre-ordered the next part of this Saga. The only thing that was slightly disappointing was the abrupt ending, which may have been the result of the collaboration, but didn't seem like a natural break.

Given the nature of the writers' past output, I was expecting more fantasy elements - but this is rooted in detailed historical fact and this is obviously one reason for having so many writers involved - to tie down all the historical details of the period and get this right. I can also see how there are two contrasting and possibly contradictory "voices" at work in this.

So firstly we have the small party of Christian Knights who would usually be the "heroes" in such dramas - but we see them from the point of view of an outsider - Cnan, who is a half-caste messenger and guide - so we see all their faults and oddities through her eyes; although we do end up siding with them against the horrors inflicted by the Mongol horde. However, simultaneously, we follow Gansukh, a young Mongol acolyte entering the Khan's court and learning about it from an attractive Chinese woman, with whom he becomes enamoured. We gain sympathy for him and his teachers throughout the narrative.

This first part of the saga, builds up detailed pictures of all the characters involved and while there is a certain amount of action, we are mainly learning their backstory and understanding the world in which they live. It really feels like you are "immersed" in another world. There are hints of fantasy - but the surprising thing is that these are rooted in the Christian tradition. Percival is visited by the Virgin Mary and gains visions and superhuman strength from his contact - but the most interesting aspect of this is that we see this all from Cnan's point of view - as something unbelievable and "fantastic".

The novelty of this series therefore is of differing points of view about historical and religious events that we may know vaguely from history lessons, but don't know in the detail and depth of these participants. The horror and strangeness of the period is really brought to life. I would recommend this highly to those who like detailed and well-drawn series that take their time and develop across several volumes. I can't wait to read more.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Mongoliad started life as a serial novel, in the tradition of Dickens, combined with a multi-author collaborative approach, in the tradition of...er...Wikipedia. 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.
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on 2 May 2014
If you are in imminent expectation of a substantial legacy and the anticipated demise is continually deferred, buy the aged relative a copy of "The Mongoliad".

It's unlikely that the old boy will survive Book1, but if he does I can guarantee that the sex scene at the midpoint of Book2 will see him dialling Dignitas or reaching for the breadknife.
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VINE VOICEon 9 July 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The cover sold me this book. Great picture and what a list of authors - surely this must be a great read. Well, you know what they say about too many cooks and I think it applies here too.

The writing style seems to be one chosen by this committee of authors and as such never really finds its voice. The characters have those typically hard to pronounce names favoured by cliched fantasy novels and struggle to define themselves beyond the need to have the various plot points taken care of.

I did not feel myself drawn to the characters or the plot, which was your standard fantasy "group of knights on a quest" fare seen from both sides of the quest - knights and the Mongol leader they are out to kill and the authors take a stab at making you feel for both sides - a feat that Joe Abercrombie accomplishes so much better in his recent novel "The Heroes".

Perhaps my problem with this novel was because I had just finished Abercromie's excellent novel and this just couldn't hold a candle to it. Or perhaps the assembled writers just aren't my cup of tea. Either way, I can't recommend it.
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on 7 July 2016
Somewhat jumbled, by perhaps, to many contributory writers, nevertheless, this is a never less than interesting story. Bloody action involving some well crafted characters really do grip the attention of the reader. Yet, the constant character changes can be very disorienting.
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on 28 April 2012
This does start pretty slowly. I didn't really like the writing style, it seemed quite clunky and I almost gave up. However it does rapidly improve.

It took me a while to remember the names of all the characters and to work out exactly what was going on.

The setting is interesting and there are plenty of vivid historical details. It is generally written quite well but as you might expect the writing styles do change throughout the book. Occasionally the writing can be quite dull.

The storyline(s) are well realised and intriguing.

Probably the best bits are the action scenes and in particular the fighting. This book has some of the most exciting and probably the most accurate fight scenes that I have ever read.
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This book apparently derives from an online collaborative project and represents the authors' refining and consolidating of the narrative from that project. Not having previously been aware of that work, I won't comment on how faithful it is, or on the differences between the two media (there are interesting comments on this in some of the other reviews).

Read simply as a sprawling, epic adventure, though, the book is great fun. It is 1241. The West - "Christendom" - is threatened by Mongol hordes (not an exaggeration - "horde" seems to be the correct technical term for those armies) sweeping in from central Asia. A small band of heroes, the Shield Brethren, determine to take a stand - but what can they achieve against overwhelming numbers?

While the Mongol invasions, and the brutality they entailed, became legendary, the authors take care here not to portray the invading Mongols as nothing more than rampaging monsters, or the defenders of the West as all being spotless. Alongside the Shield Brethren are some decidedly shady Western orders of knights. And a parallel storyline set at the court of the Great Khan underlines this, portraying him with some sympathy.

Of course, there is a great deal more going on, and the exact nature of many of the characters - especially Cnan, the mysterious girl from the Steppes - is satisfyingly unclear: while the descriptions of medieval combat and geopolitics are detailed and well worked through, this is also a story with real depth.

Overall, great fun, with the only two drawbacks, perhaps - the first being that it takes a little while at the start to absorb who all the various Christian knights (and Mongol warriors) are, and the second, that this first volume does stop rather abruptly - it isn't in any sense a self-contained story and The Mongoliad: Book Two  will have to pick up the action in mid flow. I'm looking forward to that, and it's out in September, which isn't too long to wait.
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