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on 8 June 2009
If you read my feature on The Ten Thousand last month, then you might remember that I was quite excited by the sound of this novel. I'm not sure whether it was the cover art (yet another stunning Solaris cover), the premise (simple, but with real potential) or the prospect of epic battles that sparked my interest. It will suffice to say that something made this novel stand out for me, so when the ARC popped through my letterbox I was eager to see if my expectation was well-founded.

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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A few months back I noted The Ten Thousand as being one of my hot tips for 2008. Reading a lengthy preview that the author sent me a while back reinforced this feeling, and now reading the complete novel has confirmed my initial guess. Probably the most underread author in epic fantasy has delivered his strongest novel to date.

The Ten Thousand is based on The Anabasis, the best-known work of the Greek writer Xenophon. In that book Xenohpon relates how a Greek mercenary force of ten thousand warriors was hired by Cyrus the Younger, a Persian prince seeking to supplant his brother. When Cyrus was killed, the Greek army had to fight its way out of the now-hostile empire and find its way home.

In this novel the setting is the world of Kuf, which is divided between two humanoid species: the Macht and the Kufr. The Macht live in a mountainous peninsula made up of feuding city-states (reminsicent of Greece), whilst the Kufr inhabit the vast Assurian Empire to the south-east which dominates a huge continent. Many of the most famous mercenary companies of the Macht are summoned to the capital where a vast host is being assembled to sail across the sea and join the armies of the Assurian pretender Arkamenes, who seeks to usurp his brother, Ashurnan. Amongst these are Gasca and Rictus, two young warriors who join up for very different reasons, the former to see the world and fight, the latter to forget the horrors of the destruction of his city and family. As the story proceeds we meet other characters: Jason, the young and charasmatic commander of one of the mercenary companies; Vorus, a Macht living amongst the Kufr who is an advisor to Ashurnan; and Tiryn, Arkamenes' consort.

The story unfolds similar to the events of history, with the Macht fighting their way into the very heart of the Empire where Ashurnan awaits them with a vast host. There, at the Battle of Kunaksa, the hinge of the world will turn, with dire consequences for everyone involved.

As normal, Kearney anchors the story on his characters: Rictus, the young warrior lost in his grief and rage who finds opportunity and responsibility thrust upon him; Jason, the popular commander who doesn't know what he wants from life until, amidst the blood and mud, he finds it; Vorus, the exiled warrior who finds his loyalties and admiralties torn; Ashurnan, a ruler desperately trying to be a great king but not knowing how, whilst his brother believes he is great and worthy and doesn't realise the truth; and Tiryn, whose own preconceptions and believes are put to the ultimate challenge. They are flawed people, but the reader cannot help empaphising with them and the increasingly harsh challenges they face.

Kearney has previously attracted the reputation of doing battle sequences better than almost any other writer in the genre, better than Bakker, Martin or Erikson, with perhaps only Gemmell and Cornwell at the very height of their powers challenging him. The battles here are hard, brutal affairs but they are also used to make the characters change and grow, with every engagement also reflecting some revelation or advancement in the characters. It is an excellent device, perhaps not a conscious one, but handled superbly.

In this one novel (The Ten Thousand is a stand-alone, although Kearney does not rule out other works set in the same world) Kearney successfully encapsulates all of his strengths as a writer, making for his tighest, most satisfying novel to date, and may possibly have just given us the best epic fantasy of 2008.

The Ten Thousand (*****) is an engrossing, superb novel of war and its impact on humanity with a fitting ending.
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a novel that comes in the sub category of fantasy novels known as epic fantasy. such stories are set in fantasy kingdoms, usually with no magic or fairy creatures in sight [as is the case here] and they are worlds where destiny and the future is being decided on the battlefield as fighting tears the world apart. Kings, generals, and ordinary people will usually be the viewpoint characters, all caught up in the great struggle. a struggle in which the harsh brutality of war will be shown, and some may find themselves.

All of which applies here.

In this particular fantasy kingdom the king is being challenged for the throne by his brother, and the latter puts together an army the bulk of which are ten thousand mercenary soldiers from the macht, a race of people to whom fighting is pretty much everything. they are very good soldiers.

running 465 pages subdivided into three parts, with a ten page glossary at the end to explain some of the words used, the book is a novel that stands entirely on it's own and isn't part of any series or trilogies so you don't need to read anything else to understand what goes on here.

the main viewpoint character is rictus, a young man whose first experience of battle does not go too well, and whose resulting life in the chaos of a destroyed homeland becomes nothing but fighting as he and a man called gasca whom he befriends on his travels join with the macht.

early parts of the book cover this and the macht then joining with the rebel army and the resulting campaign. the prose is good and readable, the characterisation solid, and the depiction of war uncompromisingly realistic. this and adult language and brutal moments mean it's not a book for the young.

All this is good and engaging but it's never quite unforgettable. It's good writing but not brilliant writing. then midway through the book things do not go accoridng to plan, and the macht have a fight on their hands to survive.

the writing really does click into gear at this point and the resulting problems and struggles the macht face do rather grip and will have you wondering if they, and in particular the viewpoint characters, can survive.

like real wars things are resolved not with last minute daring assaults but events happening elsewhere and fighting gradually ending. which leaves the question many of the characters have to answer of what happens next? This leads to an emotional ending that will linger in the mind for a while. If you find yourself caring about what happens to a character, and you will on several occasions here, then that's good writing.

4.5/5 for the first half of the book, but the rest does bring it up to five star level. the annals of heroic fantasy have a fine new entrant
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on 8 October 2014
I found this a disappointing read. It's true that the battles are well described, but the world in which the book is set seems filled with confusion and anachronism. I would have preferred a generic 'ancient world' setting to the author's mix of historical and fantasy which has a planet with two moons and non-human races, but all the usual trees, flowers and food. There are obvious historical borrowings - the hanging gardens of Babylon, for example, but made up names for most places and geographic features that leave the reader struggling to decide whether they should know where events are happening, or just go with the flow. Finally, anachronisms such as large, decked sailing ships with mainmasts and tops in an ancient world setting, or mention of 'God' and 'taking the Sacrament', proved too distracting from simply enjoying the action.
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on 18 October 2011
A well written book. However I must say that the author has been a little lazy. The legendary 10,000 with their 'red cloaks', 8 foot spears with a lizard sticker on the end smacks heavily of the Spartans. In addition the troops are split into centuries that are lead by a centurion, and they are supplied with pilum. The enemy is a taller, darker race lead by a high king who prefer to attack on horse with weak infantry.......well let's say no more

At least he didn't quite that the arrows fell in such numbers that they blocked out the sun.

This is a good piece of escapist literature, with some great bloody battles, and if you take it at it's face value, well worth the read
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 October 2008
The other review says it all really but neglects to mention that this book can be read in a long night. Succinct prose, no waffle, straight to the point sort of stuff. It is a bit too obviously drawn on Greek/Persian history (influenced by Gemmell perhaps) but really this is how this sort of thing should be written. Good stuff!
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on 15 July 2013
This is the first in the Macht trilogy by Irish fantasy author Paul Kearney, and its a brilliant start. Its a fantasy novel that takes inspiration from Xenophon's March of the Ten Thousand. Kearney's writing is superb, and perfectly conveys what it is like to fight, live and die in the world of the Macht and the Asurian Empire. The novel contains some achingly beautiful descriptive writing, alongside some of the best combat descriptions I have ever read. Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to this book.
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on 5 August 2016
If I have one pet hate in fantasy Fiction it's when someone takes a story from history and pretend's it's a fantasy story. This one really sunk to the bottom of the bucket.

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.
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on 18 February 2015
Top notch adult fantasy, three quarters of the way through the first book of the Ten Thousand and I`m loving it. Well written, great characters and epic battles. This is the first of Paul Kearney`s books I have read and I`m impressed.
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on 9 December 2008
I recommend the 10.000 to anyone, even those who , like me, had to to take High School tests on Xenophon's classic.Better yet, give it as a present to a teenager too steeped in heroic fantasy and drop a hint: he/she may start to learn that real history is much more complicated and fascinating than any well designed plot set in a surreal world.
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