The Mongoliad: Book Two by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a very hard book to properly review. Unlike a typical book in a trilogy (or however many books it ends up being – at the time this book was published it was a trilogy), this book does not contain a story that begins and ends within the larger story. But as this book started I realized this would be the case. It essentially just continues exactly where the last one left off as if this was not a series of books, but rather one large book that’s been split into publishable chunks of 300 pages each. (Although, to put the lie to my point, the final chapter does have a very satisfying final sentence for ending a book)
This book takes the groups we were following last time – Feronantus and his knights, Gansukh and Lian, Zug and Kim, and the Kagan – and adds another group: the Cardinals in Rome who have to elect a new pope plus a couple outsiders key to that story. I don’t remember exactly how I felt about the different stories in the last book, but in this book each set of characters is in a place in their narrative that keeps it very engaging and fun. And so I gave this book a 4/5 because I found each of the storylines to be a lot of fun.
I know that Neal Stephenson and crew (for this is a book with a lot of authors) are obviously altering some of history to tell this story. Or, if there actually was a Christian military order who went off to kill the Great Khan, obviously we wouldn’t know the details to this level. Which is to say that while I know part of this book is fiction, as a huge history nerd (although I can’t remember details to save my life – thankfully at the college and above level it’s more about motivations than details) I love learning about this portion of history I’m completely ignorant of. Throughout high school and college we just skipped over the middle ages as if nothing important was happening. And yet I learned via Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (which I think was the impetus to get me to check out this series) that Europe as we know it almost ceased to exist because of Mongol power. And it was only an accident of history that gave us the white-European dominated last 800 years. So learning about the Khazars – a Jewish steppes people that once had a huge empire, but at this time (in the book) just have one city left is pretty incredible. As are a million other details that Stephenson and crew include.
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