The Mongoliad: Book Three by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was a great cap to the long trilogy (although – put together I think it’s not longer than a Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive book). While the first third of the book continues to build things up, we’ve met just about everyone by the time we’ve arrived here and so the last 2/3 of the book is a wild ride. It feels like the tension just keeps building until you’re on a giant roller coaster ride to the bottom once the climax proper begins. I can’t really talk about too many specifics in the third book in a trilogy without getting into spoilres, so instead I’ll talk about what I thought was best about this book.
– The book acknowledges that, even for the knights and mongol warriors, taking another human’s life is not easy. There are often lingering effects, up to and including PTSD. It brings a much more grounded reality and complexity to the characters and I really loved that. This trilogy seemed to have the best of both worlds – incredible fight scenes followed by consequences.
– Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II is one of my favorite characters of all time. (Behind Hoid of The Cosmere) His realpolitik made any scene with him a real joy. I think he was used just the right amount because it left me wanting even more.
– The mystical elements of the trilogy were well-handled here. It’s always fun to be in a world where most people don’t believe in the mystical, but we readers know it’s real.
– Realistic-ish consequences for our protagonists. They weren’t all protected by plot armor and that made it more exciting to see who would live and who would die.
After writing this I’m going to do a little research into how much Stephenson, et al were playing with history here. From Hardcore History and other podcasts, I know the Mongols almost conquered Europe. Then Ogedai died and they never found a way to get back. And a HUGE shame that I NEVER learned this in world history. (More like European history! ugh!) It wasn’t until my late 20s or maybe even early 30s that I learned about the vastness of the Mongol Empire. So we know that much is true, even if it’s 99.99% certain some Militaristic Christian order didn’t kill him. But was The Mongoliad real? If so, that’s bananas. Did the Mongols really collect fighters from around Asia? Even if the details of Father Rodrigo were fabricated for this story – was there really a vede sacante? (Or whatever where they couldn’t pick a pope) and was it really in part caused by Frederick’s interventions? And finally, did something like The Binders really exist? It does make sense as a sort of Eurasian spy-for-hire network since most people in either continent wouldn’t be likely to travel much. (Crusaders being an exception)
If you read the first two books and weren’t sure about the pacing – it gets better. If you haven’t read the first two and are somehow reading this review – if you like historical fiction and would like to see a part of the history in a part of the world that almost no one ever talks about – this trilogy from the Foreworld Saga is DEFINITELY highly recommended.
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