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Monday, August 25, 2008

"The Ten Thousand" by Paul Kearney (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Paul Kearney Website
Order “The Ten Thousand
HERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt
HERE
Read Reviews HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: 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 Monarchies of God series (To be reissued by Solaris Books) and The Sea-Beggars series, of which “This Forsaken Earth” was nominated for the British Fantasy Award.

INTRODUCTION: In my opinion, Paul Kearney is possibly the best fantasy writer today when it comes to making an action scene come alive. From the exploits of Corfe in The Monarchies of God series to the heavy infantry line of battle of the Macht in “The Ten Thousand”, reading battle scenes written by Mr. Kearney is so intense and cinematic that you’re literally living the moments…

SETTING: On the world of Kuf there is a large landmass populated by numerous people who are currently under the sway of the Assurian Empire. To the north and east, separated by various seas and the remote fastness of the Harukush Mountains, lies the home of the legendary Macht people—warriors of great renown and ferocity who are divided into various city states under the aegis of Machran. Under the walls of Machran, the largest gathering of Macht soldiers ever is brought together for an unknown purpose. Only Pasion, the second-in-command and keeper of the purse; and Phiron, the missing leader rumored to be keeping company across the sea with Arkamenes, the ambitious younger brother of the Great King of the Empire of Assur, know the final destination.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 450 pages of text divided over three Parts, twenty-eight chapters both titled & numbered, and a short epilogue. Also includes a map at the beginning and a glossary at the end. Narration is in the third-person present tense via multiple POVs which is usual in many epic fantasy novels. The main POVs are Rictus, a young Macht soldier whose city of Isca was recently sacked, so he becomes a mercenary and shows great promise by his fearlessness; Jason, the most cultured of the Macht Generals and advisor/translator to both Arkamenes and Phiron; the Great King Ashurnan and his younger brother Arkamenes; Vorus, the Macht supreme commander of Ashurnan's army; and Tyron, a very smart and beautiful—though of lesser caste—concubine and confidant of Arkamenes. “The Ten Thousand” is a standalone, one-off novel.

August 26, 2008/September 1, 2008 marks the North American/UK Mass Market publication of “The Ten Thousand” via
Solaris Books. Cover art provided by Chris McGrath.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: I am a big fan of historical epics whether conventional historical fiction, alternate history, or novels set in a pure science fiction/fantasy milieu, so when I heard that Paul Kearney—who is one of my all-time favorite fantasy writers for his powerful energetic style—was doing a fantasy retelling of Xenophon's Anabasis, I was absolutely thrilled :)

Having read both the original Anabasis and the historical fiction novel “The Ten Thousand” (2001) by
Michael Curtis Ford, I was eager to see Mr. Kearney's take on the famous events and had high expectations for his novel. And I have to say that not only were my expectations met, but they were surpassed…

The story starts with the aftermath of a bloody siege in the politically fragmented, though culturally unified, Macht world—an analogue of the Classical Greek world. From there, the storyline is relatively faithful to the original Anabasis with respect to the key events, but the particular characters and the epic sweep of the novel are pure Kearney, making this a book you do not want to put down. Sure, we know who wins and what happens after, but you still want root for the protagonists, and the power of the Macht heavy infantry battle line fighting against overwhelming numerical odds as well as the treachery of the Great King is just undeniable.

The Macht world, as seen through the eyes of a young dispossessed soldier who suddenly finds himself without a home and is forced to become a mercenary, is brutal, cruel, and unforgiving, but also relatively free, at least as long as the battle line or the city walls hold. No sentimentalism here, but there was none in actual history and the novel is so much better because of that. The mercenaries vote for their commanders and their contracts and when joined in a larger army they have an assembly of generals again voting for major decisions, though in the heat of battle they follow the supreme commander unquestioningly. Compare this to the subtler, stratified, caste-based and crueler ways of the Assurian Empire—which may be richer but feels more decadent and stultifying—and the differences are striking…

While the fantasy elements do not play an essential role in “The Ten Thousand”, they lend a special color to the novel and the story is richer because of it. Energetic, powerful and not for the faint of the heart, “The Ten Thousand” is a novel that brings together a great piece of history and Mr. Kearney's extraordinary storytelling skills for a book of superb results. Highly, highly recommended, “The Ten Thousand” is one of my favorite epics of 2008…

NOTE: The ending to “The Ten Thousand” is fitting, and even though Mr. Kearney stated he will not write any more novels in the Macht/Kufr universe, I hope he will reconsider and do the conquest of the Kufr empire by the Macht in a recreation of Alexander's saga or maybe some inter-city Macht war in the tradition of Thucydides or Xenophon's own history of the Peloponnesian War since those are also memorable events that shaped our civilization and deserve a magisterial retelling for a new generation…

2 comments:

The Last Bridgeburner said...

I just bought this book in pocket format today, not having read any review about it, but based soley on the fact that it is written by Paul Kearney, whose Monarchies of God I have enjoyed a great deal.
Now that I have read your review, I am all the more eager to get started reading right away. What a great way to spend a sunny sunday indoor :)
By the way, I also bought Steven Erikson's Toll the hounds (the reason I went to Indigo today).
I am torn!! Should I read Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousands first, or Toll the hounds?
Damn!! Maybe I should flip a coin :)
Bye all!!

Aiden said...

i've just finished this book after reading it for the last four days, it was amazing, i've never read a paul Kearney novel before and was dubious to the claim it is the best fantasy novel in a long time, but after reading it i can safely say it's contents is great, the scene it sets is amazing and i thoroughly enjoyed reading it. In a new world i often find that two many new things are piled onto a reader, however there isn't much to learn about this new world.
Rictus is obviously my favourite character as was Vorus, i like characters who can stand back from a scene and portray it for what it is as well as charaters who see little of war and can describe it in its full disgust. But hell this book has eveything. Great read! i reccomend it to anyone who likes reading.

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