Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: The Mongoliad: Book Three

The Mongoliad: Book Three
The Mongoliad: Book Three by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Anyone interested in the historical Mongolian empire should avoid this bilge. Anyone interested in good writing should also beat a hasty retreat. The Mongoliad is as true to the era of Ogodei Khan as Conan the Barbarian is to the age of Attila The Hun.

It's hideously bloated and poorly written, like a parody that someone forgot to make funny. The first two sentences give a taste of the laughable dialogue - "The Shield-Brethren buried Finn on the hill where they had set up camp. 'It is not as grand as one of those burial mounds--the kurgans--we have seen,' Raphael pointed out to Feronantus, 'but it has a view of where we came from, and the sun will always warm the ground.'" - and the thought of wading through another 800 pages of this nonsense made me want to give up there and then. Everyone talks in this mock-heroic, pompous patois except Frederick Hohenstaufen, who throws "goddamn" into every sentence. This is meant to make him sound down-to-earth but just makes him sound American, which is ridiculous for a 13th Century German emperor.

Reading the dialogue is like listening in on a teenage game of dungeons and dragons, and very long game at that. This is the third book in the series, which might explain why the characters spend so much time going over events of the previous books. The non-dialogue writing is better, but there doesn't seem to be any plot; just a parade of groups of characters who spend all their time thinking and talking and doing nothing.

And boy, does it go on. There are seven authors here, all writing with the same breathless adolescent portentousness. The urge to introduce unfamiliar words is never resisted, even when there is no need. For instance, we're told that Haakon has only just learned how to pronounce the Mongol capital Karakorum, though I'm stumped at how else it could be pronounced. Meanwhile, groups of characters wander around and chatter to each other or themselves, but however great the distances not one of them ever seems to stumble on a plot.

I'm sure the writers enjoyed themselves, but it's all very self-indulgent, like fan fiction for a book that nobody has bothered to write.

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