The Mongoliad book one

by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, E.D. deBirmingham, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo

The Mongoliad recalls Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, the must-read account of Sparta’s 300, in both the authenticity of the battle scenes and the realistic, gritty perspectives of the characters, told without a modern sensitivity filter.

The story takes place in the 13th century when the Mongols, capitalizing on solid leadership and their technological advantages of a long range bow and seemingly tireless steppe horses, had created the largest empire the world has ever seen. The great Genghis Khan has died and his heirs rule the three corners of the Earth:  Europe, China, and Russia.

Into this milieu a small band of knights belonging to a military Christian order devise a plan to halt the invasion of Europe by traveling hundreds miles across Mongol territory to assassinate the current khan. Their scout, and hero of The Mongoliad, is a mysterious woman named Cnán who belongs to some sort of old-world religious order. The knights are Christian, although the pagan religions and superstitions are never far away.

The authors take time (without slowing the story down) to educate the reader on ancient fighting styles, and so I also will take a little time to describe the Mongol fighting advantages. Made from several layers of material, Mongol bows easily outdistanced the European version. The Mongols could shoot from horseback, often fleeing before the European knights, and fire from beyond the range of the Europeans, picking off the pursuing forces with impunity. Their horses could cover a hundred miles in a single day. History is full of accounts of Europeans reporting attacks by two different Mongol armies in a single day in different regions, not believing that a single force could travel so far. These two advantages made them the dominant military force in Europe and Asia for hundreds of years. They lacked competence at assailing castles, however, until they conquered China and added Chinese engineers to their war parties. 

The Mongoliad has many strengths. First, it is told from several viewpoints:  knight, scout, Mongol, khan, Chinese tutor in courtroom etiquette, woman and man... Each character views the world from his or her unique viewpoint. From the Mongol point of view, every battle, all resultant carnage is justified. The authors do not pander to modern sensibilities, and succeed remarkably in getting into the heads of people of the day. 

The fighting, particularly the one-on-one fights, are realistic and engaging. I didn’t know what to think seeing so many authors on one book cover. It crossed my mind it must be a collection of short stories. (It is not.) What brings the authors together is their love of western sword fighting and history. As an 7-year (and counting) practitioner of Japanese sword, I appreciated the authenticity behind the fight scenes. The book manages to describe the horrors of war from the perspectives of those who lived in a more brutal age, where starvation was a harvest away, without descending into mind-numbing gore.

For anyone who loved Gates of Fire or band-of-hero adventures, the Mongoliad is highly recommended.