The Mongoliad Book One (Goodreads Review)

The Mongoliad: Book One (Foreworld, #1)The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collaborative alt-history project between Neal Stephenson and friends is satisfying, but a touch convoluted and shaggy at times. The alt-history in question is one where the Mongols pushed deep into Europe under the banners of Genghis Khan's heirs, certainly an interesting twist and variation on the standard medievalist fair of The Crusades. The narrative follows a few different plotlines that I assume are going to come closer together over the subsequent volumes. Since this is the first, its main purpose seems to be to introduce the characters, give us a flavor for this Mongol-dominated world, and begin a series of story arcs. The principals are a woman named Cnan who is a "Binder" (though there's no real definition of what that means other than a collection of vows and some vague mysticism) and has met up with a group of rogue but fierce knights/monks (seems they are a little of both) intent on doing something dramatic to stop the Mongol advance. Palace intrigue around Genghis Khan's heir and his massive drinking problem and erratic behavior is the other main story, but that doesn't really go much of anywhere in this volume. Another arc involving two of the Mongols' best gladiators is introduced near the end, but that also doesn't really take off before the volume comes to a cliffhanger ending.

The main problem here is the lack of focus on where this is headed. The story of Cnan and the Knights really picks up steam at the end when they arrive in the ruins of Kiev and it becomes apparent that possibly magic holy relics might be involved, but much off getting there is a slog. The palace intrigue story also doesn't help much as it reveals only a couple of mysteries involving a captured thief or assassin that it seems to be in no rush to pursue. I did enjoy the flavor of this altered medievalism, though, and will eventually pick up the second volume to see if there are any payoffs. The worldbuilding done has a lot of interesting stories it could tell, it just remains to be seen if Stephenson and Co. plan on telling them at any reasonable pace.

View all my reviews