There is a danger in series that the whole thing can get a little tired. The characters all get a little too comfortable, and pages can go by with nothing really happening. Fortunately, none of that applies to this, the sixth in the Temeraire series. Naomi Novik delivers another cracking read, continuing the story along. This time, the emphasis is on the consequences of actions taken (or not taken) over the course of the previous five books. Even in their supposed exile in the new colony of Australia, Temeraire and William must deal with global events, and consider their own part in those events.
The sixth books makes for a great story in itself, while also setting things up nicely for the next few books.
I had no idea this one was coming, and it was a very pleasant surprise to see it in the bookshop the other week. I love the Genghis trilogy, and this one continues the story by focusing on Subedei, Genghis’ general who is responsible for what is known to Europe as the Mongol Invasion in one of the most remarkable sustained campaigns of history.
All told in Iggulden’s blistering style, this was yet another great read.
This book could be considered the fourth book in the Baroque Cycle, although it was actually written first. One character features across all four books, but telling you who would count as a spoiler, so I won’t.
Cryptonomicon takes place partly in World War Two, partly in the 1990s. Two stories, each gripping in their own way, gradually connect on the Philippines in a search for Japanese war gold, looted from Asia and hidden away for decades.
As you might expect from the title, a lot of the World War Two action focuses on the codebreaking efforts of the allies, as they race to decode German and Japanese transmissions while also hiding from the enemy their successes.
As with Neal’s other books in this cycle the research has been meticulous and every location is describes briefly, but with incredible authenticity. From the Philippines of the 1990s to Sweden in World War Two, each location becomes almost a character in its own right. I love Neal’s writing so this book was a real treat for me. Highly recommended, along with the three Baroque Cycle books.
The Genghis Khan trilogy wraps up with this book. That was a shame from my perspective as I was hoping for more books. Personal bias there, as I find the Mongols of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries quite fascinating.
The saga of the Mongols in their conflict with one of the pre-eminent military powers of the day, the arrogant Khwarizm takes centre stage in this book. All is not well at home for Genghis and his close family members are either under threat, or a threat to Genghis. Conn Iggulden ends a great series with a neat twist.
The second Mongol book by Iggulden shows first hand just how ruthless and effective their way of war was. With an army comprised of hardened men, all mounted, all expert archers, the Mongols lay waste to the armies of the more civilised and advanced Chinese. With their defeat of the main foreign power on their borders, it seems the Mongols are free to expand until their empire is bordered by the sea on all sides.
As he has done with Caesar before this, Iggulden vividly brings to life this period of history. Turning historical account and tribal memories into characters and events to keep the pages turning is no mean feat, and Iggulden excels here. Lovers of history and fiction alike will find this series to be a great read. Readers of historical fiction may believe they have died and gone to heaven. You haven’t it’s just a very good series. The final, Bones of the Hills is out now.
Historical fiction is another area if ascendancy right now. Just as the ‘hard sf’ writers are making that genre interesting, so the ‘hard historical’ authors are writing believable well-researched fiction that remains true to its time. As with science fiction, there’s a lot to choose from here.
1. Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
Along with its sequels, The Confusion and The System of the World, Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle is a stunning achievement, and more importantly and excellent story to boot. Set in the time of change and revolution, this saga spans the time of years just after the English Civil War (1645) to the ascension of the House of Hanover to the throne of England in 1714. This series is not entirely concerned with England, with much of the action taking place elsewhere, and as such shows much of the world as it was at that time.
2. Temeraire by Naomi Novik
Hornblower with dragons. I can’t be the first to say this, in fact I suspect Novik was when she first pitched the series. An eminently readable series set in Napoleonic times. The same players are at one another’s throats – England, Prussia, revolutionary France, however this time each country has dragons as well as an army and navy on its side. The role of a true air force has not been realised, with most countries using their dragons as fast messengers, or to intercept the dragons of others. However Napoleon was always known as a master tactician…
3. Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell by Susannah Clarke
As with Temeraire this novel is set in England during Napoleonic times. However this novel covers the last two magicians in England, and their dealings with one another. I enjoyed the pace of this novel, but others who have read it found it too slow.
4. I Claudius / Claudius the God by Robert Graves
What Quicksilver does to the seventeenth century I, Claudius does for ancient Rome – brings the time period to life with stunning clarity.
5. Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden
This series covers the rise of Ghengis Khan in the thirteenth century. So far it has two books, but a third is on the way – next year, maybe? Already this is a great saga.
The final book for the Baroque cycle. The three main characters of Jack, Eliza and Daniel again play their central roles, but this is Daniel’s book.
It begins by catching up with those 1714 chapters from Quicksilver that made such little sense at the time, which was ok since being chased by pirates is cool. Daniel returns to a very different London to the one he left, and this time arrives via a circuitous route through the English countryside. It gives him time to apprecoiate the lifestyle of the Tory landowners he has always opposed.
In London his old comrade Sir Isaac Newton is trying to run the Royal Mint, and forever chasing a criminal known only as Jack the Coiner. No prizes for guessing who that is.
I won’t spoil any of the details. Like the other two of this series the book may be long, but every page, every sentence has been crafted to keep you reading. I won’t deny anyone the experience of turning each page with trembling fingers, eyes struggling to stay open for just one more chapter.
The System of the World is a grand finale to a grand series.