This is the third volume of "The Mongoliad" and at nearly 800 pages, it is almost twice as long as the previous two - not that it seems long: the pages rattle by.
In one sense, the book is easy to review. It
is just as good as its predecessors, and if you have read those, you
will want to see how things get wrapped up. If you haven't read the
other books, this isn't the place to start - I'd recommend you go and
look at reviews of Book One and decide if it's for you or not.
at another level, it may be worth saying a little about the trilogy as a
whole, and about how much Volume 3 does, or rather doesn't, provide
These books make up a true epic, ranging across
thousands of miles of medieval Europe and Asia, featuring characters
from (in modern terms) Italy, Spain, England, Germany, Poland, Russia,
Mongolia, Korea and Japan. They capture a tipping point in history when
Western Europe - "Christendom" - seemed poised to be swept away by
For most of the 1500-odd pages of the cycle, we have followed four threads of the story.
In Mongolia, the Great Khagan, son of Genghis, passes his time in
drunkeness. Around him are the normal intrigues of any Imperial court,
heightened by the Mongols being a roving, nomadic people, not accustomed
to settled palace life. Honest, bluff warrior Gansukh, untutored in
the ways of the Court, arrives on a mission to save Ogedei from himself,
making friends and enemies as he does so. Outside the imperial palace,
Genghis Khan's mysterious "spirit banner" stands brooding.
Hunnern, which I think is in modern day Poland, European knights fight
to the death with enslaved warriors from across the empire, seeking, as
champions, to prevent any further advance by the invading Horde.
A small group of knights from the ancient Shield Brethren, despairing
of this, has set out across thousands of miles to find and kill the
- A conclave meets in Rome to elect a new Pope. The
process is watched and manipulated both by Orsini, Senator and ruler of
Rome, and by the Holy Roman Emperor, encamped with his troops in the
hills outside the city.
In this third book, the war party of
Shield Brethren are finally closing on Karakorum, site of the Khagan's
palace, even as he leaves to renew his faith in himself by hunting a
great bear. The remnants of Europe's chivalry, at Hunern, are trying to
fight back against the Mongols (though hampered by schisms and feuds)
and a Pope is - finally - elected.
Moving between these threads,
the pace never flags. Each is resolved, after a fashion, and the story
is never less than entertaining. Yet I did wonder if in the end this
saga isn't actually rather less than the sum of its parts. For example,
the Roman story never intersects with the others: while eminently
readable, I do wonder if it couldn't simply have been cut, to leave
three books of more moderate length. And the various hints of mystical
artifacts scattered thoughout the books - the Grail, the secret in the
tombs at Kiev, the Pope's ring, the spirot banner (and the sprig cut
from it) - never come to anything. Nor does the stuff about the ancient
origins of the Shield Brethren, the Livonian knights, or the mysterious
It seems to me clear that the authors have built in
hooks for further sequels (whether those ever appear we'll have to see)
where presumably this will be explored further, and at the end of this
book almost all the main characters are in motion (mostly on horseback)
heading purposefully towards the next volume. However I feel a bit
cheated by the way that so much material that this story (across all
three books) dwells on is simply left unresolved: all those crossbows
hanging on the wall in Part 1 that remain unfired... which is why I have
only given this concluding volume three stars. In large part, that
reflects my slight disappointment with the outcome of the trilogy as a
whole, rather than criticism of this book in particular.
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