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Seven authors, one trilogy The Mongoliad'

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Serial story converted to novel

What do you get when you try to carve a cohesive trilogy of novels from a freewheeling, centuries-spanning serial narrative created as a subscription service and originally consumed as a work-in-progress? Especially when your subject matter happens to involve the descendants of Genghis Khan, crusading knight-priests and of course, the Romans?

Oh and there are seven authors. Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, E.D. deBirmingham, Cooper Moo and Mark Teppo that's seven. They are novelists and editors and video game writers.

So with all that, what are the odds of getting something that actually works?

It turns out that you get 'The Mongoliad' (47North), a compelling story of Genghis Khan's sons as they try to maintain the continents-wide empire built by their legendary father. Meanwhile, a group of crusading Christian warriors have come together in a quest to find a way to defeat the seemingly overwhelming odds that lay in front of them.

A group of mystic warriors known as the Shield-Brethren have gathered under the leadership of Feronantus in order to combat the ever-spreading menace of the Mongol horde. The solution is unclear, but when a messenger named Cnan of the Binders appears in their camp, delivering a message of both suffering and survival, it becomes clear that the time for action is rapidly approaching.

Meanwhile, we also bear witness to the inner workings of the Khan's court watching Genghis's son Ogedei slowly crumble under the pressures of leadership through the eyes of Gansukh, a Mongol warrior sent by Ogedei's brother to watch over the Khan. Gansukh is forced to trade the wild anarchy of the steppe for the pinched formality of the court.

These storylines run parallel for a while before slowly, inexorably bringing themselves together as both sides are forced to make difficult choices that may have dire consequences.

By all rights, a book with seven listed authors should be a mess. Somehow, these seven writers managed to convert their wide-ranging serial story into a linear narrative (with perhaps a hiccup or two, but nothing major). It's occasionally a bit choppy, but in terms of style, the story flows far better than it has any right to. With that many cooks, one would expect consistency issues, but for the most part, they're absent.

While one might assume a fantasy bent to 'The Mongoliad' due to the proclivities of the authors, the book is relatively straight-forward alternate historical fiction (though are certainly hints of something a bit more fantastic to come). There's an epic feel to the proceedings that is enthralling to read; the descriptions of battle are particularly rich medieval combat rendered in visceral detail.

Still, a well-built world means nothing without compelling characters to populate it. Here, the authors mostly succeed Cnan and Gansukh in particular are fascinating characters whose perspectives serve as the foundation for the reader's understanding of the world of the story. Ogedei's suffering under the weight of rule; Percival's unwavering faith; Istvan's drug-fueled vengeance the book is awash with character details that consistently enrich the reading experience.

'The Mongoliad' is not a perfect book. It sometimes feels a bit over-expository; it is the first in a trilogy, after all. The multiple authors not to mention the story's initial format have resulted in a bit of clumsiness with the changeover to novel form. However, these faults are minor ones; 'The Mongoliad' is an interesting work not just for how it came into being, but for what it wound up becoming.

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