Thursday, 12 June 2008

‘The Ten Thousand’ – Paul Kearney (Solaris Books)


Paul Kearney is one of those authors that I’d always meant to pick up but never quite managed to. For a start, whenever I went into my local bookshop they only ever seemed to have ‘book two’ of a series and nothing else. Not the best way to get into someone’s writing… If that wasn’t awkward enough it recently got to a point where I couldn’t find any of his books at all and there were rumours floating about that Kearney was going to give up the writing game altogether. Thankfully this is no longer the case, not only have Solaris taken Kearney on (which means I will eventually be able to read their omnibus editions of ‘The Monarchies of God’ when they are released) but I also managed to get my hands on an advance copy of his latest book ‘The Ten Thousand’. I just put the book down about an hour ago and one of the first things I did was to kick myself for not having read his books much earlier…
‘The Ten Thousand’ tells the tale of a mercenary company of the Macht (guess how many?), a warrior race renowned across the face of the world for their skill at arms and savagery in battle. For the first time in hundreds of years, the Macht have taken up arms and crossed the ocean to do battle for a foreign prince who seeks to depose his brother. In a twist of fate, the Macht’s employer is killed and the company finds itself surrounded by armies of the Empire. What happens next? I’m not going to say as this is a book that you need to read for yourself. It’s worth it.
I’ve read some pretty good fantasy recently but it feels like a long time since I’ve been so engrossed by a book and just torn through it to see how it ends. It doesn’t feel like a big book (although it will be four hundred and ninety six pages in mass market paperback) but Paul Kearney has managed to cram it full of intricate world building, sympathetic characters and a plot that reminded me of Erikson’s ‘Chain of Dogs’ but took on a life all of it’s own. Refreshingly, Kearney also displays a real knowledge of when to focus in on something and when to hold back and let the reader fill in the gaps. This meant that I wasn’t bogged down in needless ‘info-dumps’ and free to enjoy the story. What a story it is! Fans of military fantasy are going to find a lot to enjoy here with detailed accounts of life on the road and bone crunching conflict between massed ranks of spearmen. When I say ‘bone crunching’ that’s precisely what I mean, Kearney’s descriptions leave the reader in no doubt as to what is happening and there were times when I almost felt myself being carried along by spearmen who were behind a certain character on the page. I was left feeling like I’d read some great stuff but I’m glad I wasn’t there! I wasn’t too sure about some of the troop movements however; a mustering that seemed like it would take ages resulted in a grand army waiting over the hill a few pages later. I may need to go back and read that one again.
Fans of character driven fantasy are also going to get a lot out of ‘The Ten Thousand’ with characters that really got under my skin and stayed there. Although some of them seemed superfluous (Gasca and Vorus, although others may disagree with me there) the rest all had a part to play and excelled in terms of the plot. Through characters such as Rictus, Jason and Tiryn Paul Kearney draws a compelling picture of the world they inhabit and the demands that it makes upon them all. It is a harsh world that demands honour and bravery but there is also room for love and Kearney displays a surprisingly soft touch (considering he has had the Macht spend numerous pages visiting gratuitous violence on their foes) when things get a little more tender.
The ending packs a hard punch (although I was half expecting it, you probably will too) but felt strangely abrupt, either like there was nowhere else to go or that there was room deliberately left for a sequel. I would like to see more stories set in this world and, considering how things are left at the end, I think there’s certainly scope for it.
Although it does suffer from the odd niggle, ‘The Ten Thousand’ is a book that has got me more than half inclined to scour the charity shops and see if I can pick up anything else by Paul Kearney. If you’re a fan already then I think you’ll love this. If you’re a fan of epic military fantasy in general then give ‘The Ten Thousand’ a go, I think you’ll like it too.

Nine out of Ten

Want to see more reviews? Check out Thrinidir's review and another over on Speculative Horizons. If you're after reading an interview with Paul Kearney then head on over to A Dribble of Ink...

5 comments:

realms of speculative fiction said...

So I guess we are all liking the book , that's good :). Thanks for the link! If you get a chance pick up "The Mark of Ran" (I reviewed it a while ago), first book in his Sea Beggars trilogy - It's a bit more personal and conventional in some ways, but it's still Kearney all the way :).

Adam Whitehead said...

Excellent review. Hopefully I should finish it off in the next couple of days.

Hades said...

This is based on some sort of historical episode, isn't it, Classical Greek maybe? I've definitely heard of something along these lines before.

James said...

Glad you enjoyed it Graeme! I had a feeling even before I read this novel that it might be one of the best releases of 2008 and given the hugely positive reviews, I think it's a big possiblity. Thanks also for the link.

Hades - you're right, the novel is based on the historical 'Ten Thousand' - an army of mainly Greek hoplites that took on the Persian Empire and then found themselves stranded in unfamiliar land.

Beefeater said...

Hades, yes, it's the Anabasis.

Supposedly Alexander read it and formed the conclusion that the Persians weren't that hard after all, and we know where that ended up!