Blurb: Tough, gritty fantasy to compete with George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and David Gemmell. By a critically acclaimed and highly praised author. The start of a brand new epic series. Retelling of the classic Greek history from Xenophon. Supported by targeted marketing, including ARCs, advertising in the genre press and online support.
On the world of Kuf, the Macht are a mystery, a seldom-seen people of extraordinary ferocity and discipline whose prowess on the battlefield is the stuff of legend. For centuries they have remained within the remote fastnesses of the Harukush Mountains. In the world beyond, the teeming races and peoples of Kuf have been united within the bounds of the Asurian Empire, which rules the known world, and is invincible. The Great King of Asuria can call up whole nations to the battlefield.
His word is law.
But now the Great King’s brother means to take the throne by force, and in order to do so he has sought out the legend. He hires ten thousand mercenary warriors of the Macht, and leads them into the heart of the Empire.
I stumbled across this book, saw that Steven Erikson gave it a great blurb, but I had not heard of it. I did a quick cross-check on Goodreads and saw that it was pretty well received, although the largest complaint being that the plot of this novel follows too closely with the historical march of the Ten Thousand. I wasn’t sure about this one, but due to my love for Military Fantasy I gave it a shot. I’ve been blown away.
In The Ten Thousand, a mercenary army made up of a race called the Macht is employed by a prince to overthrow his brother, the Great King of the Asurian Empire. The Macht are the fiercest fighters in the known world but they rarely come together for more than border skirmishes and never travel beyond their lands. What they find in the Asurian Empire, the greatest empire in the known world, is the fight of their lives.
The attention to large detail and small is well conducted in The Ten Thousand. We begin the tale with Rictus, a deserter from his own besieged city’s army, and Gasca, a young man who wishes to prove himself on the battlefield. The two young men are important characters in the story and their bond is followed in the small scale structure of the novel. In the grander scheme, we are introduced to a number of the leading characters in the army and follow along in the meetings and movements of the forces. Along with these perspectives, we are given insight into the enemy commander, Vorus, and his interactions with the Great King. All in all, it was a very well balanced act the whole way through which kept me involved in all fronts of the story.
This story is to the core a military fantasy, but there is little to no magic. Aside from the strange and special armor that many of the Macht wear, called the Curse of Gods, which seems to be impervious to damage and forms to their owners’ bodily needs, there is no mention of magic. The novel does remain in the realm of low fantasy though with the use and purpose of the mythology and gods which surround all sides and races in the novel. You will not find elves, dwarves, or orcs in this book, but you will find other variants of man. It is very much a fantastical retelling of the historical march of the ten thousand, but it’s very good fantasy.
The thing I was most shocked with in this novel was the writing. The story was not only told well, but the word choice and descriptions of the battles are among the best I have ever read. I was consistently amazed by Paul Kearney’s ability to tell both the large and small scale of skirmish and battle alike. He mentions details which other authors in the genre either fail to see or point out. The most amazing thing about this writing is I truly visioned the scene to scene in my head in a way few authors are able. This novel is truly great. Whatever faults history buffs or people who don’t like fantasy retellings of historical events place at this novel’s feel, those faults aside, this is a great book with an excellent feel of what ancient military life, tactics, and characters would be like. It paints a unique and interesting world, and the writing gripped me page to page from start to finish.
You should not expect a pleasurable end to this tale, but the tale ends the way it should. The novel is gritty, violent, and dark, but all parts of the moving mechanism of the story and never more than what is needed to see the image and parts of the whole in a vivid and interesting way. If you, like me, are a military fantasy fan, do yourself a favor and pick up The Ten Thousand.
About the Author: Paul Kearney was born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, in 1967. He went to a local grammar school, and then to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Middle English
Shortly after leaving Oxford, he went on a solitary climbing trip to the Isle of Skye, and it was after tumbling off a mountain there that the character of Michael Riven first came to him. The first half of The Way to Babylon was composed shortly after, and taken up by the literary agents Campbell, Thomson & McLaughlin. Richard Evans at Victor Gollancz bought the book, and Gollancz then published Kearney’s next seven books, including the Monarchies of God series.
In the eight years subsequent to the publication of The Way to Babylon, Kearney lived in Copenhagen, New Jersey, and Cambridgeshire, but at present he makes his home a stone’s throw from the sea in County Down, with his wife, two dogs, a beat-up old boat, and far too many books.