Historical Fiction Europe, China
AD 1081: Vast empires struggle for dominance
From the Normans in the north to the Byzantines in the south, battles rage across Europe and around its fringes. But in the east, an empire still mightier stirs, wielding a weapon to rule the world: gunpowder.
Seeking the destructive might of this ‘fire drug,’ grizzled mercenary Vallon is sent by the defeated Byzantine emperor on a near-impossible quest the far-off land of Song Dynasty China. Leading a highly trained squadron, Vallon is accompanied by the physician Hero, Wayland the English hunter, and a young upstart named Lucas. All have their own reasons for going, all have secrets.
It’s a quest that leads them across treacherous seas and broiling deserts and into the uncharted land of mountains and plains beyond the Silk Road. Many will die…but the rewards are unbelievable.
I must admit, I’m struggling to grasp what he had in mind with this. If it was a follow up to the first one, Hawk Quest, yes, it does feature several of the same characters (those still alive, at least), but talking the characters and story so long away from the first book, it can’t really be classed as a follow up, more a new one. Maybe he wanted to write about how it was for some of the first travellers/envoys to cross over from Europe to China. What, where and what it looked like on the way. I really wouldn’t know if this is how it was, or if this is how it was in his imagination after doing his research. I’ve got nothing to reference in my reading experience, and I would shoot for that neither have those who bought and enjoyed the first one. Is it about how gunpowder got back to Europe, who knows, as they don’t return! And the culture clash there surely was, as there still is today, well, that’s not done a right lot with. Apart from concubines. Does it do anything apart from travel to China, not really. I can’t see any conclusions, any points being made – apart from the Jesus travelled to India theory/myth (I will allow, I’ve not seen it put forwards as being before, rather than after, the crucifixion), but even that is tacked on, rather than being an integral part of the story development.
Yes, it’s still nicely written, that is familiar from the first, and I’m guessing it is researched as well as he can to be as authentic as he can make it. The character, the ones that we met previously, don’t really do anything much here. Vallon, ostensibly the lead character, comes out particularly badly I thought. He’s indecisive, insipid, generally lost. Wayland, the bluff north country character seems relatively unscathed and unaffected by his time with the Turks and doesn’t do much, except go off on the tacked on quest after the Christian monk in the Himalayas.
Yeah, I was disappointed as I enjoyed Hawk Quest a lot. I admit I struggled through this one, once it became clear that, for a book about travelling thousands of miles to China, it wasn’t really going anywhere.
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