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The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney

The Ten Thousand (2008)

by Paul Kearney

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2231252,123 (3.66)7
  1. 10
    The Ten Thousand: A Novel of Ancient Greece by Michael Curtis Ford (jseger9000)
    jseger9000: Both are retellings of Xenophon's Anabasis. Ford's novel is straight historical fiction while Kearney's is a science fantasy take.

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This is perhaps my first real taste into the sub-genre of "military fantasy" and I don't know, maybe it's just not for me. I realize the story is directly based on the historical events from Xenophon's Anabasis, so it's hard to really feel much suspense when you know what's going to happen already.

Still, even Kearney's own embellishments felt kind of predictable and slightly irksome. Maybe it wouldn't have felt so awkward if the characters and their relationships had been more developed, but it did feel like most of the effort was poured into the book's martial elements. I wish just as much could have been focused on the novel's fantasy aspects which was what made this book intriguing -- such as the mysterious armor pieces worn by the Cursebearers. That said, the battles and the descriptions of them were very well done; Paul Kearney does have a way with writing combat sequences. ( )
  stefferoo | Jun 26, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was supposed to receive this book over 2.5 years ago thought the Early Reviewers program, but it was never sent to me. I'm tired of continuing to mark it as unreceived. So, this is my fake review in order to get this thing off my back.
  abatishko | Jan 31, 2011 |
A really excellent book. I have read and enjoyed other books of his, the few that I have found, but this surpasses them.

The Ten Thousand's basic premise is listed from Xenophon's Anabasis. An army of mercenaries were hired by a Persian prince looking to get rid of his brother. He gets himself killed, leaving his mercenary force screwed losers who have to fight their way back home.

You can find the Anabasis here :- http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/x/xenophon/x5an/

The soldiers in this particular book are something more Roman or Spartan though, heavy infantry that fights in a shield line with spears, with some skirmisher support.

The interesting thing is that although it is clearly marketed at a fantasy audience, it is not. There is nothing at all magical or supernatural in this book.

In fact, the author had this to say :-

http://www.sffworld.com/interview/270p0.html :-

"Also, if you want to be pedantic about it, The Ten Thousand is actually science fiction. It's set on a planet which is clearly not earth, since it has two moons, and it has alien species co-existing with mankind. In that setting, magic would be out of place. I actually have a full back story for the origins of the Macht, but am forbidden by my publisher from revealing it, because it's pure science fiction!"

However, this world is extremely low tech. Bronze age, basically. Wagons and bows are really cool things, etc.

So it fits into the whole ponies and poniards and princes school of fantasy, certainly, at least at the Glen Cook end. As long as you remove the crazy undead superwizards on flying carpets of the Black Company anyway, and go for something more Dread Empire.

So, science fictional elements.

This world has two moons - any fantasy world could, of course, but one of them is called Phobos. At least by The Macht, who are the mercenaries that are the main protagonists. Macht in German means something like 'power' or as a verb, 'to make'. Or, a Caucasian bunch, this lot.

Phobos and Deimos of Mars are fear and dread, but Phobos and Haukos here are fear and hope. Like the Martian moon, the moon of Kuf Phobos is the larger of the pair.

The Macht have a few members who have some armour that is way past anything a bronze age bunch could manage to make. When you put on these very lightweight cuirasses they change to fit your torso. Some sort of memory metal, or something like that.

The origin of which has passed into legend:

"Gasca was still staring at the black cuirass which the man wore. It seemed to soak up the very daylight, a midnight black so lightless it appeared a hole in the fabric of the afternoon. This was the Curse of God, one of the ancient armours which dated back to the origins of the Macht as a people. None knew how they had been created, but the legends said that Gaenion the Smith had made a wager with God Himself, betting that he could fashion a darkness which not even his wife’s gaze could penetrate. His spouse was Araian, the lady of the sun, and she was both an inquisitive and indolent creature. When she rose from her bed her eyes saw all things, and when she left the skies of Kuf in the evenings she would tell God Himself of the day’s doings.

Gaenion won his wager, but God took the black stuff he had forged and gave it to Antimone, Goddess of the Veil, for she was enamoured of darkness, and her two sons, Phobos and Haukos, loved to ride the horses of the air through the sky when Araian had left it for her bed.

Antimone wove Gaenion’s hammered darkness into a chiton with which to clothe the first man of the Macht, whom God had set down upon the surface of Kuf naked and afraid. Antimone, in pity, gave this first man, whose name was Ask, the chiton to protect him, for Gaenion’s fabric, though light and flexible, was more impenetrable than stone. When God realised what Antimone had done, He was angry, for He had intended that Ask and his kind should treat the other denizens of the world with respect, and show them courtesy through fear of their own vulnerability. But now Ask was unafraid, with Antimone’s Gift to clothe him, and he set out to master the creatures of Kuf which God had created. And so, through Antimone’s pity, Creation itself had been set awry. So God cursed the black armour of Antimone, and stirred up the hearts of all the other races of Kuf against Ask and his people. The Macht would be warriors without compare, He decreed, but they would never know peace, and they would have need of their black armour over the course of the world’s turning, for they would pay in blood for their desire to master the earth.

Antimone was punished also. She had erred in pity, in softness of heart, and so God set her down on Kuf itself to watch over the Macht in all their travails down the millennia. She would foresee the fate of those she loved, but would not be able to change it, and so would weep bitter tears, for she would be witness to every crime that man would commit in his tenure of the earth.

Her sons, Phobos the elder and Haukos the younger, wished to follow their mother to Kuf, but God forbade it as part of Antimone’s punishment. So they drew as near as they dared, riding their great black horses in shadow across the night sky, when Araian the sun was not there to tell God of their doings. Phobos hated the Macht for causing his mother’s exile from heaven, and his white face leered down upon men from the depths of the night sky. But Haukos had inherited his mother’s soft heart. To his pink countenance men prayed for intercession with Antimone, and hence, with God Himself."

So this legend hints at the possibility of travellers from the stars. Is Kuf Mars, however? Seems somewhat unlikely given the geography, unless it is a long in the distant past Mars when oceans existed - which humans would not have been able to travel to, technologically - or a far future Mars that has been terraformed and the inhabitants have now devolved and lost all semblance of the technology that brought the Macht to Kuf, other than the armour that has survived thousands of years thanks to its remarkable properties.

Antimone sounds a little like the figure like Brede who brought the Tanu and Firvulag to Earth in Julian May's Saga of the Exile. A woman of advanced race.

This planetary romance could of course just be Kearney's homage to Burroughs and company along with Xenophon. Note the white apes :

"Qaf: A mysterious race native to the mountains of the Korash. They are very tall and broad and seem to be a strange kind of amalgam of Kufr and ape. They are reputed to have their own language, but appear as immensely powerful beasts that haunt the snows of the high passes."

Like on Burroughs Barsoom, it appears that the Macht can interbreed with the Kefren, something that would appear to be unlikely to happen at random, but is certainly not uncommon in SF. No eggs involved, though. There are no giant green people, either, but the Kefren are considerably taller and of different coloring.

If this is another doubled mooned planet somewhere, then that means that humans had instellar travel of some sort at least once, to get to the Kuf of the novel. The legend that gives the possibility of ships could of course mean starships.

The plot follows a young soldier whose own city-state has been destroyed who decideds to sign on as a mercenary and 'take the red'. However, he has signed up for more than the usual mercenary adventures, having to cross a sea as part of a huge army trying to take the Kefren empire. Then you have the Anabasis situation. Even if you didn't know about that work you can tell what is coming in the book, just it is handled really, really skillfully so you don't mind that it is largely predictable. Which historical or ahistorical fiction has to be, because of course you know the broad scope of what is going to happen in historical works that have this sort of scale.

The other alien races found on this planet :- "Juthan: The squat, grey-skinned slave-race of the Asurian Empire. They are a stubborn, secretive and hardy folk, and were one of the last peoples to be conquered by the Great Kings.

Kefren: The peoples of the Asurian heartland, who led the resistance to the Macht in the semi-legendary past, and then established an Empire on the back of that achievement. Throughout the Empire they are a favoured race, and have become a caste of rulers and administrators."

The Macht generally live in the cooler regions, and the various Kufr where it is warmer.

The Macht and Kefr are both extremely racist/nationalist, which is no real surprise given the primitive setting, and the Juthan just want to be free.

I really enjoyed this, highly recommended.

http://freesf.strandedinoz.com/wordpress/2011/01/the-ten-thousand-paul-kearney-3.... ( )
1 vote BlueTysonSS | Jan 6, 2011 |
I like Paul Kearney's writing, I really do. I thought that, save for the last book, his 'Monarchies of God' series was fabulous. Which is possibly why I was already halfway through this book when I realized I hated it. The story lay flat and refused to pick itself up, no matter how optimistic I remained. What's worse, it was not so much a story as an expose on just how ugly the human race could be. There was no consuming, epic drama that I loved from 'Monarchies'. There was none of the compelling characterization found in 'Mark of Ran'. It was simply a slasher film in prose form. ( )
  TheBooknerd | Jun 13, 2010 |
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The world of Kuf, an ancient Assurian Empire, dominant, prestigious and thought to be invincible, is about to be shaken to its very foundations. An exile from the empire, the Great King's brother hires a force of Ten thousand elite mercenaries of a legendary race known as the Macht to take the throne by force. But when their employer is killed, The Ten Thousand find themselves abandoned. This is the story of their fight for freedom.… (more)

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