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The Warlord by Malcolm Bosse
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The Warlord (1983)

by Malcolm Bosse

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I had to think a lot about what bothered me about this book, and I think in the end I decided that overall, there just didn't seem to be much point. Don't get me wrong, it's a good book, and, as epics go, it's pretty darned epic. I'm not really familiar enough with the area to vouch for the historical accuracy, but certainly many historic figures play bit parts, such as Chiang Kai-Shek and Chairman Mao.

The inevitable comparisons are to James Clavell. I suspect that the critics would probably prefer this book to Clavell's more mind-candyish experience, but I don't. The book follows, roughly, five characters, and most of them are left in pretty ambiguous situations at the end. (I understand there is a sequel.) Clavell doesn't really do that inside a single book. He tends to surprise you at the beginning of the next book which occurs fifty years later and everything you thought was going to happen, didn't, but taking each book by itself, most of the plot points are wrapped up pretty neatly. It's a pretty good trick for books that appear be fairly closely based on actual people.

Not so with Warlord With the possible exception of the eponymous general, all of the characters could be literal autobiographies, but we wouldn't know it. A Russian courtesan, a failed Communist, a German gunrunner, all characters with no historical significance, and unless they turn out to be the author's grandparents, not characters you would ever hear of again.

They're good characters. They're interesting and complex,and show remarkable strength at surprising times. But it's just too hard to see where the whole thing is leading. There's a climactic battle that occurs late in the book, and I think the whole thing could have been dropped without any loss to the flow of the book. Very strange. Maybe I'm just not smart enough for this one. ( )
  benfulton | May 25, 2009 |
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