Wednesday, February 06, 2008

war, what is it good for?

Reading is one thing. I'm not sure why, but I really enjoy the reading of battles when it is done well. Two recent reads come to mind. Bernard Cromwell's first book, Sharpe's Eagle (not the first book in the Sharpe series, but the first he wrote), tells the story of Richard Sharpe, a rare enlisted soldier lifted into the ranks of the British Army during the wars against Napolean. The battles are as much internal ones against British class society as they are against the French army, but Cromwells' description of battles are pretty amazing. I've also seen the British TV adaptation and while doing the characters justice, can't make the battles seem as desperate as they are in the novel. There's something about desperation that gets me hook line and sinker every time. The epitaph of the book quotes Samuel Johnson, "Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a solider." And it is sadly, perhaps, at least in my own case, true.

The other book for splendidly awful battles is a fantasy series by David Bakker known as The Prince of Nothing. The eponymous prince is a man from a hidden tribe of people who have trained themselves to control themselves, and by extension other people. Think of your most accomplished and idealized Buddhist Shaolin monk, take away any notion of compassion, and you have Kellhaus, who manipulates his way across a continent and into the head of a massive army on a crusade to crush the infidel.

The book is filled with intricate plots that no one knows the extent of: there is a haunted barbarian looking for revenge, there are factions of sorcerers trying to destroy each other, another faction trying to prepare for the end of the world, rulers of different countries, holy men, and a cruelly passionate group of something or other (disguised as men) who are looking to bring about the apocalypse. Its mostly fun stuff.

In the midst of it Kellhaus's power grows and it was hard for me to take his cold manipulations of people and power. In some ways, those are the most annoying bits, where people are wondering at his amazing power, and being taken in hook line and sinker. Ultimately, you still don't know his true motives and I wished I had known however, the trilogy was not a complete story, otherwise I might have passed. But the battles were brilliantly written, even if somehow they all end up feeling like the same thing happens. They to are able to catch the desperation of men hoping for glory and finding something else.



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