Beating Boredom I: Tales of Barbarism and War

Bored? Here are some tales to look up — two books and a movie.Dawn of Empire begins in the riverside village of Orak located along the Tigris river, 3158BCE. The novel ends in the same place, but now a city named Akkad.

I recall writing a historical fiction wish list once; this book ticks the very first item off that list.

The novel stars the barbarian Eskarr and his slave Trella. Together, they become more than that as they rise to the challenge of protecting Orak against the oncoming threat of the Alur Mariki, a wandering band of steppe people bent on pillaging villages of ‘dirt-eaters’ (farmers). This is the central conflict in the story although Eskarr and Trella discover that the more daunting challenges they face are those that come from within.

This book’s setting is fascinating in itself. Set in the onset of civilization, people abide by an early militaristic code of honor and grapple with the reality of agriculture, animal husbandry and trade. The book’s most interesting character is the town itself. Not only is it populated by a rich cast of characters from the nobles to the bowcasters, but Barone introduces us to an an Orak that is a mere collection of mud huts and leaves us looking at possibly the first city in human history. I can’t wait to read book two, Empire Rising.

Lords of the Bow is book two of Conn Iggulden’s Genghis series. The story begins in the year 1206 when Genghis Khan invaded the city of Xi Xia. So far, that is as far as I’ve read. This quick comment is basically an “As I am reading…” type of review.

My expectations for this novel are high. I absolutely loved Wolf of the Plains / Birth of an Empire as my review clearly attests. While I like what I read so far, I am still looking for that sparkling characterization of Temujin I’ve enjoyed so much in book one. I may only be a quarter through the novel, but it already is a quarter. I’ll get back to this point in a full review later on.

But all you need to know now is this: the Mongols are one nation now and they have their eyes set on Chin. The first action sequence in the book pits the Mongols against the Great Wall in what is a completely plausible encounter between the two. How they break through is a surprise too good to spoil and I look forward to three more quarters of this summer blockbuster action.

2007’s Warlords stars Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro and is set during the Taiping Rebellion of the 1860’s. I have been waiting for a film such as this as I have get to read Jonathan Spence’s God’s Chinese Son.

This isn’t your typical Jet Li movie. By typical I refer to the Once Upon a Time in China series, his last wuxia film, Fearless, and even the indomitable, Hero, which is in itself a film unlike every other. But is this difference a good thing for Warlords?

It’s basically a war film set in the chaos of the Taiping Rebellion. The Qing is in tatters after their defeat in the Opium War and now, rebellions scour the land. From this quagmire, three noble warriors emerge — Qing Yung (Li), Er Hu (Lao) and Jiang Wu-Yang (Kaneshiro) — from a band of bandits robbing the rich to feed their people. These three men enter a pact and volunteer to be part of the Qing army in exchange for salaries and security. Eventually, they prove too successful and soon they — specifically one of them — sets their eyes on Nanking. It is there that their missions diverge and the film ends in one tragic, almost sordid, affair.

The action is intense with an almost crude quality to it, whether it’s a war scene or a silent duel. It’s rougher than your usual wuxia film and feels as desparate as the times the film is set in.

I have yet to watch a Chinese film that ends on a triumphant note. The leads in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon died. So did Jet Li in Hero, Nameless; then Zhang Ziyi in House of Flying Daggers and The Banquet. Perhaps I don’t watch enough movies but self-sacrifice seems so ingrained in the Chinese ethos. Nonetheless, what these films (or most of them) do consistently is put on such a great show; the triumph belongs to the viewer.

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1 Comment

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