The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney
Review by Joshua S Hill
Very rarely does an author manage to leave you heartbroken while still allowing you to have enjoyed the book you’ve read. Steven Erikson managed it in ‘Deadhouse Gates’ and Paul Kearney manages it in his book ‘The Ten Thousand.’ I have just finished reading the book, and feel both dispirited and glad for having read it.
The Ten Thousand follows the Macht, the “humans” in this world and the fiercest fighters there are. They are the ANZACS to the Americans in WWII: smaller in number and less flashy, but tough and weather beaten. More than ten thousand Macht mercenaries are brought into a land that is not their own, only to soon find themselves needing to make their way out again.
In this way it is very similar to Deadhouse Gates. A long journey filled with constant threat of attack and several battles leave the survivors at the end of the book well short of the number that entered. Life is cheap here, and Kearney writes his characters in and out of the story with little regard for their heroism or the reader’s attachment.
This does not mean that Kearney did not care himself for the characters, for why are they there if he did not? But he knows how to write a realistic venture by fourteen thousand mercenaries and the likelihood that all fourteen thousand, or even the handpicked dozen or so that get point of view time with the reader, will make it to the end unscathed and alive.
Right up until the end of the book Kearney is given opportunity time and time again to write a happy ending, but doggedly refuses all the way. By the end I was left heartbroken and angry, frustrated that the characters that I had grown so attached to in such a short amount of time were being left literally by the wayside. I understand why, it’s realistic and what would happen, but I didn’t want it to happen. I loved them too much.
Kearney writes vividly, capturing the interest of the reader from the very first page. There is a reason that I ended up reading well past 2am before finally finding the strength of will to put the book down and go to sleep. The story leaves no room for a break or the chance to put the book down, so I advise all those weak willed like myself to start this early on a Sunday, for you’ll not want to put it down till you’re finished.
The writing is short, necessary and unburdened by eloquence or flash. Based supposedly on the events from our own history of ten thousand Greek mercenaries in 400BC Kearney does not indulge in details when short and static prose will suffice. It is one part historical recount one part engaging narrative, and wholly entertaining and captivating.
There is little at fault with The Ten Thousand. Only the slow pace at which the book concludes leaves the reader feeling dispirited and unwilling to finish. Unlike the rest of the book there are too many tells that hint at how the book will end, which does not serve to prepare but rather drown the reader in sorrow for the loss that is coming.
But that is nothing compared to the overarching splendour that is The Ten Thousand. Kearney captures all the best parts of fantasy – the young nobodies destined for glory, the gathering of a team, mercenaries, and exotic races and places – and combines them together with grit and realism and enough blood to drown a horse. Steven Erikson describes Kearney as “one of the very best writers of fantasy around,” and there is nothing closer to the truth.
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