Author: William Napier
Release Date: 2007
ISBN : 978-0-7528-8103-4
Pages : 306

It’s the early 5th century A.D. and the Roman Empire’s former powers are waning. Attila, reviled by the Romans and exiled by his own people for thirty years, returns to his tribe to seize the throne. His ruthless ambitions and burning vengeance has birthed an all-consuming zeal in him of conquering two vast empires, the conquests of which were promised to him in prophecy. Using his brilliant intellect and forcefully magnetic personality, he succeeds in uniting warring and disinterested factions of the Huns to move with him on two common goals : the conquest of the Roman and Chinese empires.

This is Book Two of a trilogy. Attila here is not drawn as some thoughtless homicidal bully, lording over a people by fear and cruelty alone.  He is, rather,  an enigmatic leader given the intellectual brilliance of a genius, the aural magnetism of a superstar, and the iron convictions of a zealot. Yes, he is shameless, unprincipled, and cunning; yet, he can be compassionate if perceived through a Hun’s skewed sense of justice.

My enjoyment of this book has a lot do with the author’s formal writing style. Far from being stiff and dispassionately bland, the author’s “Oxfordian English” lends to a writing that is beautifully dignified, elegant and precise, and rich with descriptive details. It is a rare talent who can think of likening a living saint’s lice to “the pearls of God” and the sizzles of spat-on fire to the fire’s cowering under the spitter’s bitterness. At rare times, though, the author tends to go a tad overboard with his descriptions; but they do bring vividness to many things.

Christopher Hart’s (William Napier is his pen name) preference of endowing his characters with some sophistry is also very much a part of his creative style.

To illustrate : Attila, true to his egotistical and megalomaniacal self, addresses his warriors :

On Morals:

“Some men worship right and wrong, or make good and evil their gods and their goals,” he said. “ I believe in life and death. The question is not “Is it right?” but “Does it make me feel more alive?” This is at the heart of everything!…Even the wheyfaced moralists in their pulpits…busy censuring every man around them, do so because it makes them feel more alive. It augments their power over others. And so the herdlike many allow them to do so and believe in them.…You are your own arbiter and none may judge your deeds but you yourself…Have you lived? That is the deathbed question. That is the only question. Had you the courage to be yourself, to fulfil your desires?”

On Vengeance:

“Vengeance is wrong ,” say the Christians…“Forgive?” he cried, his voice suddenly harsh. “ What is that to the sweet joy of vengeance? There is life! To wreak bone-crushing vengeance on one’s own ancient enemies is the sweetest, most life-giving joy. It fills you with sweet laughter, it bathes all the world in a golden light, it makes you glad to be alive. Everything we do should make us glad to be alive, make us rejoice in the life that is given us. Nor should you be anxious that your vengeance and your triumph is the ruined one’s defeat. Behold I give you a mystery. It is his triumph, too…the fulfillment of his destiny, to be crushed by a superior, god-ordained might that he could no more oppose…All men must die…He can do nothing to save himself from this punishment…so he goes to his destruction unflinching, a hero shouting defiance into the face of the storm until the end, until he is cut down like a flower by the scythe, to be sung and hymned evermore for his broken nobility. Nothing so noble as broken nobility.”

These may or may not be the author’s personal convictions but they do set a reader’s cogwheels whirring up there.

Just a teeny weeny gripe, though, with his copy editor : I swear Attila’s eyes were described as “leonine” three times – pp. 35, 38, and another page I can’t locate.

For historical readers who usually like reading books anchored in factual details, I can render no judgment on the historical merits of this novel. Being unversed in the real facts behind Attila, I can not discern where the author kept to historical truths and where he deviated to serve his fictional purposes.

On the whole, this book has been an enjoyable find. Although I made the mistake of picking this up without bothering to check if this was part of a series, it’s my good luck that this “middle child” is quite independent of its elder. Now the first and last books are a must-read for me so I can complete my reading journey in this wonderful saga.

My Mark : Outstanding

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Author : George R.R. Martin

I am a huge fan of fantasy novels. My all time favorite is the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with the Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.

A Song of Fire and Ice series,however, comes as a close second.  Finally, something in the genre that is different and so very refreshing.

What struck me most is its sense of realism.  Mr. Martin makes us taste, see, and feel a world that could have been real.

Descriptions are graphic.  I could almost smell the rotten corpses, and also taste a luscious banquet.  Characters speak the way they would, perhaps, if they existed.  If crude language is called for, Mr. Martin pens it as it should be.  For the guys  out there, there’s plenty of action, blood and gore.  Of course, some magic as well; but, magic hardly figures in anyone’s victories.  It’s still pure guts, smarts, and power that determine the tide.

The books’ strength, however, lies in the characters.  The series does not have fantasy’s usual static good and evil personas.  As in real life,  each has several facets in his personality and these make each character so interesting and multi-dimensional.  No one is really virtuous and no one is wholly evil.  We can identify with all or at least sympathize with all his characters.

How does he accomplish this?  Wonderfully, Mr. Martin devotes each chapter to a selected character.  He makes us get to know the person — how he thinks, what he likes,  why he feels a certain way, his logic and perception of the world, why he does what he does, etc.  No one is cut and dried.  This way, he develops his story and the voyeur in you,  that you just have to have more of it.

Hence, his four thick novels aren’t enough.  I suspect the story may not be even halfway done; but, that’s why George Martin fans are impatiently waiting for the 5th book of the series, promised in 2007  and not yet delivered. GRRRR!!!! We want the 5th!  We want the 5th!

Books in the Series : A Game of Thrones,  A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows

October 4, 2008 Update: Ooooh!  Dance With Dragons, the 5th book is out!  It is not available in my location yet, though. Rats!