Lords of Grass and Thunder
by Curt Benjamin
Review by Madeleine Yeh
DAW Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0756401976
Date: 05 April, 2005 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Lords of Grass and Thunder is an epic fantasy set in a society much like that of the historical Mongols. It is in the same universe as The Seven Princes, and follows immediately after that trilogy. The story starts out slowly as Mergen-Khan tries to build peace in his family, and among his clans. The pace soon quickens, and demons, ghosts, gods and devils enter the story. The setting also expands to encompass the magical world, and the realms of the gods, the demons and the dead.
The story starts with Mergen, Khan of the Qubal clans, leading a victorious army home. Prince Tayyichiut, Mergen?s nephew and heir, and Bekter and Qutula, Mergen?s two illegitimate sons are among the returning warriors. Prince Tayy and Bekter are content, but Qutula desperately wants Mergen Khan to publicly acknowledge him. Qutula and Lady Chaiujin start a conspiracy to kill Tayy, when Mergen fails to recognize Qutula as his son. They are opposed by the shamans: Bolghai and Toragana, and Eluneke, Toragana?s apprentice. Eluneke after a glimpse of Tayy, is convinced both that his life is in imminent danger, and that he will be her future husband. She rushes into her initiation to win the power to protect him. This starts with transformation into an animal totem, and proceeds to visits to both heaven and hell.
Mergen is nearly oblivious to the growing ill will between his nephew and his son. Mergen plans to have the Qubal clans so prosperous and powerful that Prince Tayy can be elected khan while Mergen retires. Things don?t work out as planned. The last third of the book finds the Qubal involved in a civil war, an external invasion and an attack by demons.
Part of this book is painted in broad and not very accurate strokes with the movement of great armies, the attack of demons, and the storming of heaven. Armies of thousands clash in horrendous battle. The young shamaness Eluneke climbs up a lightening bolt. It?s interspersed with oddly intimate detailed vignettes. Eluneke hates her broom, a symbol to her not of magic, but of failure. A shaman who can transform into an animal doesn?t need a broom. Bekter composes wonderful epics but his singing is barely adequate. Mergen Khan strives hard to keep composed and dignified, instead of bursting into laughter as he awards first prize in a children?s spear throwing contest to a young girl. A bear grows in size and ferocity as the hunters boast about their kill. Some of the prose is verbose and pedantic. There are a host of small inaccuracies. There is not even a nod given to any consideration of realism.
Flaws aside this is a very readable book. The pace is fast and the characters are engaging. I found myself lost in the story. Little twists are very funny, Eluneke?s animal turns out not to be a raven or eagle or bear or deer, or anything dignified but a toad. I normally think epic fantasy is pompous and overblown, but I liked this book. While the setting is not original, it isn't as overused as stereotype medieval or Tolkien worlds. The shamanistic magic is very good. The story has definite charm, it has enough charm that I read the author?s first trilogy too, and can easily overlook logical and stylistic problems.