I was contacted by yet another author hoping to get some eyeballs on his Epic Fantasy fiction, Evan Winter. He described his book, The Rage of Dragons, to me as "Game of Thrones meets Gladiator," so - being an enthusiast for the works of George RR Martin - I naturally agreed to read his new novel.
One thing I can say with certainty about this author (he was unknown to me before he reached out and asked if I would read his book) is that he's a super-nice guy. Very appreciative and seemingly very genuine. So there's that, if it influences your opinion of the book any.
Believe it or not, there have been several authors I've turned down (quite a few). And, sadly, the books I have agreed to read are piling up - there are eleven waiting to be read on my phone/tablet.
I really struggled to get through the early chapters of The Rage of Dragons, finding the unfamiliar verbiage with such little background information to be difficult to follow (Ihagu, Drudge, Indlovu, Isihogo, Umqondisi). It was kind of like reading The Two Towers without first reading The Fellowship of the Ring (which some may see as a benefit - Fellowship is a pretty dry history lesson on Middle Earth, but at least you know what's going on as the story progresses).
I often found myself thinking of Dune's imaginary universe (which also used a largely invented vocabulary) as I read The Rage of Dragons. It's been quite a few years since my first foray into the world of Dune, but I'm sure I struggled just as much to figure out what Frank Herbert was talking about as I read (Kwisatz Haderach, Bene Gesserit, Tleilaxu, Mentat, Gom Jabbar - I could go on and on).
Here are a few short excerpts to explain what I mean. The first excerpt is much less confusing than some of the later passages (I'm surprised at how much of the vocabulary I now recognize and am able to translate in my head).
Lessers scurried back and forth, attending to their betters. Ihagu were either set as guards or found spots to cheer on their Nobles. The Drudge dug out latrines, carted food stuffs, or offered the young fighters gulps of water, cooling wet-cloths, and even boiled them mashed potatoes for quick boosts of energy. And, the Full-blooded Indlovu wandered the fields like they owned the earth beneath them.
"If Enervated, you'll see Isihogo," Jayyed said. "You'll see the demons in its mists. They'll come for you. You'll be released before they have their way."
"Umqondisi?" asked Oyibo.
"Oyibo." Jayyed said, giving the young man leave to say more.
"The Scale's Inkokeli was Itembe. He was Governor Caste from Kigambe, and a strong fighter"
It was one more turn and they emerged in the circle. They had arrived first. Tau looked up to the building rooftops. An Aqondise stood up there with an Umncedi, a Second to one of the Citadel's Isazi. They would make sure the defeated men stayed out of the contest and would call fouls where they saw them.
I have one other tiny "complaint" about the story: a tiny little anachronism. I dislike when authors go through the trouble of creating a fictitious universe and then drag the real universe into it (Chuck Wendig is notorious for doing this in his attempts to play in the Star Wars universe), which pulls me right out of the story. I only spotted one moment that was a little bit out of place in The Rage of Dragons. Everything else is different, so to have actual food from this universe in the scene seemed...off.
He downed it and, when it didn't soften the world's edges, or dull the pain in his cheek where Tau had struck him, he'd taken a second jug to his chambers, along with a bowl of half-ripe avocados from the kitchens.
Despite the confusing language used in the story, I persevered and was rewarded as the story really gained momentum. Tau, the protagonist of the story - who is as flawed a hero as you are likely ever to come across - reminded me a lot of Paul Atreides/Muad'Dib (from Dune, for those of you who are behind on their classic Sci-Fi) and a little of Neo (yup, Keanu's character in The Matrix). And maybe even a little of Drizzt Do'Urden (RA Salvatore's greatest creation). Despite his many flaws, you can't help but hope Tau gets the girl, wins the fight, and finds a little peace.
Here's a brief moment that the Drizzt is strong with Tau:
Tau stepped back, letting Jayyed's hands fall free. "I can't imagine a world where the man holding a sword does not have the last say over the man without one. If you're not prepared to fight, you place yourself and everything you love beneath the blades of others, praying they choose not to cut. I have felt the mercy of armed men, and they will never find me helpless again."
Speaking of getting the girl - there's just a little bit of sex in the book. I'd say this one scene is on the very-graphic side of graphic. Here a brief excerpt that is only a little bit graphic.
She leaned toward him, closing her eyes, and he kissed her, with hunger. Her lips, her body, they brushed against him. And, where the fingers of her hand, rising and falling, had been enough, they became too little. Tau's hands drifted to Zuri's hips and she raised up on her knees, using the hold she had to guide him to her.
I was genuinely disappointed when the story ended. Though I really struggled at times keeping track of the huge cast of bizarrely-named characters (maybe that's where the Game of Thrones comparison comes in) and trying to remember what the many unfamiliar words translated to, I did come to know many of the characters better than I thought I would by the Matrixesque end of the story. And it really left me eager to pick up book two.
The Lincoln Myth, Steve Berry
I picked up a signed copy of a book called The Lincoln Myth from the discount table at Barnes and Noble a few months ago. I'd never heard of Steve Berry (though he has written quite a few books, apparently) and was immediately drawn in because Lincoln is such a polarizing figure (if you spend any time looking at him outside of the public school system). The premise of the story, as presented on the jacket, really piqued my curiosity. At the time, I had several other books waiting to be read on the reading shelf, so it sat for quite a while before I got around to reading it.
Here are the jacket notes that intrigued me enough to buy the book.
All is not as it seems. With these cryptic words, a shocking secret passed down from president to president comes to rest in the hands of Abraham Lincoln. And as the first bloody clashes of the Civil War unfold, Lincoln alone must decide how best to use this volatile knowledge: save thousands of American lives, or keep the young nation from being torn apart forever?
In Utah, the fabled remains of Mormon pioneers whose nineteenth-century expedition across the desert met with a murderous end have been uncovered. In Washington, D.C., the official investigation of an international entrepreneur, an elder in the Mormon church, has sparked a political battle between the White House and a powerful United States senator. In Denmark, a Justice Department agent, missing in action, has fallen into the hands of a dangerous zealot - a man driven by divine visions to make a prophet's words reality. And in a matter of a few short hours, Cotton Malone has gone from quietly selling books at his shop in Denmark to dodging bullets in a high-speed boat chase.
All it takes is a phone call from his former boss in Washington, and suddenly the ex-agent is racing to rescue an informant carrying critical intelligence. It's just the kind of perilous business that Malone has been trying to leave behind, ever since he retired from the Justice Department. But once he draws enemy blood, Malone is plunged into a deadly conflict - a constitutional war secretly set in motion more than two hundred years ago by America's
From the streets of Copenhagen to the catacombs of Salzburg to the rugged mountains of Utah, the grim specter of the Civil War looms as a dangerous conspiracy gathers power. Malone risks life, liberty, and his greatest love in a race for the truth about Abraham Lincoln - while the fate of the United States of America hangs in the balance.
From a high level, I'd describe this story's protagonist as an older, retired, Jason Bourne type entering Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code universe. I've never actually read a Bourne novel, so I'm generalizing based on what I've seen in the movies, but I have read one Brad Thor novel and this story is on par with that one, so go ahead and substitute his protagonist if you'd like. Or probably any other spy/thriller bigger-than-life action hero character. As for The Da Vinci Code comparison, you need to replace the Catholic Church with the LDS/Mormon church.
Speaking of the LDS church, who knew there were so many legends in its brief history (almost 200 years, but a drop in the bucket compared to the Catholicim timeline)? To be honest, I din't know, as I read, how many of the legends of the book were completely fictional, but they sounded pretty legitimate.
After the story ends, the author includes a breakdown of which historical references were fact and which were fiction...or fictionalized. This next excerpt is a long one, so if you're not interested in history or if you're easily bored, or want to read the book and be blissfully ignorant of the fiction shrouded in fact, you might want to skip ahead.
Now it's time to separate the real from the imagined.
The meeting described in the prologue between Abraham Lincoln and Mrs. John Fremont happened. The location (the White House's Red Room) is correct, and most of the dialogue is taken from historical accounts. General Fremont did indeed overstep his bounds, and Lincoln ultimately fired him. What Lincoln tells Jesse Fremont about freeing the slaves or saving the Union is taken verbatim from a reply Lincoln sent to a letter from Horace Greeley, the editor of the New-York Tribune, published in 1862. The note from James Buchanan and the document Lincoln reads from George Washington are my inventions, though Buchanan did say that he thought he might be the last president of the United States.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints figures prominently in this story. It is a quintessential American religion - born, bred, and nurtured here. It is the only religion that includes the Constitution of the United States as part of its philosophy (chapters
37, 57). Without question, Mormons have played a role in American history, rising from a modest beginning to a church that now supports over I4 million members worldwide. They literally created and built the state of Utah.
Apostles of the church are expected to devote themselves full-time to their duties. Thaddeus Rowan, though, remains a U.S. senator. While that arrangement is an extraordinary one, there is precedent. Reed Smoot (chapter 11) served both as an apostle and senator in the early part of the 20th century. Blood atonement, first described in chapter 2, was once a part of
the Mormon community - or at least the idea of such. It grew in response to the violence those early believers were subjected to. Whether it was actually practiced is a matter of debate. One thing is certain - any thought or application of it disappeared long ago, and it is no longer part of Mormon theology. The same is likewise true for Danites (chapter 8), a group that no longer exists. What Sidney Rigdon is quoted as saying in chapter 8 was true then, but no more. Plural marriage was officially abandoned by the church on September 25,1890 (chapters 18,55).
Throughout the novel Josepe Salazar is visited by an angel, a figment of his disturbed mind. Nearly everything the angel says was taken from I9th-century Mormon doctrine, speeches, and sermons and, as with blood atonement and Danites, reflects the hostile world in which those people found themselves. None of that applies today. The angel Moroni, though, remains a centerpiece of Mormon theology (chapter 39).
Zion National Park (chapter 3) is accurately described. The legend of the 22 lost wagons is part of Mormon lore (chapter 11), but no trace of them has ever been found. The 1857 Mormon War happened, and Lincoln did in fact make a deal (as related in chapter 9) with Brigham Young. His words are quoted there exactly. Both sides honored that deal. The anti-polygamy 1862 Morrill Act was never enforced, and the Mormons stayed out of the Civil War. The supposed collateral for that deal (provided by both sides) was my invention.
The record stone (mentioned in chapter I4) was excavated from the Salt Lake temple in I993. Inside were various objects, left there by Brigham Young in 1867. The inventory provided in chapter I4 is accurate, except for the addition of Young's message. History notes that Joseph Smith first glimpsed the golden plates inside a stone box. On October 2, 1841, Smith placed the original manuscript of Book of Mormon inside the Nauvoo Hotel cornerstone. What Brigham Young did - sealing objects, documents, and gold coins inside stone - became a sign of reverence (chapter 70), repeated at temples across the globe. That's why it made sense to seal the collateral Lincoln sent west within the stone plaque Young donated to the Washington Monument (chapter 70). That gift is still there, mounted inside at the 220-foot level.
The murder of Joseph Smith and his brother on June 27, 1844, is fact (chapter I6). Edwin Rushton also existed, as did his journal. The White Horse Prophecy, quoted throughout (chapters I7, 18), was once part of Mormon folklore. No one knows when the prophecy was first memorialized, but most agree that it was long after its first utterance by Joseph Smith in 1843. The text in chapter I7 is quoted from Rushton's journal, dated in the 1890s. The prophecy itself is so accurate, so detailed, that it begs the question of whether it was embellished after the fact. No matter, it was repudiated by the church in the early part of the 20th century (chapter 52.), though mentions of it still exist in various Mormon texts.
What Brigham Young said in chapter 51 - Will the Constitution be destroyed? No. It will he held inviolate by this people and, as Joseph Smith said. "The time will come when the destiny of the nation will hang upon a single thread. At that critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction" - is true. As is the prophecy of John Taylor, first announced in 1879 (chapter 51), which is also uncannily on target.
The original 1830 Book of Mormon described in chapters 20 and 30 is rare and valuable. The 1840 edition found in the Library of Congress (chapter 41) is there. Lincoln remains the first (and only) president to read it, and the dates of him having the book in his possession (noted in chapter 41) were taken from the records of the Library of Congress. All of the handwritten notes added to that book are fictional, but the passages quoted in chapter 43 are exact. The visit by Joseph Smith to President Martin Van Buren happened as told (chapter 21).
Mary Todd Lincoln was dealt many tough blows. She lost nearly all of her children and her husband to early deaths. Her letter contained in chapter 28 is false, but its wording is drawn from her actual correspondence. Lincoln's watch (as described in chapter 47) is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The inscription noted within was found when the Watch was opened in 2009. The addition of a second timepiece was my creation. Salisbury House, in Des Moines, Iowa, is truthfully described - its grounds, geography, and furnishings (chapters 53, 58). Only the addition of the garden cottage is fictional. Likewise, Blair House in Washington, D.C., exists, as does the parlor with the
Lincoln portrait (chapters 55, 60). Richard Nixon did meet privately with the leadership of the
Mormon church in July 1970 (chapter 31). An unprecedented thirty-minute session behind closed doors. No one to this day knows the substance of that conversation, and all of its participants are deceased.
Montpelier, its garden temple, and its ice pit are real (chapters 33, 35, 40, 42). The pit itself is sealed, and I could find no photographs of its interior. So the addition of Roman numerals there was easy to concoct.
The Rhoades gold mine is, to this day, a part of Mormon history. The story of the mine, how it was found and exploited, is faithfully told in chapter 61. Such legend is attached to the mine that it's hard to know What, if anything, is real. The map shown in chapter 18 is-one of countless versions of the "real thing." The story of Brigham Young melting all of the Mormons' gold and transporting it west to California (chapter 61) for safekeeping is fact. Those 22
wagons did disappear. For this novel I merged the Rhoades Mine with the story of the lost Mormon gold and hypothesized that Brigham Young simply confiscated that wealth and recycled it back into the community (chapter 61), using the mine as a cover. It seemed logical, but there is no way to know if it is true. Gold coins, like the one described in chapter 61, were minted and still exist today. The place known as Falta Nada is wholly my creation.
This book deals with secession, an issue upon which the U.S. Constitution is silent. No mention is made anywhere of how a state could leave the Union. The definitive record of the constitutional convention is James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. The speeches quoted in chapter 46 are from those notes. The wording is 90 percent accurate, the only addition being comments of a way out of the Union.
But Madison's notes are indeed suspect. They were not published until 53 years after the convention, once every participant in that gathering had died, and Madison openly admitted that he altered the account (chapter 25). What actually happened at the Constitutional Convention we will never know. So to say that secession is unconstitutional, or that the founders did not contemplate such a possibility, would be wrong. Yet that is exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court said in Texas v. White (1869). The portions of that opinion quoted in chapter I9 are excellent examples of this poorly reasoned opinion. But what else could the
High Court have done? Rule the entire Civil War a waste of effort? That 600,000 people died for nothing?
The justices literally had no choice.
We, though, have a greater luxury.
The American Revolution was clearly a war of secession (chapter 9). The colonists' goal was not to overthrow the British Empire and replace that government with something new. Instead, they simply wanted out. The Declaration of Independence was a statement of their secession (chapter 26). Why would the Founding Fathers fight a long bloody war and shake off the yoke of an autocratic king only to establish another autocracy under their new government?
The answer is clear.
They would not.
What preceded the Constitution was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which lasted from I781 to I789 - when they were summarily discarded and replaced by the Constitution of the United States.
What happened to that perpetual union?
Even more telling, the new Constitution mentions nothing about perpetual. Instead, its Preamble states: We the People qf the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.
Was a more perfect Union meant to be nonperpetual?
An interesting question.
And, as noted in chapter 26. Virginia. Rhode Island, and New York. in their ratification votes for the new Constitution. specifically reserved the right to secede. which was not opposed by the
Secession remains a hot topic. and all of the arguments Thaddeus Rowan considers in chapter 26 make good sense. The language quoted there from a Texas petition, signed by 125.000 supporters. is exact. And 125,000 real Texans signed that document in 2012. All
of the polls noted can be found in news accounts. The actual legal path to secession - how it might be accomplished. as well as its political and economic ramifications (as described in chapter 50). were drawn from authoritative texts that have considered the issue. If a state seceded there would indeed be another court fight, a test of Texas v. White, but a decision this time could be vastly different, especially without a personality as strong and determined as Abraham Lincoln to navigate the outcome.
Lincoln is truly a man more of myth than fact. The quote in the epigraph of the novel is a good example. There. he made clear that any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable - a most sacred right - a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, hat can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.
Lincoln absolutely believed secession legal.
At least in 1848.
But the myths about him say otherwise.
Every schoolchild is told that Lincoln freed the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation. But nothing could be Farther from the truth. What is said in chapter 7 about that effort is historical fact. At the time of that proclamation slavery was both recognized and condoned by the Constitution (chapter 7). No president possessed the authority to alter that. Only a constitutional amendment could make that change. And one eventually did, the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified long after Lincoln's death.
Then there is the reason why Lincoln fought the Civil War in the first place. Myth says it was to end slavery. But Lincoln made his position clear in 1862 when he said, My task is to save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing all slaves, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union. What I forbear, I forbear because I don't believe it would help to save the Union.
Again, his intent is beyond question.
And directly contrary to myth.
As president, Lincoln totally ignored what he said in 1848 and fought to establish, beyond question, that the South had no right to leave the Union. The peace talks referred to in chapter 60, at Hampton Roads in February 1865, happened. Lincoln himself was there, and when the South insisted on independence as a condition to
peace he ended the discussion.
For Lincoln, the Union Was non-negotiable.
John Kennedy said it best: The greatest enemy of truth is often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive and
The idea of an indivisible, perpetual union of states did not exist prior to 1861. No one believed such nonsense. States' rights ruled that day. The federal government was regarded as small, weak, and inconsequential. If a state could choose to join the Union, then a state could choose to leave.
As noted in the prologue, James Buchanan, Lincoln's predecessor, actually did pave the way for South Carolina to secede, blaming that act on the intemperate interference of the northern people with the question of slavery. Buchanan also voiced what many in the nation regarded as true: that slave states should be left alone to manage their domestic institutions in their own way. Northern states should also repeal all laws that encouraged slaves to become fugitives. If not, then, as Buchanan said, the injured states, after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to effect redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the government of the Union.
Strong words from our 15th president.
Bur things quickly changed.
Our 16th president believed in a perpetual union. One from which no state was free to leave.
Here's a fact, beyond the myth.
Lincoln did not fight the Civil War to preserve the union.
He Fought that war to create it.
So I guess, for those of you who are big fans of Abraham Lincoln's efforts to end slavery, this could be a disappointing wake up call. Lincoln's primary motivation, as I've read many times before picking up this well-researched book, had nothing to do with slavery (the "myth" of the book's title) and everything to do with protecting the federal government, and by extension, the nascent United States of America.
But this isn't really an anti-government book. The author does seem to be okay with the bloated carcass of the Federal government (most of his recurring good-guy characters appear to be Federal employees), so I wouldn't call this book a Libertarian treatise on state's rights or an attack on the blood-sucking parasite that is the Federal government. It's just an interesting action-spy thriller with some believable historical references....so pretty much a Dan Brown book with a slightly more violent protagonist than Robert Langdon.
"What do you plan to do?"
A stupid question. Kirk was definitely annoying. He'd located him pacing the docks. exactly where Stephanie had said he'd be waiting. anxious to leave. Code words had been arranged so they both would know they'd found the right person. Joseph For him. Moroni for Kirk.
"Do you know who those men are?" he asked.
"They want to kill me."
He kept the boat pointed toward Denmark, its hull breasting the waves with jarring lunges. throwing spray.
"And why do they want to kill you?" he asked over the engine's roar.
"Who are you, exactly?"
He cut a quick glance at Kirk. "The guy who's going to save your sorry ass."
The other boat was less than thirty yards way. He scanned the horizon in every direction and spotted no other craft. Dusk was gathering. the azure sky being replaced by gray.
The second man in the pursuing boat was firing at them.
"Get down." he yelled to Kirk. He ducked. too. keeping their course and speed steady.
Two more shots.
One thudded into the fiberglass to his left.
The other boat was now fifty feet away. He decided to give his pursuers a little pause. He reached back, found his gun. and sent a bullet their way.
The other boat veered to starboard.
They were more than a mile From the Danish shore. nearly at Oresund's center. The second boat looped around and was now approaching from the right on a path that would cut directly in front of them. He saw that the pistol had been replaced with a short-barreled automatic rifle.
Only one thing to do.
He adjusted course straight for them.
Time For a game of chicken.
A burst of gunfire cut across the air. He dove to the deck, keeping one hand on the wheel. Rounds whizzed by overhead and a few penetrated the bow. He risked a look. The other boat had veered to port. swinging around. preparing to attack from the rear. where the open deck offered little cover.
He decided the direct approach was best.
But it would have to be timed just right.
He kept the boat racing ahead at nearly Full throttle. The second craft's bow still headed his way.
"Keep down." he told Kirk again.
No worry existed that his order would be disobeyed. Kirk clung to the deck. below the side panels. Malone still held his Beretta but kept it out of sight. The other boat narrowed the distance between them.
He yanked the throttle back and brought the engine to idle. Speed vanished. The bow sank into the water. They glided for a few yards then came to a stop. The other boat kept coming.
The man with the rifle aimed.
But before he could fire Malone shot him in the chest.
The other boat raced past.
He reengaged the throttle and the engine sprang to life.
Inside the second craft he saw the driver reach down and find the rifle. A big loop brought the boat back on an intercept course.
His feint worked once.
And one last interesting factoid about the book - it's a signed copy, so that's cool. Granted, it's a signed copy of a book I'd never heard of by an author I didn't know anything about signed at a signing I didn't attend...but it's still kinda cool.
The pirate post be coming, matey. I see its sails on the horizon...