The wife and I are on a reading tear now. We started watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager late last fall, and we finally finished up both series this week. Yes, we’d already seen them (or rather, I’d seen all of Voyager a couple of times but not much of DS9, and she’d seen most of DS9 but not as much Voyager), but it was fun to revisit the two series. I came away with a much deeper appreciation for DS9 than I’d had before, and think it was probably the best of the late 80’s through late 90’s Star Trek series. There were plenty of stupid shows, but the over-arching theme and plot of the Dominion war through the last few seasons gave it a scope the other series missed out on. Plus Sisko is a thinking-man’s captain, and they gave Avery Brooks some really wonderful episodes for him to chew on (most notably Far Beyond the Stars, which took Sisko back to 1950’s earth as a black science fiction author dealing with discrimination and racism, for which I think he should have at least been nominated for an Emmy).
Now we’ve decided to get away from so much television viewing and focus more on reading in our free time. We’ll give Game of Thrones our attention along with Last Week, Tonight, but otherwise there are no shows on our agenda. So I’ve got a pile of reading to catch up on, and the wife keeps recommending books to me that I want to experience.
Over the past few days I buried myself in a book that rested on my shelf for the past few months, Of Bone and Thunder, by Chris Evans (no, not THAT Chris Evans). The book was sold to me as “Vietnam, but with dragons.” I was working on my WWI fantasy novel at the time and thinking about introducing American wyvern riders into the mix, and I’d already read most of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik which put dragons into the Napoleonic war, so I wanted to see what Chris had produced and see what might be useful for my own work.
First, let me adjust expectations. This is medieval Vietnam, not modern. I went into this expecting rifles and gunships and dragons, but it was crossbows and catapults and dragons. However, he did a wonderful job creating a fantasy version of Vietnam, with a superior “modern” kingdom attacking a supposedly barbaric jungle country. He included plenty of little realistic details in the setting to pull you into the belief that this really was the Vietnam war, only if it had been fought in some alternate world in a far distant past with magic and dragons.
I wasn’t initially sure I was going to like this title. But the writing was excellent, the development of the plot and revelations over time nicely timed, and the devolution of the modern kingdom soldiers from proudly spiffy and gung-ho to scruffy, dirty, jaded fighters reflecting a nice connection to what we perceive Vietnam was and what soldiers who experienced it have shared with us. Though no one actually killed their officer, there was a bit of that vibe going on as well. And plenty of casual racism, reflecting the way we treated the Vietnamese of the time period.
I think the only place this book suffered for me was the scope. We had a lot of different stories happening from different character’s perspectives, and the focus jumped around a lot. This was helpful in giving us a broad understanding of all the moving pieces of the war, all the different expectations and realities of it, but it didn’t allow us to get incredibly close to any of the characters. To be fair, I’m suffering the same problem with the WWI fantasy story, which needs to be broad enough that the readers can get a grasp of all the moving political and social and military parts. I think I’ve come up with a solution for that, though (more on that later as I do more research). But so many characters having focus does keep the reader a bit more at arms length. The impact of revelations, changes, and deaths doesn’t have quite the power it might with only a small handful of main characters. Still, it’s a minor quibble for what is otherwise a very good book.
All in all this was a very enjoyable read, and Evans did a fantastic job converting the Vietnam war into its fantasy alternative. I was very impressed and I’ll certainly look for more books from this author in the future. I give it 7 out of 10 Reynolds Wraps for “exemplary job of trying to turn the modern world into a medieval fantasy one.” Kudos!