Tuesday, 25 April 2017

WORLD ON FIRE by Christian Kachel

   I was so impressed with book one in this series, the author's debut book, and had given it such a glowing review that when it came to reading book two, World on Fire, I had unfairly attached too much baggage to the book. It was one of the reasons that it took me so long to actually read it, when I should have been reading it soon after the release.

   Book one in the Spoils of Olympus series had its flaws. It was, after all and as mentioned, a debut, and you have to forgive debuts their training wheels....if the book shows enough promise despite them. And I thought it had ample promise. Enough ample promise that I took it personally that here was a American male author writing very well in the historical fiction sub genre of Ancient History, and what is it that I feel the United States is missing out on these days? American male authors writing very well in the historical fiction sub genre of Ancient History. The United Kingdom has plenty of successful authors in this sub genre, but where are the Americans?
Steven Pressfield did it, doesn't do it anymore, David Anthony Durham did it once over a decade ago and only recently returned to release one on Spartacus, Michael Curtis Ford did it, but where did he go?
   I digress...
   Yes, there was ample promise and in part it was that, and not the flaws, that made me drag my heels before jumping into World on Fire.

   Sometimes, authors put everything they've got into their debut. The first book is often something they have been sitting on for a long time, years even. They write them, rewrite them, leave them, come back to them, rewrite them. Burning the candle at both ends researching, obsessing, worrying.
   If they are lucky, a good solid first book pops out from this maelstrom of literary process and ritual.
Christian Kachel is one of those lucky ones. His first book was an impressive debut, but as for book two, could he do it again? Or ideally, do it better?
   Book two is no longer a debut. By book two you are an author, no longer a novice. Time to be taken more seriously.
   I was nervous. For the book. For him.
   I need not have been.
   He did just fine.

  World on Fire was a more polished and readable offering from cover to cover than its predecessor. Both in storyline and in writing quality. That isn't to say that By The Sword was poor writing. It was well written, but it did fall down sometimes and it did need some fat sliced away from long protracted scenes and flashbacks. World on Fire is more professional in many ways. I really enjoyed where his head was at in this book and I was practically glowing with relief as I read it.
  I think the author learned a lot about his writing after getting that debut out of the way and out of his system. He is really starting to shine as an historical fiction author and I am eager to see what is to come down the track with book three in the works.

   I think Christian Kachel can stand proud, shoulder to shoulder with any of his historical fiction peers - whatever the country, whoever the publisher – that currently write in periods of Ancient history.
   The book is wonderfully readable. In saying that, the love story and emotion driven elements were not written as well, but once I hit those scenes and got over that hump, the book continued to be a terrific way to while away my reading hours. His peers can make these same mistakes with love story and relationship elements. He's not alone in that. Some authors write from a different part of their mind when dealing with love and emotion and many readers can sense the shift. But, when he digs into the theatre of war and the espionage, he does it as good, if not better, than so many of those peers.
   You can tell a lot from an author by his or her ability to create a battlefield in the mind's eye of the reader. It is not easy, with all that goes on, to weave it all into a nearly tangible experience.

   I am not sure if this following quote conveys my meaning, because it is pulled out of context. When you are swallowed by a story, sometimes you need the reading fug of crescendo and excitement attached. Ripped from its context the fug is washed away.
   Risking that cleansing, here is a quote as example of how this author conveys his battlefield vision.

          “Antigonus took his usual place on the far right flank alongside his son, Demetrius, and lined his sixty-five elephants in a single rank in front of his entire army. This was an admission of our phalanx's superiority due to the Silver Shields and the old veteran hoped to bolster his phalangites with the presence of the intimidating beasts. He placed light infantry in the gaps between the animals to solidify this front rank. As Eumenes gave the order for the horns to blow, our army lurched forward and the dust cloud expanded to a point where I had to squint my eyes.....    
         …..As the armies neared, I could hear the terrible shrieks of elephants engaging each other in the centre of our formation. Their brutal encounters consisted of violently locking tusks and attempting to gore one another while their mahouts rained down missiles. The front ranks of our cavalry now engaged Antigonus' right flank. The dust had kicked up to such a point that I could not see the front line of our formation and knew we had reached the enemy only by the halt in our advance.”

   On that, I have to wind up my review. All I can say to finish is, that if you like what you read there, then read the book for yourself and let me know what you thought. The author has recapped book one in this second book, so I believe you can read World on Fire without reading By The Sword first, but why would you want to?
   Special shout out to Americans....if you are an American or live in America, I definitely recommend this book to you. Support your American male authors if they write in Ancient History. Good quality ones are a rare flower and should be encouraged to keep writing and keep writing well.
Maybe one day, the more influential publishers will notice and you will start to see more Ancient History historical fiction written by male authors on the shelves of your local book stores and libraries.


5 stars out of 5

Note: I received this book from the author for review. The author understood that I value my integrity and would be completely honest. And so I was, as I always am.
- MM


  1. I wonder why you make a point of encouraging people to support American male ancient historical authors. Why do you specify the gender of the author? As a woman who writes in many historical eras, including ancient, I should not like to have to return to the days when people such as George Eliot had to conceal their gender lest they be refused readers.

  2. I think I explained that in my review, Xina Uhl. Because there aren't enough of them being published in the US. There are already American female authors being published in the Ancient History genre. For example, Kate Quin. Publishers are catering to the female demographic already. The male action/adventure reading demographic, and the female demographic that wants a unisex read, have to go to the UK authors. Authors like Ben Kane. This should not be the case.
    It is not taboo to encourage men, Xina Uhl. Male authors are just as awesome as female authors and deserve just as much encouragement and praise. One is allowed to single out male authors without having to worry that female authors will get their knickers in a knot for not being included. Female authors are not relevant to the point I was making in my review. But when I write a blog post that is relevant to female authors, be assured, I will encourage them just as loudly.

  3. Well, I didn't get that in your review. I fail to see why there should be separate categories for men and women. I am not suggesting that it is incorrect to praise a male author. I am instead just saying that the still-existing sexism that women authors face makes a statement like "One is allowed to single out male authors ..." annoying. To put it another way, how about this: "Black authors are just as wonderful as white authors. Now that slavery is over and the US has had a black president, no one should get their knickers in a knot for specifying that such and such is a great white author, because you know there's plenty of black authors so they should be happy!" That ignores the long history of oppression and assumes that it no longer exists.

    In another, more satirical look at this, you might read this amusing article put out by McSweeney's that happens to include relevant material to this discussion: https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/nevertheless-he-persisted-tales-of-masculine-perseverance

  4. Whoa. You know what you just posted completely defies logic right? You should think first before you type. The only one here who is being sexist is you. Thanks for the comments though. It's been real interesting. All the best Xina.