THE THOUSAND CITIES
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Turtledove's "Time of Troubles" series has him switching sides nearly as frequently as his traitorous character Tzikes. After writing Avtokrator Maniakes' side of the story in Hammer and Anvil, Turtledove returns to the Makuraner point of view by relating the travails of Abivard in the land of the Thousand Cities in the book of the same title.
The Thousand Cities opens with Abivard sitting in Across, trying to figure out how he can cross the Cattle Crossing to attack Videssos the City. Realizing the impossibility, he is forced to pull his troops back to deal with a revolt by te Vaspurakaner Princes, upon whom Sharbaraz has forced the Makuraner religion against Abivard's advice. This move is indicative of the distance which has grown between the King of Kings and Abivard since The Stolen Throne. Sharbaraz no longer is near to Abivard and is no longer a warrior. Sitting on his throne in Mashiz, he begins to fear that Abivard is trying to steal his throne from his as Smerdis did in the earlier novel.
Unlike any of the earlier Videssos books, in which there is a mixture of intrigue, war and personal lives, The Thousand Cities focuses almost entirely on the troop movements of Abivard's and Maniakes' armies. Nearly all the machinations which appear are miliaty in nature, although there are a few brief interludes showing Abivard and his family at the court in Mashiz. Because of the circumstances, however, few court plots are described in the novel.
Turtledove continues to demonstrate that Abivard is a breed apart from his fellow Makuraners. Having lived with Videssans throughout the years, Abivard has learned to adopt and adapt their ways of thinking, even if he isn't overly thrilled with the concept. Throughout the novel, characters point out that Abivard seems almost as much a Videssan as the traitor Tzikes does, a comment that Abivard does not see as complimentary.
The Thousand Cities does not suffer from the typical faults of a middle novel, possibly because Turtledove is basically writing two series which run concurrently (based on main characters). On the other hand, very little actually happens as Turtledove gets the tedium of campaign life across (although the book is not reflective of that tedium). Furthermore, the Videssans use magic in a way which has not really been explored previously, successfully trying to find ways against Turtledove's rules against battle magic.
One of the problems with this novel is the fact that Abivard is so powerful in the context Turtledove has placed him. When on campaign, few will stand up against him. The governors of the Thousand Cities will argue, but eventually give in. Other Makuran commanders can't really hope to stand against the brother-in-law to the King of Kings. Although there are some who can or do question Abivard: his wife, Tzikes, Maniakes (the latter from a distance), Sharbaraz is really the only one who seems to have direct influence over his fate. Even that seems diluted since Abivard has heard several prophecies about his future which have yet to occur.
A more thorough examination of the prophecies which touch on Abivard's life would have allowed Turtledove to more fully explore the ideas concerning predestination. Abivard thinks about this a couple of times but dismisses it as the type of philosophy which is more suited to a Videssan than to a Makuraner. In refusing to permit Abivard to indulge in this contemplation, Turtledove misses an interesting aspect of philosophy which could have shed light, perhaps on Makuraner and Videssan religions.
The final novel in this sequence, Videssos Beseiged, will once again revert to Maniakes' point of view. It should prove interesting to once again see Maniakes and Abivard interact directly, as they haven't done since The Stolen Throne. Since that time, both men have grown, in power, wisdom and social position. Although they should be friends, based entirely on their personalities, their positions as leaders of armies can only keep them enemies, despite their mutual respect for each other on both a military and personal level.
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