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Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything)

Musings and kvetchings and Torah thoughts from an unconventional Orthodox Jew.

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"I blog, therefore I am". Clearly not true, or I wouldn't exist except every now and then.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Assyrian / Blood Star (book review)

Here's a much overlooked masterwork. Back in the 1980s, Nicholas Guild wrote a book called The Assyrian. It struck my eye, because I have something of an interest in ancient Assyria and the rest of the ancient near east. I think I saw it several times before I finally bought it. And read it. And I was simply wowed.

Look, there are basically four components of any novel at the widest level. There's plot. Do you have people doing something interesting, or just sitting around? There's characterization. Do you feel that these are people that could exist? However wild they may be, do they ring true? Or are they sockpuppets, doing things that no one would do in the real world, just to further the plot? There's dialogue. That's actually one of the most important things for me. If I pick up a book and open it to the middle and I see characters speaking in an interesting way, that's a huge plus for me. Some humor, some wit. This is sort of an extension of characterization, but you can have interesting characters who have no spark to their speech. Who speak as though they're reading off a shopping list. Such books have no interest for me. Lastly, there's style. I have a book here at home that was written by someone I know. The plot sounds fairly interesting, and in the little bit that I read, I actually developed an interest in the main character, and in what was happening. But the writing... gah! Never mind the grammatical errors and use of punctuation, it simply doesn't flow. It may be that a good editor could turn it into a readable book, but as it is now... well, if I run out of other things to read, I may try and jump back in.

But I digress. The Assyrian captured me on all fronts. The book is about an Assyrian prince named Tiglath Ashur, one of the many sons of Sennecherib, king of Assyria. The story takes us from his childhood through the rest of his life, and he is a thoroughly likeable character. Tiglath (as he's often referred to in the book) is a strongly moral man. I like stories about people with strong moral fiber, and Tiglath has that in ton lots. The dialogue is sharp, and doesn't lack in humor when appropriate. The writing is wonderful; you can forget that you're reading and just live the story. And the plot has bits of just about everything. Adventure, romance, danger, sibling rivalry (potentially lethal sibling rivalry), mysticism, tragedy, friendship, hardship and hope.

I loved Tiglath's adventures. His travels and travails and just watching him deal with everything that comes his way. So I was thrilled to find out that there was a sequel. It wouldn't surprise me to find that Blood Star was simply the second half of a novel that was too long to publish in a single volume, but it starts right where The Assyrian left off, and it takes us through the remainder of Tiglath's life. It's as good, if not better, than the first volume.

Unfortunately, I don't believe Blood Star has ever been issued in paperback. Which I think is dumb, but used copies of the hardcover aren't expensive, so you can obtain the book fairly easily. And who knows? Maybe they'll reissue both books some day. Until then, I can only urge you to find a copy of The Assyrian and get started reading it. You'll thank me.


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