Book Review of "Year of the Ram" by Glenn Starkey
This is the third book I have read by this author and I truly hope it won’t be the last. I was reluctant to read it, but not for reasons you may think! You see, Glenn Starkey has published three novels. One I was asked to review (will always be thankful for that), one I bought and Year of the Ram was a gift that came all the way from Texas to South Africa! It’s autographed to me (big proud smile) and includes an inscription of how this novel came about. My reluctance to read it was for fear of damaging the book although I am so careful it’s almost clinical. Much as some people treasure certain things, I treasure books and when one has been autographed by the author, it’s a whole different reality. If I had to tell you how many times I have lovingly run my hands over the cover, read the inscription and put it back in it’s packaging, you would think me mad. Unfortunately it’s true. My gratitude to the author for his gesture is beyond words. For more on Year of the Ram and how it all started including an excerpt, please visit: http://glennstarkey.net/books/year-of-the-ram/
I started this novel on 26 January and finished it yesterday, 27January. What I have come to realise with all three of Glenn’s novels is the fact that once I started each one, it felt as if a hand had made its way out of the novel, gently grabbed me around the neck and pulled me into its story until such time as what was being told had come to an end. After accomplishing what it set out to do, the hand would then draw me out of the world I was in, pat my cheek, and disappear leaving me sitting there in wonder. Any clue as to how I felt about this story? Loved it.
Instead of elaborating too much on how the story follows and it’s quite an intricate and a fairly lengthy one, I will touch on certain characters and describe as best I can what I think I should share. Year of the Ram is set in war torn battlefields, extraordinary mountains and glorious palaces. It’s the story of many but primarily one of a nation, the Mongols, conquering other nations, the Emperor of Emperors, Chingis-Khan and his son Etar, the army’s Sovereign General and heir to the throne. Etar is one whose heart and soul are tightly welded together making him the leader and warrior that he is. He’s known to all across the lands as the Death Stalker and is highly feared. He is a ferocious leader who is meticulous, cunning and plans attacks to the last detail but one that shows he can be soft of heart despite his rank and position. Etar feels pain over a love he lost when she was killed by those from his nation. He places the blame upon his father for his loss. A father who ordered the deaths of those he believed were holding Etar captive, and a son Etar never knew he had. Koran. You meet the man, Subati, who took a boy in and raised him as his own son from the day he was born. One who also kept the truth from both Etar and Koran for 24 years.
Emotions are felt by allegiances pledged of those that serve the Khan and Etar which are not only based upon penalty of death should they ever deceive, but also based on respect, a deep fondness and I believe friendship. Lady Elena, Etar’s mother who I personally forged a deep respect for including Subati, the Grand Master, alchemist and very wise man indeed, the only father Koran had known. Etar’s head servant Mai Ling, chosen especially for him by his mother, who made me laugh at any given moment during the novel and proved to be a strong character. The hatred Koran feels against the Mongol’s for taking his mother’s life – an artisan. A mother he never met and all that remained of her memory was a pendant he forever wore around his neck. Koran, Etar’s fearless son (a chip off the old block) who displayed honour, duty and eventual trust after learning who is father was. A son to be proud of. Koran’s self appointed ‘bodyguard’ Yutaka, a highly skilled warrior, whom one cannot but hold in high esteem. I must not fail to mention, Captain Temur, Etar’s personal bodyguard who is a man worthy of his rank and true to his master, always, and lastly Jamal al-Din, Master of the Blade who not only taught Koran the art of blade making but was there for him until the end when he was needed the most. These are only some people I could not help but admire.
Collaboration and hopeful deception by a council of Kings who want to eradicate the strongest nation and a jealous half-brother who believed it was his right to be the next heir. The intricate planning of battles and how weapons we have heard of in our day and age were put together by alchemists or the Ministers of Festivals as we come to know them. Names like Cha (tea; and in Portuguese we write it as Chà - interesting), Kafei (coffee) and Minister of Quills who records official documents. I could go on. It’s like a treasure hunt and you are always discovering or learning something new. It all comes to life, makes you laugh at certain situations or phrases and without fail, always touches me emotionally to the point it makes me teary eyed. Yet again, this is a novel filled to the brim with vivid images and descriptions. Nothing less is to be expected from this author who has an amazing ability to portray each character perfectly be they male or female.
Year of the Ram is a novel born of a dream. A dream that eventually became a reality. A reality that I have had the good fortune to lose myself in. It was meant to be written.
“If you follow in your father’s footsteps, I am sure you will one day be as great as he is.” –The Master of the Blade, to which Koran replied, “To be worthy enough to follow in but one of his footsteps is accomplishment enough” –in this instance Koran is referring to Subati.
“For the right amount of gold, the Minister of the Quills would sell his mother”. –Mai Ling when asked by Etar which palace official may be the easiest to bribe.
“I am a ronin, a masterless warrior, a samurai, and serve no one except whom I want to. One day you will need a skilled warrior by your side and I shall be that man. I have chosen to follow you” –Yutaka to Koran
I fear repeating myself but it was magnificent.