ORLOK by Don Dandrea


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First-novelist Dandrea has extrapolated from what few facts are known of the life of Subotai the Bold--Genghis Khan's greatest general--to come up with impressive historical fiction that has the air of a rousing, old-fashioned adventure yarn. In 13th-century Siberia, Subotai grows up an orphan--and therefore an outcast--fighting for position in the loosely organized traveling society of Mongol tribes some years before Genghis Khan's grand consolidation. He's taken along on minor raids, proves himself at a young age, and begins to dream of wooing the impossibly beautiful Mursechen, a blonde, blue-eyed princess who locks glances with him from time to time. One day he returns triumphantly from a skirmish only to find that Mursechen has been traded (for an entire herd of horses) and taken west by another tribe. Subotai follows grimly, wandering through winter wastes like Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago, but loses the trail and is near death when he's picked up by a band of Turks and taken to a trading center on the Caspian Sea. There he gets a small taste of civilization and finally joins forces with an itinerant Englishman who traps falcons in the far North. During their travels he finds no sign of Mursechen (who by this time is less a person than a feminine ideal); and when he journeys to India with a consignment of falcons for a Maharawal, he stays on to marry the beautiful Guari, father two children, and lead a relatively quiet life as a merchant. But when plague kills Guari and the boys, he sets off again, a lonely, mourning wanderer, and one day finds himself, back in the steppes, face to face with the kinds of Mongols you don't want to meet in a dark alley: ""The khan is making war,"" they say. ""He requires of you your arms and horses. Or you may remain here and gaze up at the sun forever."" But back with the main horde, Subotai is reborn: he rises quickly in the ranks and soon becomes Genghis Khan's most trusted general, subjugating China and Russia and leading the Mongols to the shores of the Danube and the threshold of the Christian Empire before internal dissension stops their advance. Being a warrior and no politician, he wanders off again, and, years later, old and alone and forgotten, he dies--still dreaming of the blonde, blue-eyed woman. In sum: fiction romancing history, and doing a fine job of it.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1986
Publisher: Pineapple