E. Spence Parkinson has undertaken a Herculean task in presenting the Sino-Russian relationship history, placing that world within an imaginary re-telling from the perspective of an elite military group tasked with researching that history.
The historical fiction is the book’s most effective portion. Readers become engrossed in the tale of an Asiatic Horse Clan moving into a lush, forbidden valley, while a blue-eyed Caucasoid tribe moves toward them from the West. The Horse Clan eventually overcomes the Caucasoid tribe, and the Forbidden Valley becomes theirs.
Decades later, when an exploratory party from Alexander the Great’s army crosses into the valley, the Horse Clan learns of Alexander’s unusual idea of blending peoples via intermarriage. The Clan leader sends Alexander’s scouts back to propose not only intermarriage between tribes, but also intermixing between races, and even arranges marriages between Alexander’s Caucasian scouts and his own Asian women.
The ambitious narrative also follows yet another Sino-Russian experiment in diplomacy centuries later, after the reign of the brutal Genghis Khan and the rebellion of the Russians to become their own country. Ultimately, the author leaves readers prepared for his intended sequels in this determined trilogy.
Unfortunately, bookending the history, and woven throughout, is the jarring modern tale of two military operatives— Nathan “Hutch” Hutchinson, and Carl Hunter—who research the “real” history of China in the Forbidden Valley region. In these diversions, readers must keep a scorecard of who is presenting and who is interjecting asides (e.g., we are sometimes unsure if “Hutch” is addressing readers, an invisible archivist, or his friend’s widow). Ultimately, one questions why this extra storytelling layer is necessary.
Parkinson has done his research, and his attention to historical detail is finely tuned. But readers will likely wish the book had focused solely on that story, without the distracting modern-day interjections. As a result, its appeal seems limited to those interested in Chinese or Russian history or in how those nations interacted in past centuries.
Also available as an ebook.