“Amgalant belongs on the shelf with the best of the epic historical fictions.”
— Joseph Spuckler for Author Alliance see review
“Simply the best historical novel I have read for many a long year. Bryn Hammond ranks with Mary Renault. Superbly researched, wonderfully written. Addictive. If you like good historical fiction this is as good as it gets.”
— independent scholar Simon J. Cook see review
“I have spent the morning in astonishment reading your website and excerpts of your books and blogs. I feel like I found a new photo album of my life with pictures I had never seen. You really are an artist. I can see that on your website, on your covers, and hear it in the way that you write.”
— email from Jack Weatherford
author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World and The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued his Empire
Amgalant is —
‘What is a Mongol? – As free as the geese in the air, as in unison. The flights of the geese promise us we don’t give up independence, to unite.’
The hundred tribes of the Mongols have come together with one aim: to push back against the walls that have crept onto the steppe – farther than China has ever extended its walls before. Walls are repugnant to a nomad. But can people on horses push them down, even with a united effort?
This story begins when nobody has heard of Mongols – not even most Chinese, who think the vast Northern Waste at its weakest and are right. A spectacular history starts obscurely…
Against Walls is the first in a trilogy that gives voice to the Mongols in their explosive encounter with the great world under Tchingis Khan. Both epic and intimate, Amgalant sees the world through Mongol eyes. It’s different from the world you know.
‘makes the Mongol people spring to life’
570 pages/210,700 words
In the steppes of High Asia, the year 1188…
‘Jamuqa rode his trophy mare, off-white, black-pointed, on a Tartar seat, high arches of ornamental silver fore and aft. He wore a winterfur of snow leopard, near white with black whorls. The effect was kingly and fantastic: he might be Irle Khan himself, the king of ghosts, in his eery splendour.’
Aged twenty, Temujin has been named Tchingis, khan over the Mongols. But only a third of his people accept a kingship based on dreams and omens. His own sworn brother Jamuqa challenges his title, and comes in the guise of a mock king against him.
The steppe has been without a great khan for three hundred years – fragmented in the face of giant China. Are dreams and omens enough to unify its peoples? What makes a true king?
Imaginary Kings is the second in a trilogy that gives voice to the Mongols in their explosive encounter with the great world under Tchingis Khan. Both epic and intimate, Amgalant sees the world through Mongol eyes. It’s different from the world you know.
‘Amgalant brings to life a complex, remote society with amazing immediacy’
622 pages/246,910 words
Reviews of Amgalant first editions:
“Amgalant was difficult to start, but the payoff for sticking with it is immense. Amgalant far exceeds any of the historical fiction I have read in detail and effort. This is a book that is meant to be read slowly and carefully so the reader can absorb the wealth of information contained in the pages. Amgalant belongs on the shelf with the best of the epic historical fictions.”
— Joseph Spuckler on One: Against Walls
Full review at Author Alliance
“Perhaps most important in understanding another people, is understanding their culture. This is where Hammond takes Tribal Brawls above and beyond most histories and beyond any history of the Mongols I have encountered. History tends to tell the “what”. Culture tells the how and why… As someone with a history degree I usually don’t promote historical fiction as a way to learn history. The Amgalant series is different. There is plenty to learn from reading this series. Extremely well done.”
— Joseph Spuckler on Two: Imaginary Kings
Full review at Author Alliance
“The end result has a solidity and believability (is that a real word?) that draws you ever onwards to just one more page. Such writing only comes from someone who has invested themselves body and soul in a piece of work and the author’s enthusiasm and commitment shines out through every page.”
— A. Hopcraft ‘Alan’
Full review at Amazon UK
“Bottom line, Amgalant One is a riveting start to an epic trilogy that brings one of the most important figures in world history to life. Readers who might fear that this is a book for scholars can feel assured that this was tons of fun and full of imagination and memorable characters.”
Full review at Amazon US
“Three things impressed me most: Hammond’s ability to create believable characters in everyday situations; her use of “modern” language suitable to these characters that works much better than contrived archaisms; the interchange among civilizations and nomadic peoples and the effect these relationships have had within history.”
— Gary Inbinder
Full review at Goodreads
“What’s extraordinary about this novel is the way the narrative feels both modern, as if the story is being related by your history-buff friend from 2012, and perfectly historical, as though your friend is also a time-traveler from some era around the middle of the thirteenth century.”
— L.M. Ironside
Full review at Goodreads
“A story of much psychological insight underlined by the author’s unique and stylish expression. Bryn Hammond’s writing is one that paints rather than tells. You get a sense of meaning from understatements and symbolisms; it befits the Mongol setting perfectly.”
— Laura Rahme
Full review at Goodreads
“It’s clear that she is herself enraptured by the time, the place, and above all the historic characters she fleshes out to live their complex tribal lives. Hammond has researched every aspect of her enterprise, not to harass us with needless historic detail, but to make sure that the experience of the reader will be full and genuine. This is your chance to travel in space and time, and BE THERE… Amgalant is a rare and different, wonderful read, although not always easy. Hats off to Hammond for her long, loving and continuing discipline.”
— John Caviglia
Full review at Goodreads
“Bryn Hammond makes the Mongol peoples spring to life as you read about them. Dry witted, whimsical, a thorough delight from page to page. The sort of book not to read on public transport as you are liable to become so engrossed in it that you will miss your stop… a roaring good read.”
Full review at Goodreads
Amgalant has a Facebook page — http://www.facebook.com/Amgalant
On Twitter I’m Jakujin… and I tweet far too much about my daily writing experience. On the other hand I don’t believe in tweet-adverts.
I am active on Goodreads. I keep my research shelves there — see the sidebar.
Website by Julie Bozza. She of the dedication:
My sister has been godmother to the book. Amgalant, what’s written and what isn’t written yet, is dedicated to her, with waves from Tem and Jam, and no sight or scent of a goat. In steppe epic, a steed and a sister are your trustiest, most intelligent and indefatigable aid: the hero doesn’t have to be heroic, but these do.
excerpts from the novels
Monghe limped from his single-sheet asylum, his hip at its clumsiest in the first half hour up. With his hot broth he did his libations, drops flicked from his fingers. South for fire: dawn struck a light on the sandstone canyon, marigold, Shiraz wine. East for air: the air you had to snatch out of the wind and gulp, as if to breathe were to catch flies. West for water: gulls from the ocean roam here in search of an ancient sea. North for the dead.
Daily, when he did north for the dead, he thought of a specific, a graphic member of that greater tribe. Monghe’s brigade had given escort to Yorgi Wolfhound who had the king of the Mongols prisoner. Prince Yorgi had led him in a yoke on foot behind his horse and they rode through the streets of Zhongdu. The crowd had jeered and thrown things, thrown fruit and garbage and abuse to do with animals. But his death was orderly, up on a hill, a cordon of guards at the bottom. Ambaghai sat straight, his gaze straight ahead on the horizon, and silent, silent when they hammered nails into his thighs, silent to the end. Oikon Bartaq sang. On his hurdle ten yards down the hill, his hurdle with a straw tail and donkey ears from a farce, he sang, in Mongol, which Monghe understood, for three days and three nights, hoarsely, yes, but with his heart and soul. Only when Ambaghai slumped did Oikon cease to sing. They were left to rot on the donkeys. Monghe, as you do, had gone along, often in the days, and at last had succumbed and stood vigil. Those songs Monghe heard in his dreams and woke with them in his head, and that was why he thought of Ambaghai when he did north for the dead.
Even without stalkers.
He was a major in the army, and that was his crime. Joined up as a lad. Matter of fact, Tartary had been too cut-throat for him. Who wants to stay in Tartary, unless you’re a prince? To garrison walls – it’s not a bad life. There’s the comradeship. Discipline is tribal, not Chinese. You mind your sheep, you sit on a wall and you yarn. It’s not a bad life, and beats Tartary these days. His soldiers were get-outs from Tartary, they didn’t expect to make great fortunes, they weren’t very bad men. The Odds-and-Ends is us: ordinary. Your usual soldier in foreign service, cynical, cheery. Just soldiers.
Cooked. Or half-baked, maybe, but in China parlance, a barbarian is cooked or else he’s raw. The lot on his tail were pretty raw. They were Jorkimes (the Resolute, in Turkic) a band hand-picked by Khabul Khan to guard his first son Oikon Bartaq. Monghe could quote verses on old Khabul’s selection criteria:
Those with grit, those with guts,
Nimble thumbs on the bow,
Bellow lungs and huge hearts.
They must steam from the mouth…
And so on.
Barbarians in the raw tend to be simple-minded on what to do with a foe. Either you kill him or you don’t. No permutations. These might learn fast, for him. Chinese are artistic in torture; the steppe does more in the way of desecrations of the dead and trophies, quivers from your skin, cups from your skull. Maybe, for the worst of both worlds, they could skin him alive, chat to him while they sewed the quiver. Was that adequate? He’d be an ornamental quiver, align his tattoos.
The worst of both worlds: he sat on the throne of China, he was the Emperor Tikunai. Only the trouble with the worst of both worlds seemed to be, neither world can own him. The staunch Jurchen set nickname him the Han Ape for his go-Chinese agenda; he interdicts Jurchen language, Jurchen costume. But on the streets he’s a legend for lechery and a bogglingly bloody style of politics, which ain’t Confucian. Where did he come from? The worst of both worlds, obviously, worse than the worst of either.
If Tikunai had dreamt up the wooden donkey, Monghe might have understood. No, Arzat had, for Marquz, and Arzat wasn’t insane.
Monghe, a major in the army, didn’t know much. But he knew he hadn’t signed up for torture. And his Tartar soldiers felt the like. They weren’t vocal, they were scarcely articulate, but they didn’t care for torture. You can tell them they’re dainty, you can have a laugh at them. But you can’t tell them they’re not human. When they drag Ambaghai through the streets and hear the insults to do with animals, they have to start to think, what am I, then? When they watch his torture as a public spectator sport… I don’t know how things work in the city. We’re from the steppe, and on the steppe, your physical courage, your stoicism to pain, is important to you; you seldom get a day’s comfort, the weather what it is. Insensibility – you grow callouses head to foot, so’s you can grab your lamb shank from the cauldron on the boil and wash with ice, because that’s the summer and the winter. Big part of your identity. To watch that undone, to watch that dismantled – how can you not feel got at? The city’s sheltered. Whether they’re more scared of pain, or less, he didn’t know. Obviously they can be distanced. Perhaps it’s simple: they don’t identify with Ambaghai. He’s an animal.
Jurchen are pigs. I don’t mean that rudely. Their totem is the boar and sow. Ile are named Ile after an ancient stallion cult; Qatat were steppe; Jurchen aren’t, you can tell, or they wouldn’t find the mock-up donkey such a joke. But take a pig, do gruesome, ludicrous things. How would they feel?
Monghe didn’t need stalkers to make him think.
And what was the wooden donkey for? To intimidate? If so, Monghe might have told them, had they asked him: a trifle asinine. The emperor wasn’t out here, see. Monghe was out here, and these samples weren’t intimidated near as much as pissed off. His Tartars had the willies. They thought to be inside-out Tartars, the moment the stalkers spied their chance. Tartars have a bad name with Mongols just lately. Just soldiers.
That chance didn’t come about. Monghe had kept to open ground and kept on course towards the wall. Today, in an equation of time, distance and where the reinforcements were, he crossed an invisible line to safety. The stalk seemed to be over, the victims acknowledged to have got away. This he knew because they came up close, to jostle him and flaunt their tuq, to tell him, we know where you live. His tailenders waved at them in answer, see you later.
However, they hadn’t quite finished with him. They drew up in a row, very neat and at-attention. From beside the standard a single horse threw out its front feet and catapulted into a run. The rider urged, tchoo, tchoo, and the horse flattened down desperately fast, although no other animal before or behind was in motion – his army had stopped to see what this was. A one-man onslaught? The rider wore a hide vest ornamented with bone and poised a battle-axe, the butt of the head gilt, scarlet haft. Monghe’s rearmost stood and gawped at him. Until he was about in spitting distance and whirled his axe at them and battlecried. And the rank of Mongols – like a line of bulbuls, the honour-guard in stone that flanks a grave – came to life and stood your hair on end and yelled, yelled in grief and rage, Ambaghai.
His soldiers had to shoot. They shot, a lot of them together, triggered to action by the cry. Again there was silence. The horse, unhit, skidded to miss his lines, trotted back to its rider on the ground, blew from its nostrils and whickered, wondered what had happened.
The bulbuls sat and stared. Not at the corpse. Straight at him.
“Go and see who that is,” he said to his lieutenant.
“Reckon we know him?”
“He knew me.”
Idige went gingerly to peer (one eye on the bulbuls) came back and mumbled, “Yeah. They’re not hard to i.d. It’s Oikon Bartaq’s brother. Bartan.”
“Daft old gaffer, isn’t he?” said a Tartar.
“Shut up,” said another.
“I just mean. Why’d he have to do that for?”
“What did that prove? What the hell was the point of that?”
Indeed. The age for loyal self-slaughter was past. The age for loyal self-slaughter had been past in the seventh century, when a few nostalgic Turk generals in mercenary service to the T’ang sought permission to do themselves in for a Chinese emperor. For a Chinese emperor. No, you can’t, said the Chinese, none of your barbarous customs to mar the funeral. One grizzled Turk general went ahead anyhow and marred the funeral (oi, stop that suicide) laid on the tomb like a dog. T’ang Taizong didn’t mind the barbarity; T’ang Taizong, alone of emperors, understood the steppe and that inspired devotion.
“Move on,” said Monghe.
As his officers dispersed one said harshly to those by, “It proves they know they’re as near as they’re getting to Zhongdu. Right here in Buzzard’s Gorge.”
Yes. For now. But he won’t be the last. Was that what he tried to say? Here’s how we feel. Why does an emperor deliberately inspire hatred? That was the bit Monghe didn’t get.
An idiot paused to ask him, “Do we, ah – take his horse, or –”
“Christ, soldier, if you want his friends to chop you to pieces, go and strip him. Otherwise, move on.” He shouted in general, “Move on.”
Still Monghe lingered and gazed at the avenger on the ground. One day you’ll be sorry for Ambaghai. Should he tell the emperor? Message to Your Celestial from the Mongols. By suicide post. One day you’ll be sorry.
The emperor can go fuck a goat. The emperor can find out.
“On the run he has found time to gather argols in his coat-skirts. Can you see who he has, Jamuqa? Any serious resistance?”
Argols are dried dung-pats for fuel. The homely picture of Temujin with the dung-pats he had picked up in his coat-skirts had the wrong effect on him, but Nilqa stood behind him and didn’t see his face. What fuel did Temujin have to keep his hearth from extinguishment this day? Jamuqa skinned his eyes. From his road they had a rough idea of Temujin’s size into Qalaqaljit Sands but the question was —
Out from concealment cantered a single rider with a standard, and wheeled left and wheeled right with his tassels afloat, tassels black and white under horns in black and white stripe.
The question was answered. Jamuqa pointed. “The pied tails. Do you know who that is?”
“Mongol heraldry isn’t my area.”
“Uru’ud and Mangqot.” He sang inside. He sang aloud. With one hand he made a trumpet and the other danced in the air to his song. “Ur-uuu-ud-Mang-qot.”
Too distant for the attention of the rider, who after his tuq parade cantered back in to his hidden comrades. Jamuqa turned about. In a group with Nilqa stood the marshals Achig the Angry of Tumen Tubegen, Qadaq Ba’atur of the Jirgin Ba’atud and Solomon Taiji of the Royal Guard. They eyed him dubiously.
“Ach.” Jamuqa threw them a shamefaced grin. “A throb of the blood for old times. Once or twice they fought for me and the honour was mine. Your Uru’ud and Mangqot is your whole soldier. He weds his sword and spear when he’s weaned and when he reaches the Ordo of Heaven he tries to take them in. In drill or in action he moves by mathematics. Draw him a course on the ground with your finger and his hooves give you a big-scale copy – six of him or six thousand of him – without a fault.”
So he helped to parade the black and white tuq. Recklessly, but what mood was Temujin in?
“Nearer six than six thousand here, presumably,” from Solomon Taiji.
“I know the pied tails,” said Achig the Angry (whose temper wasn’t worse than most but achig meant irate). “I ought to. Fought shoulder-to-shoulder half a dozen times. Them and Tubegen and Jirgin stormed Sow’s Tail fort head-on – that was a day, eh, Qadaq?” He paused and judiciously pursed his lips. “They’re a tight unit.”
Nilqa demanded of him, “They don’t matter against my armour, though. Do they, Achig?”
“Not unless there are six thousand, oghul. But the pied tails are proud and we’ll have to go through them. When you’ve emptied a flagon with Guyildar and Jurchedei, as I have half a dozen times, you’re left in no doubt. Great braggarts they are.” He paused and knit his forehead. “Wonder whether they’re here.”
“Can you estimate the number of these – Urude and whatever, Jamuqa?”
“Nilqa, I haven’t got a clue.”
“It doesn’t matter, does it? I have four battalions at twelve hundred apiece in total armour. How about I exhibit what I’ve got? Now they’re at a stand. Do you think they might hand him over?”
At this question, asked in innocence – innocent of principle – Jamuqa and Achig the Angry caught each other’s eye under inched-up brows. Jamuqa gestured to say, yours. “No, oghul. No, that’s a flat impossibility. Odds don’t come into a question like that, oghul.” Achig had taught Nilqa war in his tumen and had a patient air as he tried to teach him principle.
Qadaq Ba’atur had to splutter out his sense of scandal. “If they did, the disloyal dogs, I’d slit their throats for them.”
The heir of Hirai curled his lip. “For payment you’d slit their throats? That’s smart. That encourages future transactions of the type.”
The heir sneered, and the three marshals frowned at their feet. They didn’t understand one another and Nilqa wasn’t going to last a year. Unfortunately Temujin didn’t have a year, he had an afternoon.
Here a Lion Helmet came up, sent by the King Khan to ask Jamuqa to attend him. This perturbed Jamuqa, who with infinite precaution had steered clear of the King Khan throughout the march and hadn’t seen him since the start of winter. One can’t decline to attend a king and he went, but lagged behind the Lion Helmet. At his girth rode his Jajirat-on-duty. Jamuqa eased back with his elbows on the rear arch of his seat and said to him, “Haltar, I have need to borrow your sword for a short while.”
The Jajirat shifted his eyes. “Chief, you’ve given us orders not to arm you. No countermand.”
“Damn me and I have. But I’m sane today, a day important to be sane on.”
“Sane as my thumb.”
“This isn’t a test. The thing is, I might have a whim to strike off the King Khan’s head. He’s a king, Haltar, and for that piece of work you don’t want to be my instrument. Bad for your health. Lend me your sword.”
“Test or not, chief, disobedience is worse for my health, I’ll warrant.” He glanced at but didn’t touch his weapon.
At the weapon Jamuqa glanced too, clicked his tongue several times, and expostulated to himself. “Why does he ask to see me? Isn’t he afraid? I have eaten hearts for far, far less.”
“As have I,” put in his Jajirat without undue emotion. “And now I’ve half a fancy to eat his, raw on the spit of my sword.”
In a burst of warmth his heart felt twice the size. “For my anda’s sake, Haltar?” he cried and snatched at the man’s sleeve. “Do you nurse his wrongs to your breast? Are you so generous?”
The weather-cracked cheek manifested symptoms of a blush. “Isn’t he your other self?”
“Yes. Yes, he is.”
“If your anda dies this day we know we are devoted to his vengeance, as if you had died. Don’t mind about my sword. It is at my thigh, but in your hand.”
“And if none of us live?”
“None of us like to be picked off one by one. Give us an end, chief, together, and fit for a tale.”
“A heroes’ tale, or a tale to scare the children?”
“Jajirat won’t be remembered as heroes,” he said, not bitterly.
“No. No, we won’t be. You tighten my sinews. On the earth I have loved my anda, and my thirty Jajirat, and him we go to meet. But him no more.”
The Royal Guard was the rear battalion of the four. In between a black felt triangle tent on gilt arms and a gigantic armoured horse, the King Khan stood in wait. His jointed-sticks figure leant on his unbelted sword in its scabbard. Dust dimmed his intaglio hauberk and greaves. He hadn’t shaken the dust from his beard. The helmet had flattened his curls, and his skinny head and neck thrust forward from his big-shouldered hauberk in the aged stoop of the vulture.
Jamuqa dismounted, and with a finger told his Jajirat to follow. The King Khan, on the contrary, waved away the Lion Helmet.
“No, no, old man. Don’t stand back your guard. You don’t want to be alone with me.”
“A word in private with you, of your courtesy, Chief of Jajirat.”
To which Jamuqa didn’t answer.
“First – for they don’t keep me informed – has Tchingis Khan managed to join up with his great combat tribes Uru’ud and Mangqot?”
“Yes. Yes, he has brandished a tuq to warn his foes he has.”
“On number he doesn’t boast. There might be just the one.”
“Does he stand a chance, Chief of Jajirat? You are our most acute military mind.”
“As a matter of fact he does stand a chance.”
“It’s the half-arsed army you’ve come out with. To do you justice, you didn’t come for a battle but to trample him in his ordo – an objective for which you were quite equipped – four times twelve hundred to trample on one man.”
Soberly he answered, “True, we have our heavy sections without our light. That is because our light mounts are out of action. The mounts he has ridden for at least ten hours, a single horse per rider, we can discount. What new mounts he has are no more battle-fit than ours left at home. How do you see he is to withstand a charge of lance?”
“Why did you send for me, since you feel comfortable as to the outcome?”
“To ask, after his defeat and death, what then for you?”
“For me, the blood of my enemy. What then for you, old man?”
“The fires of hell. Chief, I have a proposition. I believe you aren’t very mad, but clever-mad, as once before when you saved our arses.” With one gauntlet on top of the other on its hilts, he pushed forward his sword. “The sword of my grandfather Marquz. Allow me to buckle my blade onto you, in sign I give you direction of my battle. As I say, you are our most acute military mind, and although thrust aside I am still the khan of Hirai.”
“Oh – Toghrul –” He wiped a hand about his jaw. He shook his head. “And what miracle can I work? Can I direct Tumen Tubegen to charge at Olon Dongqaid?”
“I thought you said he has a chance.”
“Not this chance. Yes, once I led soldiers to their death – Naiman soldiers, and Merqot and Oirat. The casualties on my side from that battle have a right to tear my soul to shreds in Irle Khan.”
Slowly he retracted the sword. With a catch in his throat he asked, “Are you and I to watch him die?”
“Yes, old man. And what then for you and I? – I’ll tell you. I’ll take you by the old grey beard and strike off your old grey head. And Jajirat, crows perched on you, eat your raw heart, our last feast and fight together as your Lions pounce upon us. If my anda is slow of step on his way to the ghosts I’ll catch him up, with your old grey head adangle by the old grey beard.”
The King Khan swayed slightly on his sword. Otherwise he kept his countenance. With dignity he said, “In that event I claim one due only from my nephew. Perhaps a head can’t talk without a windpipe. Tell him of our exchange, prior to battle here.”
“I’ll tell him. Although you do yourself no service with him, to demonstrate you are utterly bankrupt of loyalty. He’d scorn to profit by your abandonment of duty. In the end I see you are your son’s father. I say this, who am so compromised.” He stepped back. “Until the battle is decided, old man.”
“You are unfair to me,” murmured the old man behind him.
As he rode to the front of the army he lay a hand on Haltar’s shoulder and dictated a message. Then he called Jajirat about him, because the Royal Guard might try to arrest them. “Brothers, we aren’t cowards who go to war without a declaration,” he told his tribe of eleven. “But neither do I want to lose my boast. If we’re interfered with, the last of us must reach him.”
“He’s dead and in our teeth,” they promised him and grinned.