by F.M. Deemyad
The Sky Worshipers opens in the late 14th Century with an ancient manuscript being found in the ruins of the Mongol capital, Karakorum. The manuscript contains entries detailing the Mongol invasions that took place one hundred years earlier. The journal has been written by three Princesses who had been taken captive by the Mongols and experienced their savage and barbaric actions tempered by very occasional acts of compassion.
The Sky Worshipers is a beautifully written and absorbing novel that brings the Mongol era intensely alive with colour, sound and fury. The manuscript and entries made by three separate women are the thread that runs from beginning to end and it’s a clever technique; providing coherence and reference in what is a fairly long book. The journal is begun by Chaka, a Chinese Princess who is captured and wedded to Genghis Khan. It is then taken up by a Persian Princess, Reyhan who has been kidnapped and brought to the Mongol court by Genghis’s son, Ogodei and it is completed by Krisztina (also known as Dounia), a Polish Princess captured and wedded to Hulagi, Genghis’s Grandson.
What begins as recordings of Mongol battles (aided by the first-hand recollections of the eunuch, Baako) begins to evolve into exquisitely crafted tales of everyday people and the effects that the Mongol invasions had upon their lives. F.M. Deemyad really captures that storytelling tradition of mouth to pen tales and subtle elements of fable and allegory are present throughout. These mini folk-legends are underpinned by the resilience of the three women who recount them, especially Reyhan who is the most developed and sanguine of the three captives. The brutality of the stories in the manuscript is not to be underestimated; it’s relentlessly vicious and murderously destructive but never sensationalist.
The detail and research into this medieval period and the Mongol culture is vividly substantive. From a factual point of view, it’s supremely interesting and abundantly informative. Throughout the novel, the prose is thoughtful and measured with some lovely descriptive metaphors. The pace is relaxed, almost soothing although, in parts, could be a little swifter and there is the odd touch of repetition. Occasionally, the voices of Chaka, Reyhan and Krisztina do merge but the periphery female characters, Turkan Khatun springs to mind, are deftly defined. The concluding narrative that involves Lady Goharshad attempting to atone for the Mongol destruction after having found and read the manuscript is testament to the power and voice of Chaka, Reyhan and Krisztina; attributes that none of the imprisoned women thought they possessed.
The Sky Worshipers is a vibrant and sweeping novel that richly captures this period in history. Highly recommended.