Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Man Who Won The World, O. E. Boroni

"You are the one that is choosing to ignore my plea, and you are the one choosing to withhold mercy. That is not the way of the world," he said. "But the way that you have chosen to be"

* * 
2 / 5

The Man Who Won The World is, I feel, the start of something very long and epic. As the start of this epic saga, this novel is a mostly foundational, setting out the characters and the world. So, like any other first book to a long series, it is rather slow going and lacking in excitement. It is a little confusing to begin with, but does becoming much easier and more fun to read as you progress. It's best qualities are the lovely writing style and impactful ending, which really sets up for the next books. There is also the inclusion of a number of Korean terms, with a helpful glossary at the end. The cover is also gorgeous. 

The novel focuses on Choi Jiyong, son of Choi Muyeol, who works at a local market and tavern, and Yi Haekang, Princess of the Kingdom of Jihye. Secondary characters include the Emperor, the King of Jihye, and his bodyguard Seojun. The protagonists were a little too young for my tastes, and I found that their motivations weren't really explained sufficiently. For example, when Princess Yi Haekang leaves the palace I did not understand why this was happening, and why she simply did not return home when all the following trouble ensued. Why is Seojun being tortured? Also, this novel is very heavy on the political aspects which I found rather confusing, but may very well suit other readers better.  I do not feel sufficiently informed, having essentially no knowledge of Korea let alone Korea in the 900's, to comment on how historically accurate or otherwise this novel and its characters and settings are. So I shall leave that to those who are in the know! 

I found the writing style to be rather immersive; it was very easy to envision scenes unfolding before my eyes. The prose was rather heavy going, a little dense and very descriptive in places, but I have found that to be typical of historical fiction novels and so was not at all put off by it. In fact the descriptive style worked quite well, I thought, in engaging me in the world that Boroni had crafted. There are also a number of rather lovely, quotable lines:
a life that was worth more than gold, might end up being cast to swines
This line probably also sums up a lot of the book: there is multitudinous senseless killing, so much so that I found it lost a lot of its impact when a relatively important character died. It was so expected that it failed to be shocking anymore. 

The ending was rather intriguing and probably the scenes where I felt most connected to the characters. I also enjoyed that Jiyong's brothers got a little more page time. Overall, The Man Who Won The World sets up a lot of potential for a longer, epic series, but by itself was a bit too slow paced with too juvenile characters for me to thoroughly enjoy. I do look forward to seeing where the series will head.

My thanks to the author who provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a review.

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