Until the Sun Falls

by Cecelia Holland


Reviewed by David Maclaine


Cecelia Holland's incredible accomplishment in Until the Sun Falls may surprise even fans familiar with her novels. Once again she transports her readers into an exotic world through the thoughts and deeds of characters whose culture may seem alien, but whose essential humanity is undeniable. The novel centers on a general named Psin, an intelligent, resourceful leader often at loggerheads with his defiant son Tsant. Between hard fights for supremacy, Psin watches his grandson struggle toward manhood and enjoys the occasional respite of quiet time with his two wives. During three years of hard campaigning, often during brutal winter weather, Psin and his family must also contend with a quarrelsome pack of royal heirs, theoretically under his command, who jockey for position to succeed to the throne. It is the dead grandfather of those princes whose drive and genius has created the unique world in which they fight, a steely figure Psin remembers under his given name of Temujin, though we know him better by the title he assumed "Lord of Heaven:" Genghis Khan. As this novel opens, the Mongol armies have conquered northern China, Korea, Persia, Syria and the great mass of central Asia, and are ready to ride against Europe. Holland's uncanny vision shows us the people our western view still treats as the ultimate outsiders, and her inside view shatters that familiar perspective.

For Psin, a new world unfolds before him as the armies ride eastward, with new languages to learn, new landscapes to scout out, then conquer, new world views to try to comprehend. But the orders he carries out with such surpassing skill require the armies to keep fighting "until the sun falls." That cities burn and captives die en masse is simply the consequence of the dead Temujin's plan to put in place a single ruler for the entire world. The attempt just barely failed, and Holland's deeply sympathetic characters illuminate the narrow margin by which the West survived. (1969, 512 pages)

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Other novels about Mongols:

The Snow Warrior by Don Dandrea (1988), about Genghis Khan's most important general. More info

Khan: Empire of Silver by Conn Iggulden (2010), about the rebellion of one of Genghis Khan's sons against the son named as his heir after Genghis Khan's death; #4 in the Conqueror series. More info

Ascent: The Rise of Chinggis Khan by Tom Shanley (2009), a sympathetic novel about the rise of the late twelfth century warlord Chinggis Khan (aka Genghis Khan); #1 in the Heaven's Favorite series. More info


Nonfiction about the Mongols:

Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire by William W. Fitzhugh, Morris Rossabi and William Honeychurch (2013). More info

The Mongol Art of War by Timothy May (2007). More info

Genghis Khan's Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant by Richard A. Gabriel (2006). More info


Online:

The Mongols in World History at the Columbia University website


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