Mark Teppo’s The Beast of Calatrava is one of the “sidequest” stories associated with the FOREWORLD SAGA universe shared by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, and others. (Bill recently reviewed the novels in the series.)
This story is set in the Iberian Peninsula during the Reconquista. The Knights of the Templar have arrived to cleanse the land of the Muslims who took the region twenty years earlier. Ramiro Ibáñez de Tolosa, a former knight who was grossly disfigured in that losing battle, has been living in the area as a goatherd while secretly killing moors in his spare time. His wife will deliver their first child soon and Ramiro is most concerned about getting her to safety before war breaks out again. Meanwhile, Brother Lazare, a monk who travels with the Templars, searches for a legendary sword which he hopes will have the power (either in reality or just as a symbol) to invigorate the Christian cause and give them a victory.
For such a short work — it’s only 114 pages in Kindle format and 3.5 hours long in audio — The Beast of Calatrava’s got a lot going on. The pace is fast, characters are quickly but sharply drawn and descriptions are vivid. Teppo shows us the conflicts that arose during the Crusades — between the Catholic Church and various kings in Europe, and between individual Christians who were conflicted about how they should behave toward the “infidels.” These issues are, of course, still so relevant today.
The Beast of Calatrava stands alone so you don’t need to be familiar with the MONGOLIAD novels or any of the other sidequests. This story is not a fantasy; even though there is talk of magical swords, The Beast of Calatrava is definitely historical fiction. Anyone who’s interested in the Crusades and the Reconquista will probably enjoy this story. I recommend the audio version; Luke Daniels does a great job with the narration.
The Foreworld — This is a collaboration between Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, E.D. deBirmingham, Cooper Moo, and Mark Teppo. Publisher: The first novel to be released in The Foreworld Saga, The Mongoliad: Book One, is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia. But the saga reaches the modern world via a circuitous route. In the late 19th century, Sir Richard F. Burton, an expert on exotic languages and historical swordsmanship, is approached by a mysterious group of English martial arts aficionados about translating a collection of long-lost manuscripts. Burton dies before his work is finished, and his efforts were thought lost until recently rediscovered by a team of amateur archaeologists in the ruins of a mansion in Trieste, Italy. From this collection of arcana, the incredible tale of The Mongoliad was recreated. Full of high adventure, unforgettable characters, and unflinching battle scenes, The Mongoliad ignites a dangerous quest where willpower and blades are tested and the scope of world-building is redefined.