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Pyramid of Skulls
By Martin Fruchtman
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
Timur the Lame, otherwise known as Tamerlane, was a notorious conqueror who ruled over an empire in Central Asia in the 14th century. A descendant of Genghis Khan, his name became synonymous with brutality and excess. With the recent Boston Marathon bombings the name popped up again. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was taken down by Boston's finest, leaving his brother Dzhokhar to face the full force of the American justice system. For fans of theater, Tamerlane was the subject of a play by Christopher Marlowe, a precursor and early influence of William Shakespeare. (Marlowe's influence is seen in Shakespeare's bloody epic, Titus Andronicus.) Martin Fruchtman brings Timur the Lame back to life in his 2012 novel, Pyramid of Skulls: A Novel of Timur, Warrior and Emperor. David, Timur's court doctor and vizier, witnesses the intrigues of court and the carnage of the battlefield. While ostensibly a historical novel, I found reading Pyramid of Skulls akin to reading a Warhammer 40K novel or a book from R. Scott Bakker's epic fantasy series. Fruchtman creates an utterly alien world to modern eyes, especially with the brutality of the hand-to-hand combat. Despite Timur's notorious reputation, he created a multi-ethnic empire of many faiths. In the novel, he battles the Assassins based in Syria and deals with court intrigues, his Sunni cleric bristling at the very idea of a Jew in Timur's court. But as someone famous once said, "Empire is a process." While Timur's reputation for brutality and ruthlessness has survived down the centuries, the Timurid Empire fizzled out following Timur's death. For those who enjoy exciting historical fiction or are curious about the early history of Central Asia, this novel comes highly recommended.
Out of 10/9.0
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