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New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Tue May 30, 2017 5:12 pm
by Xu Yuan
Hello everyone, the other day I was doing a search for Xiahou Lan just to see what information I could find on the fellow. One result stood out to me as if it was from a fan-fiction or something as it had him speaking with Zhang Fei. Out of curiosity I clicked on it and it was surprisingly a Google book. I thought it bizarre that a seemingly Western venue was producing new historical fiction of the Three Kingdoms. I copied the author's name T.P.M Thorne and was taken to his main website where to my shock and curiosity all of the books he has written have been Three Kingdoms novels.

He also has previews of each of his books, and sizable ones at that! He covers up until Wu Zhang Plains (because, of course) but begins early, even earlier than the Three Kingdoms novel proper. I've only read a preview of the first book, I now know I want to pick up the whole collection. Here is my little review of the sample of Yellow Sky: Crisis for the Han Dynasty

Firstly, I must say these books look to have been written for Three Kingdoms aficionados; many of the references made and his superb grasp of history can really be appreciated by those who are steeped in the lore of the era. Again and again he surprised me with new facts that I did not know of Emperor Huan's reign such as the Huang Lao cult, that he mentions only in passing, but it made me wonder of Emperor Huan really did go so far, turns out he had.

He begins in the mid-reign of Emperor Huan, rather than starting with the Eunuchs throwing everything into disarray. He portrays the situations of the gentry versus the eunuchs in a more organic and organized manner than the original novel does. The characters of Chen Fan and Dou Wu who are given paragraph entries in the novel are fleshed out and are made real characters with their own set of beliefs and plans. The novel is much more gray than the simple black and white of Luo Guanzhong in how it portrays the eunuchs and the gentry. There are good eunuchs (A fellow named Shan Bing who works for Chen Fan in particular) and bad gentry who see the way of promotion through the eunuch's political power. There are no diversions from history thus far, all of the main beats are hit, which, when presented in a novel form made me come to some personal realizations (such as the Dou's likely wanting to use Emperor Ling as a puppet akin to how the Liang's tried to use Huan as their own) that I didn't catch from the historical records. The preview is strongly court-based, this shows that Thorne wants to take his time in telling the story with as much detail as possible and it works exceedingly well, though admittedly the flow of time does get a little difficult to follow at points. It is a wonderful story which never deviates too far from history.

Interspersed with the main conflict of eunuch versus gentry are asides showing what future main players are up to. Through this we get to see a young Cao Cao simply living his life with his friends Xu You, Zhang Miao, Yuan Shao, and Wu Zi (who I am not really sure who that last one is). We first meet Cao Cao as a young ten year old boy who is wondering why the eunuchs are so disliked since his grandfather was a eunuch. Cao Song explains to Cao Cao that the gentry are still reeling from their political defeat by Liang Ji and they seek to harm the eunuchs, regardless whether they are good or bad because they want to reclaim their power. We next see young Cao Cao when Emperor Huan dies and Emperor Ling ascends. Cao Cao flippantly mentions that Emperor Ling is only as old as he is and that he may as well be Emperor. Cao Song berates Cao Cao for saying that and explains that hopefully Emperor Ling will rule for a long reign and that they need not attend to these sorts of ceremonies as each one weakens the nation temporarily. When we next see Cao Cao the Partisan Prohibitions have broken out and Cao Cao is a teenager who now begins to understand the situation. He goes to his father who basically tells him to keep his head low and to go with the flow.

What is great about these portrayals is that time is really given for Cao Cao to bond with his father, Yuan Shao, and Zhang Miao, making their later actions taken against one another all the more heart breaking as we are shown that the three of them were wonderful friends and partners. Yuan Shao is portrayed as a bit snobbish (saying that the commoners are better off now than the gentry because at least they are consistently miserable rather than inconsistently in authority), there's also a point where Zhang Miao says privately to Cao Cao that Yuan Shao is beginning to grow more and more arrogant. Yuan Shao to his credit is also portrayed as protecting the gentry from further court purges so he is not portrayed consistently poorly, but his shown as a proud youth. He also visits He Yong and Qiao Xuan who give his historical epithets.

Cao Cao's real purpose in the narrative comes when he is made Guard Captain and he puts Jian Shuo's Uncle through flogging for being out after curfew (100% historical actually) thus he runs afoul of the eunuchs. Though unlike history he doesn't kill the man but leaves him wounded (also a bit anachronistic since whips are used instead of poles). He is then made prefect of Dunqiu to get him out of the Capital. Yuan Shao and he banter back and forth, Yuan Shao blames him for endangering the gentry that the Yuan are currently hiding, Cao Cao doesn't really pay it much mind. Cao Cao eventually picks up Lady Bian from a den of prostitutes and is eventually allowed back in the capital. The section with Cao Cao and Yuan Shao ends with the two discussing Empress He and He Jin and what they could do with this situation.

Throughout there are also views of what later important characters are doing. We have young Liu Bei proclaiming that he will one day be Emperor as he sits atop the mulberry tree shaped like the Imperial Chariot and we have young Zang Ba (yes, he's apparently a major figure in these books) rescuing his father after his father is imprisoned for complaining to his superiors about his prisoners mostly being bookish scholars and government officials.

The preview ends with rumblings of Zhang Jue and his preachings against the Dynasty and portraying the disaffection of the government officials in those parts of the land.

Now some things in the books which I don't care much for... when Thorne makes a character shout he uses bold font, which is a little more sophomoric. Also when he wants to a show a character is very perplexed or angry he'll use "???" or "!!!" which... last I checked is not acceptable in a published work. His word choice is also a little limited. I lost track of the amount of times he said "whining and mewling" in regards to the eunuchs in court. But he is spot on with the style names, though at times I feel the situations feel a little anachronistic, it is a more than worthy effort and didn't detract from the experience for me to too great of an extent.

In total I am superbly impressed with what I've read, this fellow really knows his stuff, and he feels he has a story to tell. Though the story begins with one of those old storytellers explaining to children to better understand Dong Zhuo, Liu Bei, and Cao Cao they needed to start from the beginning, but this is not a children's book. In this fictional world I imagine the children would have fallen asleep by page 20 since the vast bulk of this preview is court intrigue to a much greater extent than the original carries on for, it is all greatly intriguing, but it is for high-school students if not above due to the content matter. Not that there's anything racy or foul language or anything of that sort, but because the content may be a bit too mature (in the literal meaning of the word) for younger people to really grasp their minds around. I'd say it's just under the level of Romance of the Three Kingdoms in terms of the intended reader. It is a series made for lovers of the Three Kingdoms who are in the mood for something a little different than the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Re: New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Tue May 30, 2017 7:01 pm
by Sun Fin
He is actually a member of this board and started a thread advertising 'Crouching Dragon - The Journey of Zhuge Liang' a while ago. As a result I downloaded that one on my kindle and read it ages ago. My thoughts on that book is in the other thread. I didn't know he had finished any other books though. I will take a look.

Also self-plug I am 20,000 words through my own Three Kingdom Novel which I am aiming to finish by September 2018!

Re: New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Tue May 30, 2017 8:43 pm
by Xu Yuan
Oh ho! He has been working on this for much longer than I thought. I read through that thread (skimming it so I wasn't spoiled to future characterizations and the like) and it very much seems to be a consistency through his work. It seems each of his works are 670 pages to the letter? A strangely exact amount but that makes it longer than even Romance of the Three Kingdoms when all is said and done.

We have...

Yellow Sky - 166-194
East of the River: Home of the Sun Clan - 184-199
Turmoil - 194-200
Intention - 200-208 presumably
and the first book he wrote, which is chronologically the last...
Crouching Dragon 208-232

670 x 5 is a whopping 3350 page epic! That dwarfs the size of Romance of the Three Kingdoms if I'm not mistaken. With such detail as that included into each of his books I am more than looking forward to reading them. I just spent 100+ dollars on buying the whole collection (since I'm not sure where he can add to the story, maybe with the Sima and Jin if he really wanted to). A shame that I didn't find out about this until now, but at least I managed to purchase them on the heels of his newest release.

Do you have a topic for your Three Kingdoms works Sun Fin? I've seen various proposals from you over the years, but wasn't aware you were working on a serious project.

As for myself, I always like to try and think of ways to make the Three Kingdoms into plays as thought experiments. A long time ago for Theater class I made the Battle of Guandu into a Greek-style play. I always saw Yuan Shao as a perfect Greek-style tragic hero who is undone by his own flaws, despite having so many positive traits. There was the chorus, off-stage action, and no violence allowed to be shown on the the stage. I enjoyed it.

Re: New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 4:02 am
by capnnerefir
I've come across Thorne's website a couple of times while doing research. I've always been curious, but I have a personal policy of not reading things that are too close to my own work, since I don't want to "cross contaminate" with someone else's ideas.

I relax this policy for things that I know will be significantly different from my work (like adaptations of the Yanyi), but I was never sure where Thorne was coming from and I didn't want to look too closely lest I be drawn in. Would you say it leans more to the Yanyi side or the historical?

I hope his work is good. The more Three Kingdoms stories in circulation, the better.

I'm under the understanding that this is self-published work, yeah?

And I'm all forgetting a writer's group going. We all need to support each other.

Re: New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 4:30 am
by Xu Yuan
From the samples I've read his work is embellishment, but embellishment in areas for the purpose of character rather than exaggeration of deeds. For instance we know very little about Cao Cao's childhood other than the "Uncle can't control me!" story but Thorne provides characterization for a young Cao Cao, in addition to characters often forgotten by history such as Chen Fan and Dou Wu. Emperor Ling is shown to have a reason to support the eunuchs, the Dou's wouldn't allow Liu Hong's mother to be Empress Dowager (because Empress Dowager Dou still wanted to be in control). I don't believe it's ever spelled out that clearly in history but Thorne's work presents it as a real possibility, purely to advance his own plot and to give his own interpretation. Because it is historical fiction he can make these logical strands without establishing a serious argument as it's meant to tell a story rather than to explain a historical event.

Re: New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Wed May 31, 2017 7:08 am
by Sun Fin
Last time he posted here he was being self-published and as it is printed on demand now I would guess that's still the case.

My novel is in the style of Bernard Cornwall. He uses fictional characters to show us the life of a historical figure. For example his Sharpe novels: they are based around the life of the fictional Richard Sharpe but through his eyes we see the achievements of Lord Wellington. I think this comes with a few advantages not least that if someone who knows about Lord Wellington reads the stories there are still twists and turns that they won't know which should make it a more engaging read.

Anyway my main character is called Gao Feng, ideally I'd love to write a series but currently I'm just focusing ion the one novel which will be about the Yellow Turban rebellion.

Also I would love a writers group from here to work together!

Re: New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Fri Sep 15, 2017 12:46 pm
by Sun Fin
I got my early birthday present from my parents today! Looking forward to reading it! :D


Re: New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2017 4:20 pm
by Xu Yuan
So far I have read through the first 300 pages of "Yellow Sky" I do have a few gripes, but overall it is a stellar piece. The attention it pays to the Liang Rebellion is wonderful and really portrays the court in a balanced light. It even has Jia Xu as Dong Zhuo's main strategist, which as a fan of him, is a welcome treat. Li Ru is sort of shoved into the back as a back-up strategist with a shy personality, though maybe that will change in the coming chapters. I'm sure you'll like East of the River Sun Fin, T.P.M Thorne does an incredible job with characterization. He Jin is shown in a respectful light, as well as prescient to his role in history being akin to Chen Fan. (Which really works well since the novel's opening chapters were devoted to Dou Wu and Chen Fan). Dong Zhuo is a bit lacking in subtlety, but it's no worse than novel Dong Zhuo. Liu Bei has only been shown in a couple of scenarios, but I like the direction they went with the Sworn Brothers. Child Cao Cao was great and seeing him mature it does stay true to his character.

Re: New Three Kingdoms Novels written by T.P.M Thorne

Unread postPosted: Tue Oct 10, 2017 5:24 pm
by Sun Fin
I'm about 20 chapters in to the novel on the Sun clan. Sun Jian has disappeared after a skirmish with Liu Biao's forces. :cry:

So far, from a cultural history perspective it's very well researched and I'm enjoying learning more about that side of the Han dynasty. The story line is a blend of history and novel (for example the important of Li Ru as an adviser is more like in the novel).

I think the biggest strengths have been Zu Mao's character (who I've really liked) and Sun Jian's relationship with Lady Wu and his children as well as (of course) the budding friendship between Sun Ce and Zhou Yu. Their teenage banter felt very real.

I would only recommend to people who are really in to the Three Kingdom era as I think his use of style names and the large cast would be off-putting to a new audience.