A grim recounting of a harsh and unforgiving military campaign set in the Bronze Age.
Ten Thousand is based on The Anabasis, an ancient Greek story about 10,000 mercenaries hired by one prince to overthrow his brother. Paul Kearney basically swaps out Greek Soldiers with Romans and calls them Macht. And he keeps the Persians but calls them Kufr, which looks like a typo. Then he tells the same story. There are a few other fantasy races in the book that act like normal people, but there is really nothing special about them.
World Building: FAIL
There is almost no fantasy world building in this book, other than changing the names and skin color of historic races. No magic, No amazing settings, no beasts other than a Yeti cameo.
Romans = Macht
Persians = Kufr
Grey Skinned, Yellow Eyed, Stocky Slaves = Juthan
Qaf = Yeti
The ruling elite are gold skinned, violet eyed, horse faced humanoids.
There are a few main characters, and they are developed early on. But as the book progresses, many more less developed characters join the story and they become a bit muddled.
Rictus is a young, poor, warrior who joins the mercenary company after his village is destroyed.
Gasca is a young warrior who leaves home with his fathers spear and shield to join the mercenary company.
Jason is one of the leaders of the mercenaries, who must make difficult decisions throughout the campaign.
The writing style is very gritty and the action is intense, but there is one major flaw. The goals of the characters are not set from the beginning and conflicts are not foreshadowed, so it is hard to root for the characters. As a reader, you just sort of go along with the journey and hope they make it. There are a few plot twists to keep things interesting, but the lack of "reader participation" makes the book feel flat. The book is full of details about harsh life in the legion and many characters die from "realistic deaths" like frostbite, infection, etc... But it really doesn't feel like heroic fantasy like the Robert E. Howard Books (Conan) or the David Gemmell Books (Druss the Legend). The human element becomes lost in the shuffle. The dialogue is also very matter of fact and to the point, which dilutes the characters' personalities.
The action scenes and battle strategies are very detailed. You do feel the impact of spears, the clash of armies, and the agony of defeat. You will also suffer the wounds, bitter cold, and agonizing hunger of the mercenaries. This book is full of fights, cavalry, skirmishes, and all out wars similar to the movie 300.
There's swearing, rape, horrific deaths, gore, etc... It's not for young readers.
This isn't a bad book. It's just a retelling of The Anabasis. You might as well just read the Anabasis. But if you want a fast paced historical drama full of action and grit, this will hit the spot.
Read it if you love battle stories set in Ancient Rome.
Read it if you love gritty battles.
Avoid it if you like high fantasy, dragons, or magic.
Avoid it if you really want to get attached to characters.
If you enjoyed this book, you should read the Drenai and Rigante Books from David Gemmell, the Robert E. Howard Conan Stories, the mercenary books by Joe Abercrombie, or the Books set in the Warhammer universe. They all have better battles, better settings, and better characters.
Note: The sequel to this book, Corvis has better characters, better writing, and the same type of gritty battles. It's 1 cent, and you can enjoy it without reading this one.