Although this novel is equivalent in length to The Life of Johnson (i.e. it’s about eight times the length of a regular novel), it doesn’t feel as long. The pace is pretty quick and it’s uniformly interesting (except for some of the battle scenes). The only thing slowing me down is the names. Now that I’m halfway through, I’ve finally learned the names of the major figures: Ts’ao Ts’ao, Liu Pei, Kuan Yu, Chuko Liang, etc. And I can remember the names of some of the major people who are no longer in the narrative: Liu Piao, Lu Pu, Yuan Shao, Yuan Sho, Tung Cho, etc. And I can even remember the names of the minor characters, so long as they’ve appeared within the last hundred pages. However, I still get thrown when a character reappears after not being around for a while.
For instance, I’m at the part where Ts’ao Ts’ao has lost a major naval battle against the combined forces of Sun Ch’uan and Liu Pei, and then he ran and ran, trying to escape, and when he ended up, bereft, in a canyon, he yelled out, “Oh no, if only [someone or other] hadn’t died! Then none of this would’ve happened!” And I was like…umm…who? So I searched for the someone or other and then when I scrolled through the results (I’m reading on the Kindle, so it’s easy to search back for earlier mentions) and I remembered oh yeah! That was Ts’ao Ts’ao’s clever advisor who had all those clever strategems and then died tragically young.
But it still blunted the moment, because I had to spend two minutes figuring out who this guy was, rather than feeling the necessary feelings. What I don’t understand is how is it possible for me to read fantasy novels where shit is completely made up (as in Lord of the Rings) and remember exactly who Eowyn and Eomer and Gil-Galad are, but when it comes to this book, where the names are real and come from an internally consistent language, I have much more trouble? It’s probably just because Tolkien knew that the names he was writing were strange and thus could vary the sounds (for instance, Aragorn and Samwise and Celeborn are all names that seem to come from very different languages, which makes them easier to keep separate) whereas to the writer of Three Kingdoms, there was no need to do that, since all the names were as plain, to him, as Fred and George and Bob.
(Kuo Chia! I just remembered! That was the advisor who Ts’ao Ts’ao mourned. It was Kuo Chia.)