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East of the River F.A.Q.s

I receive many questions about East of the River: as far as questions and historical authenticity (historicity) go, I wanted to address some of the more common things that are asked. For general questions, see the General F.A.Qs page.

Q: Is this book an alternate translation of an excerpt of Romance of the Three Kingdoms?

A: SHORT ANSWER: No, it is an original historical fiction work that uses material from a variety of sources, primarily historical documents..

A: LONG ANSWER: I was, as most people are, brought to this subject by the Sanguoyanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or ROTK) novel and derivative works, but when I realised that there was so much more to look at I decided to have a go at a partial retelling that drew upon a range of historical sources.

Q: So is this book completely 100% true to written history so far as events go?

A: SHORT ANSWER: No.

A: LONG ANSWER: East of the River is historical fiction by definition, not an academic textbook. My own personal estimate for historicity is 80 to 85%, but others may disagree depending on whether or not you agree with my choice of source or changes/liberties for the purpose of storytelling. The story focusses on two generations of the Sun clan, and in doing so there is a lot of tertiary-figure characterisation that is not there in the history but needs to be there to tell the story.

Q: What is the time frame?

A: The story proper (beginning at chapter 1) starts in 184CE, just as the “Yellow Turban Rebellion” -- a nationwide insurgency that brought the government to its knees and is sometimes depicted as the beginning of the end for the Eastern Han -- is just beginning; the story ends (at chapter 120) in 199CE, shortly after the complete collapse of a short-lived and near-unrecognised alternative imperial regime that was founded by the Sun clan’s former master Yuan Shu. This is extremely close to the time frame that I had hoped to have -- and hence share -- in its partner work “Yellow Sky”, but that other work changed greatly; the only compromise here was to end before -- rather than after -- Guandu, but more on that in answer to other questions.

Q: So what did you take from history or from the ROTK?

A: SHORT ANSWER: A couple of popular vignettes and one or two “origin stories” are adapted from the ROTK, the overwhelming majority is adapted from the Sanguozhi or other historical sources..

A: LONG ANSWER: I looked at numerous English-language translations of documents and other historical textbooks in order to construct my work, but this is a constantly evolving area, so I have actually completed parts of this long, long project that I have committed to only to find that the research has moved on and a new account of a person or event has emerged. There is nothing that I can do about that.

I might rarely use an ROTK “simplified origin story” for a character that I either lack historical information for at the time that I research them or cannot develop too much if I am to keep to the restrictions of self-publishing; some are/were necessary for story structure and I make no apologies for them, but others are regrettable omissions of interesting information. One little thing that I will add to this ever-so-slightly cut-and-paste answer is that the differences in historical sources led to some difficult choices in this case: there are not only two main deaths given to Sun Jian, but two different years, and hopefully I made the right choice with the direction that I took.

Q: Is East of the River basically Three Kingdoms “fan fiction”?

A: SHORT ANSWER: It is not intended to be, no.

A: LONG ANSWER: Unlike Crouching Dragon and like “Yellow Sky”, I approached this book with a clear idea of what I was setting out to do from the start. In my Crouching Dragon F.A.Q I talk about my initial ideas, so no need to retread here; this was always intended to be an attempt to paint as realistic and historically-influenced piece as possible. So nobody is given unfair coverage, and everyone behaves fairly realistically and, where possible, in-keeping with their historical mentions. I say ‘fairly’ because there are some that might feel that Sun Jian and Taishi Ci in particular are given super-man status at various moments, but I do try to have their more fancy exploits play out as a mixture of luck, cunning, strategy, athleticism and their opponent(s) reacting -- quite understandably -- with incredulity and failing as a result of their poor reactions. So no, Taishi does not single-handedly defeat an entire Yellow Turban army, but he does outwit them in a way that some might view as a stretch of the imagination!

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: Continued interest in the subject, and a desire to tell an ‘origin story’ for the Sun clan that served as a prequel to Crouching Dragon and maybe assisted understanding of the complex politics of the day.

Q: Is the finished product what you expected it to be?

A: Very, very close, but not quite. The end is all that was compromised -- see “Why end the book at such a point?” for more on this.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to help you. How can I help?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING) So many factions! So much information!

A: SHORT ANSWER: Yes, and this is nowhere near as convoluted as “Yellow Sky”.

A: LONG ANSWER: Anyone that wants to look at this time period has to be prepared for a lot of factions: even the ROTK, with all of its simplifications and truncations and dilutions of the less important factions -- including the pre-Sun Quan Sun clan, it has to be said -- struggles to avoid having a complex landscape, particularly when looking at the time before the Battle of Guandu.

Q: (POST-READING) Why end the book at such a point?

A: I had wanted to end in 200CE with Sun Quan being appointed as the lord of Jiangdong and refusing to support Yuan Shao (against Cao Cao) as Sun Ce may or may not have done, as I felt that was a genuine closure moment should I decide to stop writing. But once the story got going I realised that there was no way that I could get to that point, and so I ended on a ‘cliff-hanger’ of sorts instead, which pretty much forced me to use the remainder of the material -- almost three acts’ worth -- as the start point for Eastern Wu.

Q: (POST-READING) This seems a bit more action-oriented than the other books. Was that deliberate?

A: SHORT ANSWER: It most certainly was.

A: LONG ANSWER: I knew that “Yellow Sky” was going to be a really tough read, what with 400+ characters, political intrigue, over a dozen factions containing feuding sub-factions, and so on. I always envisioned East of the River as being a bit more straightforward: you cannot write about men like Sun Jian, Sun Ce and Taishi Ci without remembering that they are popularised as heroes, men of action that leapt into battle, and historical accounts paint much the same picture. I wanted to write something more dynamic for the Suns, and really, that was not hard, since they do spend a lot of time fighting with someone or other.

Q: (POST-READING) This seems a bit more episodic than the previous books. Was that deliberate?

A: SHORT ANSWER: It was, yes.

A: LONG ANSWER: In addition to making East of the River more action-oriented, I wanted to make it a bit simpler to read, and luck was on my side with regard to history: even if the men behind the swords do not change, there is a natural ‘episodic’ structure to be found when it comes to the fights. So yes, most of the acts have their own ‘villain of the week’, I suppose you could say.

Q: (POST-READING) The book is too long/too short. Could you not have started/stopped at _____?

A: I really did contemplate shorter books, and perhaps I might consider abridged versions in the future if I thought there was a market for them. Costs stopped me doing more, conviction stopped me doing less, and page count determined where it ended.

Q: (POST-READING) You made mistakes. How/why did they get through the proofing process?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Human error..

A: LONG ANSWER: I know about most of the errors now, five years down the line, and I could/would release a second edition to fix these if time allowed, but I have to spend my time on other things and cannot go back to that at present. The worst one is in the appendices, as far as I am concerned, but it does not harm the narrative, it was an oversight that resulted from my developing this book and “Yellow Sky” together and that is that.

Q: (POST-READING) No “further reading” section?

A: I had this idea that I was going to include a list of all of my sources and a list of further reading at the end of every book, but I quickly realised that I was bound to miss somebody out that deserved recognition and that it was better to say nothing than only half-say something. All I can say is that the research carried out by the historian Rafe de Crespigny is a very good place to start if you want to know more about the history, and there are many great adaptations of the ROTK story out there in print, on film and as playable video games.

Q: (POST-READING) I have read every Three Kingdoms historical source out there, Chinese and English language both, and I cannot find most of the dialogue or any of the poems that you have transcribed in your work. Where did you source them from?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING) I did not really like East of the River.

A: SHORT ANSWER: That is unfortunate.

A: LONG ANSWER: I did not expect to please everyone. There is always ROTK to go back to, and I am sure that there will be other efforts by other authors in the future that will better suit your tastes. I do value constructive criticism and will read/listen to it in the future when I have more time, but for now I have to appear to have closed eyes and ears. My apologies.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to see it translated into ____/would like to translate it into ____.

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to talk to you directly. What is the best way to do that?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

That’s it for now: happy reading.

T. P. M. Thorne

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(last site update 2019-07-10).