The history of a fictional empire is told by various storytellers who not only narrate what happened but also distort it by looking at events through the mists of time and the traditions and mannerisms of their profession. Hence their stories work as allegories, fables, or social commentaries that teach moral lessons or make a point about the nature of the world more than they impart knowledge about the subject at hand in general or about its past.
The stories are very loosely connected to each other and show only glimpses of this fabled empire that rises and falls over thousands of years. There is really no sense of time or evolution between its different incarnations which left me feeling rather adrift. The individual stories make a point but there is no overarching theme that brings everything together. To put the storyteller between the reader and the characters in the stories makes everything that happens seem more distant and inconsequential than it should be, and led to me just not being sufficiently interested in this empire, its innumerable mentioned rulers, its people, and all their fates to not have my mind drift frequently while reading.
That said, there is one story about a doctor that finds himself in the midst of a power struggle that I liked a lot, and one about a sort of long-awaited messiah that brings victory to a subjugated people that I thought impressive. Others were rather trite, for instance, one about a prince who is greatly influenced by becoming friends with two workmen, or one about a thief who defeats an army by posing as a general. The writing, however, is overall very good and I like the fundamental idea of the book as well as the homage it pays to the art of storytelling. It is by no means a bad book and I suspect there are many readers who will like it much more than I did but it just didn’t resonate with me. Instead of a rich tapestry depicting a grand empire I only see a puzzle with a lot of missing pieces.