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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic fantasy at its very best, 1 Sep 2010
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
The continent of Normannia is dominated by the five great Monarchies of God, five kingdoms and myriad duchies and principalities united in the worship of the Word of God as revealed by the holy messenger, Saint Ramusio. But now, five centuries after Ramusio's passing, that union is fracturing. The Merduks of the east have taken the Holy City of Aekir and put it to the sword and the flame. The Kingdom of Torunna stands open to their armies, with only a scant defence being mounted at the fortress of Ormann Dyke. But rather than reinforce Torunna, the Church is instead sending its Knights Militant into the other kingdoms, determined to root out heretics and burn them at the stake.

In Hebrion King Abeleyn, determined to reassert the secular rule of kings over that of the Church, sets his will against that of Prelate Himerius, who is determined to continue the burnings of heretics, magic-users and shapeshifters. As part of these intrigues, Abeleyn authorises his cousin Lord Murad to outfit an expedition across the Great Western Ocean in search of a new landmass rumoured to exist there. Captain Richard Hawkwood is commissioned to lead this expedition, but once to sea it becomes clear that someone, or something, is determined to see it fail. For his part, with the Fall of Aekir and the apparent death of the High Pontiff, Himerius is determined to rise to high office and see the entire continent ordered to his design.

As the Merduk armies dash themselves against the walls of Ormann Dyke, a young cavalry officer, Corfe, last survivor of the Aekir garrison, emerges as a canny warleader who may hold the key to saving Torunna and Normannia. For in his party from Aekir is an old man who claims to be the High Pontiff Macrobius, and the revelation of his survival will splinter the continent in two and unleash turmoil and strife the likes of which have not been seen in centuries.

Hawkwood and the Kings is an omnibus edition containing the first two volumes of Paul Kearney's classic Monarchies of God series, Hawkwood's Voyage (1995) and The Heretic Kings (1996). Long out of print, this reissue is a very welcome move from Solaris. If it wasn't for poor sales (despite heavy critical acclaim), this series would be mentioned in the same breath as A Song of Ice and Fire and The Malazan Book of the Fallen as one of the strongest epic fantasy series of the past fifteen years.

Kearney's writing style, which comes across somewhere between Martin, David Gemmell and Bernard Cornwell, is brutal and direct. This is not a pleasant world and all of the characters are flawed individuals developed with complex motivations. Lord Murad, for example, is initially portrayed as an antagonist but by the end of the book he has gained more of the reader's sympathy, whilst our erstwhile heroes Hawkwood and Corfe both have plenty of negative traits (Hawkwood treats his wife badly, whilst Corfe fled Aekir rather than stand and fight). In this sense the series withstands comparison to A Song of Ice and Fire, although the (relatively) slim page count-per-volume means that the series cannot build up the same kind of unstoppable momentum. Still, the complex politics and characterisation will appeal to fans of that work.

An area which Kearney could have badly fumbled is in his treatment of his source material. The Fall of Aekir is modelled after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, with the Merduks standing in (fairly obviously from the name) for the Ottoman Turks and hence Muslims. Kearney avoids this by showing the Merduks to have honourable generals and soldiers amongst their ranks even as their leaders are shown to be a mixture of the corrupt and the competent. He could have tipped this in the other direction with the Ramusian Church, a clear stand-in for Christianity, portrayed too villainously, but solves this by adding sympathetic POV characters within the Church's ranks (particularly Albec and Avila), showing the internal dissent and strife that have driven some in the Church to the current extremism.

Kearney handles the politics, characters and religious material deftly and also delivers great battles, whether on land or at sea. More common now, Monarchies was unusual when it was published in being set further up the technological ladder than most epic fantasies, with gunpowder, arquebuses, culverins and mortars being the weapons of choice. Fans of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books or C.S. Forrester and Patrick O'Brien will be very happy with Kearney's depiction of combat, the life of a soldier and life at sea. Those readers tired of interminable thousand-page epic fantasy novels will also find Kearney's laser-like story focus and relentless pace refreshing.

Hawkwood and the Kings (*****) is epic fantasy at its very best, combining strongly-realised characters with epic battles, complex politics and a compelling storyline. This new edition will hopefully lead to a resurgence of interest in this over-neglected series. The omnibus is available now in the UK and USA from Solaris Books.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterfully written, incredible setting, amazing story!, 25 Aug 2010
By 
Yagiz Erkan (Boulder, CO) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
If I had to write one thing about Paul Kearney's Hawkwood and the Kings, it would be "Simply the best fantasy series I've read in years and years". Then, I would be quoting Steven Erikson, the author of the brilliant Malazan Book of the Fallen series. That alone would be enough for some, including me, to give this book a chance.

At the start of the book, its prologue promises a fast-paced story: A bunch of fishermen find a ship wreck on the rocks. Even though most believe that a ship from west is bad omen, some of them are brave enough to climb on board for the riches that it potentially carries. They find the ship devoid of life and all crew slaughtered, just before falling victim to something lurking in the dark corners of the hull. The events of the story take place 129 years after the events of the prologue.

The setting of the book is similar to the 15th century Eurasia. The west is a multi-cultural group of kingdoms following the religion founded by Ramusio who is a Jesus-like figure and who lived 5 centuries ago. Church is very powerful and its heart beats at Charibon, which is an autonomous city-state and it is governed by the elders of the Church. Their head is the High Pontiff.

The main story starts with the fall of Aekir, the Holy City on the eastern frontier and seat of the High Pontiff Macrobius who falls with it. This gives a multitudes of opportunities for power hungry Prelates to do a deadly dance around the vacant Pontiffship seat. The craziest of them all is Prelate Himerius who is in search of more authority by becoming High Pontiff and who is killing heretics in Abrusio. The heretics are the unfortunate Dweomer-folk, the people who are touched by or who can wield magic.

"...so they will have to elect a new High Pontiff, a man who shows by his actions that he is not afraid to incur the ill-will of kings in the struggle to fulfill God's plans, a man who has the good of the Kingdoms at heart, who is willing to purify them with the fire."

The western kingdoms face a big threat from the east. Merduks, people of the steppes, march west with a sizable army. Following my 15th century projection, Merduks would be portrayed like Turkic or Mongol nations. However as their religion, founded by the Prophet Ahrimuz, has a big role to play in the story, I would imagine them as Ottomans, who's best epoch was the 16th century.

And typical to this era, Kearney augmented the classic medieval fantasy setting with gun powder, cannons and arquebuses.

"There, that was what power looked like. It was a gleam of iron on the barrel of a cannon; the glitter of steel at the head of a lance. It was the oak of a warship's hull. These things were not the trappings, but the essence of power, and those who thought themselves in positions of authority often forgot that, to their lasting regret. Power in this day and age was in the muzzle of a gun."

One of the highlights of this series and one of the aspects that make it truly great is its multiple story lines with various points of views. I'm certain each reader will have their favorite thread with their favorite characters however each one of them is captivating. They are well balanced and well synchronized, except probably during the second book where there is a quiet large section that contains Hawkwood's story line. It's not to say that it is not a page-turner.

The main protagonist, Richard Hawkwood is a captain therefore Kearney uses quite a lot of nautical terms. Even though I'm not really familiar with some of them, I never felt an awkwardness because the story is so captivating that it just flows smoothly.

Some of the important characters are introduced late during the story. Avila and Albrec are such characters. Even though the reader can feel that their actions will change the fate of the world, they add a humourous touch to the story.

The characters in general are very well developed. They are just people, mostly with good and bad in them. It is very easy to relate to them and to strongly feel about them.

In a very small section of the book, in the very beginning, Sibastian Leger is buying time for the refugees fleeing Aekir. At the same time, Merduk cavalry is monitoring the progress of the refugees without intervening. They are channeling them along Searil road without killing the non-combatants. 8000 Torunnans are fighting a hopeless rearguard battle against 12 times their number. This part reminded me of Erikson's Coltaine and his Chain of Dogs. I wonder if this small section of the book gave a few ideas to Steven Erikson that he used in Deadhouse Gates and House of Chains.

Last but not least, both books in this omnibus contains a well-drawn map that I had to use regularly before I got familiar with the setting.

Hawkwood and the Kings is a masterfully written book built on an exceptionally well realized setting. This first volume, containing the first two books of the series, proves that Kearney's The Monarchies of God can well be on a par with the bests such as G. R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. I cannot recommend it enough if you are a fan of Martin, Erikson or Abercrombie. You are in for a feast of breath-taking adventure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and entertaining., 18 May 2011
By 
plot hound (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
Having the first two books together is nice since they are quite short.

The pace is quick with plenty of action.

The view switches for character to character regularly, with each of the characters getting some real depth and personality.

The core plot is quite interesting with a battle between competing religions as well as between church and state.
There is manipulation and politics going on at every level.
And we see a gradually expanding back plot as the believed history is shown to be only partially true and the western continent is explored.

The characters are all believable, they act in their own best interest or the interest of their beliefs with no simple black and white or clichés.

There is none of the space filling descriptions of settings that often slows fantasy novels down, the descriptions are always focused on the story and what we need to know.

There are a few twists and the ending has a few surprises.

Kearney also shows a refreshing willingness to give characters depth and then kill them if the plot requires it, this leaves you with genuine surprises unlike many books where you can instantly tell who will survive.

Dark, smart and a really good read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book., 18 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
It has 2-3 volumes in it (I can't remember now; there have been months since I read it and I turned page after page without stopping for many hours a day;for 3 days.

It is a very good quality book, and, in general I loved the story overall. In my opinion this is better than 'A Game of Thrones', but as I said, this is my opinion only. Another thing to mention is that these volumes have been released much before the 'A Game of Thrones' were launched on the market.

I can't say what I liked about the story because I am afraid I will go into a detail or two and for me, to truly enjoy a book I MUST know NOTHING of what will happen and so on. For me, going at the end of the book and reading the last few pages to know how it ends makes a book lose its purpose. So, I prefer to say only that it is a story about several kingdoms with very different kings and magic is involved, but 'mild magic' not firebolts at the tips of the fingers and ready to be used by and deplorable character at any moment he/she sees fit, but magic that comes at a cost and that makes the book seem even more interesting.

A good read. I just found it worth to spend 3 days reading it (700 pages, with a good number of words on a page).

I would strongly recommend it to a bit of fantasy, and not any kind of fantasy, but a plausible, well constructed one.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended, 11 Aug 2012
By 
Patrick St-Denis "editor of Pat's Fantasy Hot... (Laval, Quebec Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
I've been meaning to read Paul Kearney's The Monarchies of God for several years now, and when the two omnibus editions were released I knew I had no excuse not to. As always, it took a while, but I finally had the opportunity to sit down and read the first omnibus, Hawkwood and the Kings.

Given the excitement and rave reviews regarding this series, expectations were high. I'm glad these books are now back into print, for Kearney truly delivers!

Here's the blurb:

The world is in turmoil. In the east the savage Merduks, followers of the Prophet Ahrimuz, have captured the holy city of Aekir. The western kingdoms are too distracted by internecine bickering to intervene and the Church seems more obsessed with rooting out heresy. It is an age where men go to the stake for the taint of magic in their blood, where gunpowder and cannon co-exit with werewolves and sorcerers. It is the turning point when two get reilgions will fight to the death and the common folk will struggle to merely survive.

The worldbuilding is probably the most interesting aspect of these books. First of all, the story takes place in a world that is more technically advanced than the usual Western European medieval setting. There are canons and firearms, and science is more advanced than in the popular Dark Ages that are so commonplace in fantasy these days. Secondly, Paul Kearney makes religion once of the most important themes of this series, pitting the equivalent of Christinanity against Islam in a war of conquest. With POV characters from both faiths, you witness the tale unfolding through two different perspectives, giving The Monarchies of God a lot more depth. Finally, the exploration of the fabled western continent add a certain South American flavor to the setting.

Known for his brevity, this characteristic of the author sometimes plays against him. Although the story moves forward at a crisp pace and the plotlines are engrossing, I often found myself bemoaning the fact that more information would have given more depth and/or impact to certain scenes. While I certainly wasn't expecting Kearney to turn into Katherine Kurtz, I would have liked more background information to flesh out the Church a bit more, what with it playing such a key role in every major event of the book. The same can be said of Dweomer magic, which is barely explained at all. It's all nitpicking, I know, and yes at times too much is worst than too little. And yet, I feel that elaborating a bit more on various concepts would have been more than a little beneficial to the series.

Though the books themselves may be short, The Monarchies of God is nevertheless a sprawling series with quite a few layers. The characterization reflects that, with a number of POV characters through whose eyes we see the tale unfold. That variety of points of view really elevates Kearney's work to another level. Some of the supporting cast could use a bit more fleshing out, but the main protagonists are a three-dimensional bunch for the most part. To all ends and purposes, it might be Richard Hawkwood and King Abeleyn's story, but Corfe, Albrec, and Avila play pivotal roles in what is to come. I particularly enjoyed the Merduks' perspective. With several cliffhangers before the end, it will be interesting to see what is to become of most of the protagonists in the sequel, Century of the Soldier.

Since this omnibus edition is comprised of Paul Kearney's Hawkwood's Voyage and The Heretic Kings, it doesn't read like one of those doorstopper fantasy novel, but like two short and relatively fast-paced books. The rhythm is fluid throughout, without a single dull moment from start to finish. The author may have gone a bit over-the-top with his naval expertise, but that's his prerogative. It certainly gives the novel a more genuine feel.

If you are looking for something different, Kearney's The Monarchies of God could be just what you need!

Recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars very good but an anti climax, 4 Aug 1999
By A Customer
it was an excellent book but I feel that he developed some to hte expense of others e.g the book talked mostly about the torunnan kingdom and failed to develop the characters in hawkwoods voyage like hawkwood i hope the nextbook corrects that oversight
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A true epic, 4 Aug 2010
By 
Gareth Wilson - Falcata Times Blog "Falcata T... - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
Fans of this series shouldn't get too excited just yet as this title is an omnibus of the series. For new readers, well, lets put it this way, you have one hell of an adventure ahead. Contained within this book, you get the first two books in Paul's Monarchies of God Quintet (that's Hawkwood's Voyage and The Heretic Kings.) Originally released in 95 (yep it was a shock to me too), the first book, really does set this up as an epic opening and with a series that's told from multiple points of view, you'll end up with something similar to the effect woven more recently by authors like George RR Martin.

Add to the mix authenticity in regard to the weaponry alongside the seafaring techniques, this series really is a gem in the crown of epic fantasy. Finally what makes this series something really special though is the authors characters. Not only are they fully rounded but they step off the page fully formed into your imagination but to be honest it's the dialogue really makes this something special. So hitch up your leggings, gird your loins and prepare for something epic.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable, 6 Nov 2010
This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
I had never heard of the author and wasn't sure that I would enjoy this first omnibus. This omnibus contains two books of the Monarchies of God series. Hawkwood's Voyage and The Heretic Kings.

This is a cracking read and a real page turner.

A well fleshed out world and characters, with a nice twist on the genre as we have early guns and cannons present.

The main characters Hawkwood, Corfe, Himerius and Godolophin all work well and as you read you know that they are only going to get more interesting as the plots develop and the story goes on.

I can't recommend this series enough and if you like Erickson or G R R Martin you will enjoy this short series by Paul Kearney.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, 18 Oct 2010
By 
Amazon Customer "Rich" (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
This is simply wonderful epic fantasy full of great characters, fantastic action and an engaging plot. If you like your fantasy with a historical tinge (echoes of Renaissance Europe, Vienna and the Ottomans) or you like George R R Martin or David Gemmell then these should keep you suitably entertained. Now i'll just have to get hold of everything else he has written.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good solid 4, 31 Mar 2011
By 
P. McDonough (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 (Paperback)
I would give this book a good solid 4/5. In some places I would say 3, in others more like 5. It gets better as you go on.
I bought the next one and am looking forward to it.
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Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1
Hawkwood and the Kings (Monarchies of God): 1 by Paul Kearney (Paperback - 5 Aug 2010)
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