8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Masterfully written, incredible setting, amazing story!,
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.