Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Heretic Kings

The Heretic Kings
in the Hawkwood and the Kings
Paul Kearney
Solaris, 702 p., $9.99

This volume takes up pretty much where Hawkwood's Voyage left off.  Things go from bad to worse.  Hawkwood and what members of his crew have survived the voyage across the Great Western Ocean have found that there is indeed a continent out there, and it's inhabited.  And the inhabitants aren't friendly.

The Council of Kings splits, with three of the kings declaring support for the true Pontiff.  Declared heretics by the Church, they face assassination and civil war.  Abelelyn must make his way home through hostile seas, while the Church and grasping nobles try to seize the kingdom. 

Corfe has managed to get the true Pontiff safely to Torrunn.  Despised and viewed with scorn by the military fops who inhabit the capital, he catches the attention of the Queen Dowager, who sets him up with his own commmand.  Her son, King Lofantyr, resents her interference in what he sees as his decisions and sends Corfe out on a suicide mission with a group of barbarian galley slaves.

In the holy city of Charibon, two monks make a discovery that will literally tear their world apart.  If they can live long enough to reveal it.

And then there are those pesky werewolves...

This being the second volume of a pentology, things tend to drag a bit in places as Kearney sets up some broader story arcs.  Or that could be my perceptions.  I read most of the first volume, Hawkwood's Voyage, while traveling.  This book I started the same week classes started.  This didn't leave me much time for reading on top of the other things I had to deal with, like helping my wife with her job search.  Plus I got distracted by what will probably be the topic of the next post.  So it took me nearly two weeks to finish the bloody thing, something that isn't typical for me.  So some the dragging was due to the stop and go nature of my reading it.

The characterization is as strong in this book as it was in the first, although most of the new characters introduced aren't as fully fleshed out.  Part of this is because we've grown to know the continuing characters  so well, the new ones don't have the same depth.  There are exceptions, of course.  The Queen Dowager, for all that she isn't on stage very much, is especially complex, showing both ruthless and tender sides.

The structure is a little different as well.  It's divided into three parts, with the first and third parts taking place in the Ramussian kingdoms, and the middle part concerning itself solely with what is happening to Hawkwood at the same time.  I rather preferred the format of the first book, where the settings rotated between chapters, with the ones focusing on Hawkwood intermixed with the others.  But that's just my personal preference.

I also am a little puzzled with where Kearney is going to go with the next three books.  Some major plotlines are introduced and then resolved by the end of the book.  It would seem more logical to me to continue them out through at least one or two more volumes.  But there are enough new plot threads here that I'm sure there are plenty of surprises ahead in the three books to come.  Fortunately they're sitting on the shelf in the other room.  I'm going to focus on some short fiction, and since I'm hopefully going to be attending ConDFW in a few weeks, reading Jack McDevitt's latest novel since he's one of the guests.  I intend to get back to the series within a month at the latest.  I still think this is some of the best fantasy I've read in quite a while.

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