Over the last few days, I’ve been at a conference. You can always tell when you’re at a conference of physicists. There’s just something about them. The long hair. The no hair. The facial hair. The leg hair (on the women). We just sort of know how to recognize each other. While it wasn’t the best conference I’ve attended, it was far from the worst. And the best part of it, at least in the short term, was the plane ride.
No, not ’cause I got frisked by a good looking TSA agent. Security was a breeze, surprisingly enough. The best part was I read Hawkwood’s Voyage and made a dent in The Heretic Kings, the second book in The Monarchies of God pentology by Paul Kearney. I must admit I’d never heard of the man until recently, when I came across a copy of one of his other books.
Side note. I managed to find a couple more of his books while I was at the conference in a nearby used book store. If they’re as good as this one, I’ll be reading everything he wrote.
Hawkwood and the Kings collects the first two novels in the series. There are a number of plot threads, and I’ll try to summarize the main ones here. There was once a large empire which stretched over most of the continent, a continent that bears some resemblance to Europe on the map provided. Then the empire fell apart as the different provinces rebelled. The heart of the old empire is still an independent country (so to speak), but at the time of the book’s opening, it doesn’t really interact much with the rest of the continent.
The church is dominated by the Inceptine order, an order that bears a strong resemblance in many ways to the Jesuits. There are other orders, but they’re kept in their place by the Inceptines. One particular Inceptine, the Prelate of the kingdom of Hebrion, has started purges of any foreigner or Dweomer in the kingdom. The Dweomer are those who have some innate magical ability. Captain Richard Hawkwood, himself a foreigner, has agreed to take two ships loaded with Dweomer across the great Western Ocean in search of a mythical continent in which to found a colony. The king of Hebrion, Abeleyn, is trying to curb the growing control of the Church of the Saint in his kingdom. In the east, the Holy City of Aekir, home to the Pontiff of the Church, has fallen to the Merduks, invaders from the east who bear more than a pasing resemblance to Mongols. The sole surviving soldier of the siege of Aekir, Ensign Corfe mourns the loss of his wife and everything else he loved at the hands of the Merduks. The Pontiff is missing and presumed dead. And the Prelate of Hebrion seeks the position of Pontiff for himself…
There’s a lot more than that or course. I realized as I was reading why the suspense was so strong at times. It was because the characters seemed like real people to me, and as a result I cared what happened to them. There’s plenty of action and intrigue here to satisfy any fan of epic or heroic fantasy. Kearney doesn’t shy away from the gritty details of combat or court life. The battle scenes throb with passion, bloodlust, and fear. I’ve not read much nautical fiction, something I intend to rectify, but the chapters that take place on Hawkwood’s vessel brought life on board a ship alive for me. And showed how terrifying it can be to be at sea when something on board begins to hunt and there’s no place to go.
Hawkwood’s Voyage was first published in 1995, and if it had an edition here in the states, I missed it. I won’t miss any of Kearney’s other fiction. This one held my attention all the way through. Usually when I finish a book, even one I’ve enjoyed immensely, I’m ready to move on and read something else, and by that I mean something different. In this case I went straight into The Heretic Kings. If you haven’t read Kearney, give him a try. You’ll be glad you did.