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The Monarchies of God by Paul Kearney

Review by Mike

The series so far (5 books when completed):
Hawkwood’s Voyage (1995)
The Heretic Kings (1996)
The Iron Wars (1999)
The Second Empire (2000)
Ships from the West (written, but not yet published)

Epic Fantasy

Synopsis (from the cover of Hawkwood’s Voyage)
The once-great Fimbrian nations of the West are falling. From the east, Merduk hordes have taken the ancient Holy City of Aekir, burning the churches and slaughtering their defenders.

Even as the war rages, military, religious, and ruling factions clash with one another is a desperate bid for survival-and supremacy. As the armies of the West make a valiant stand against the heathen invaders, and a wave of bloody religious fanaticism threatens to consume the land, one hope lies beyond the horizon.

Now, rogue mariner Richard Hawkwood is forced to lead an expedition across the Great Western Ocean to find a lost continent of legend, where a safe haven may be found. But before the explorers can find sanctuary, they will have to make a journey that no one has ever survived...

The World
Paul Kearney has borrowed the foundation for his story from our own history. The Ramusian kingdoms are remnants of the great Fimbrian empire, much like the situation in Europe after the fall of Rome. The religion reminds you of Catholicism as it was around the 16th century. There is also a Muslim counterpart, the teachings of the prophet Ahrimuz that is the religion of the Merduk sultanates in the east. The war between Fimbrians and Merduks is certainly inspired by the conflict between Christian Europe and the Muslim nations in the east.

However, there is one area where we find differences, and I bet you can guess what it is. Yes, magic, or dweomer as it is called here. (It is fantasy after all... *g*) There are seven disciplines of dweomer, but normally it is only possible to master a few of them. Those talented enough to learn four disciplines are called mages. They are looked upon as heretics and wielders of dark powers by the church, especially the shape-shifters (think werewolves), and have often been persecuted.

The Characters
A great number of character come and go in this story, but there are three that get more attention than the others: Richard Hawkwood, the sea captain who is forced to put himself and his ships at the disposal of an expedition into the unknown Western Ocean, king Abeleyn of Hebrion, who has to fight to keep his crown when the conflict between state and church escalates, and finally Corfe, sole survivor of the defenders of Aekir, who finds himself in the middle of the desperate efforts to save his country against the Merduk hordes.

Overall, the characters intriguing, described with a lot of depth, but there is a lack of female leads, especially in the first two books. Since women do not have much power in either the Ramusian nor Merduk societies, I guess that does make sense after all.

The Plot
Kearney has realised that the reader does not need hear about every important event in great detail. Nor is it necessary to describe every hour of every day in the lives of your major characters. The overall plot of The Monarchies of God is on the same scale as The Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire, yet he never gets longwinded or side-tracked. There are is of action, great battle scenes and devious political intrigues, taking place in several countries and environments. Vital information is revealed step by step in such a way that the story is never predictable.

The Writing
The storytelling has the easy flow of an Eddings book, but Kearney excels in other areas as well. He obviously has done a lot of research, which means that the story feels more real than many other fantasy works. What impressed me most is that the writing is incredibly tight. The books average 350 pages (paperback!) and still everything you need to know is there.

The Grade
I had heard good things about this series, but I had not anticipated it to be fantastic. Towards the end I found it more or less impossible to put down the books, and I can honestly say that I have not enjoyed a fantasy series this much in a long time. Great writing from the first page of book #1 to the last page of book #4. I’m still a bit euphoric after finishing The Second Empire only a few hours ago, so it’s going to be five out of five amulets.

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