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!