The twin horrors of invasion and inquisition have the Western Kingdoms of Normannia in their grip. As Normannia burns and Richard Hawkwood and his explorers face unknown perils, a lowly monk stumbles on an ancient manuscript whose implications could either save or destroy the world.
Richard Hawkwood has brought his ship to a new and dangerous continent but while Murad establishes his colony it soon becomes clear that they are not the only inhabitants in the new land. Worse, the existing inhabitants seem to be interested in Bardolin, their mage. Meanwhile the Prelates have elected of a new High Pontiff, despite the revelation that Macrobius is still alive and the new High Pontiff is determined to continue the religious purges that have ravaged Hebrion, despite the more important Merduk threat to the West. Desperate to save his and the other kingdoms, Abeleyn forms an alliance with fellow monarchs Mark and Lofantyr, which draws the High Pontiff’s ire and threatens to split the West at a time when it’s at its most vulnerable.
Continuing from HAWKWOOD’S VOYAGE, Kearney’s epic storyline splits into four main strands – the two main ones involving Hawkwood’s adventures on the new continent and Abeleyn’s attempts to form an alliance against the new Pontiff and the fallout of the same. Kearney also throws in Corfe, the last remaining soldier from the fall of Aekir, whose exploits in protecting a key Dyke have brought him to King Lofantyr’s court only to find himself caught within court intrigue, which sees the king himself keen to discredit him by putting him in charge of a contingent of slaves and ordered to put down an uprising. Finally, Kearney follows two young monks – bookish Albrec and sharp-tongued Avila – who make a discovery in a library that threatens the religious foundations of both the Western and Merduk people.
With so many plot strands going, it would be easy for Kearney to lose focus but he manages to keep everything in balance, moving from strand to strand in a way that keeps them developing without sidelining any of the characters. There is still a sense of this being an establishment novel, with Kearney setting up situations for later pay-off but there’s nothing wrong with that given that it’s done well.
My only criticism is the lack of strong female characters in this book. Almost all of the women are beautiful and manipulative, determined to control men for their own ends. That’s not unusual in epic fantasy, but it’s a disappointment in a book that is this well done. Nevertheless the combination of politics and religion combined with realistic battle scenes work to ensure that I will keep reading on.
This strong sequel to HAWKWOOD’S VOYAGE sees Kearney build on 4 strong storylines to weave a complicated epic fantasy with a wide political and religious scope. It’s a shame that the female characters are all two dimensional, manipulative but beautiful politicians, but that’s the only weakness in an otherwise engrossing novel.
Cross-posted to books, bookworming and fantasywithbite.