The Iron Wars is unique among the five volumes of Paul Kearney’s Monarchies of God series. Like the handle of a dumbbell, it connects the two fat ends of the story. Focusing on a single area, the book is almost entirely centered on the eastern province of Torunna, Corfe’s point of view driving the novel from beginning to end.
With the Merduks gathering for a major sortie into Torunna, matters in the province are on edge, a fact not helped by the single-minded antics of King Lofantyr and his desire to maintain the appearance of power. Taking matters into her own hands, Odelia continues sponsoring Corfe and his ragtag army as they handle skirmishes with not only Merduk raiding parties, but also the king’s attempts to prevent his mother from damaging his reputation, and as a result, ego. Tension inside the kingdom as strong as the threat they face from outside, the fate of Torunna, one of the last bastions of power in Normandia, is far from certain.
Given the single purpose of The Iron Wars, to focus on Corfe, the pace of the series slows slightly. Where Kearney kept the previous two volumes moving at a good clip by switching from event to event through the various viewpoints, this novel features lulls amidst the action. Not necessarily a bad thing, readers are able to see deeper into the heads of feature characters: Lofantyr, Odelia, and, Corfe. A new stage in the evolution of the kingdom reached in the process, the finale makes the (relative) patience required, worthwhile.
While the first two books were unswerving in presentation, The Iron Wars begins to expose more of Kearney’s faults. His style never prosaic, the problems appear elsewhere: in the balance between character and plot. Where Hawkwood’s Voyage and The Heretic Kings featured character action that fit naturally into the story, The Iron Wars begins to slightly twist behavior to suit the plot. Slightly out of character, some of the protagonists and antagonists act in unexpected ways, ways not always in congruence with the baseline established in the first two novels. Highlighting this problem are the addition of a couple minor characters that feel as they have been added to fill plot holes. For example, why does the wisdom of Menin not appear until late?
In the end, if you’ve enjoyed the Monarchies of God series thus far, The Iron Wars will not disappoint. Though the action is centered entirely in Torunna, by the time the book is finished, implications have shifted back to the Normanndian continent as a whole—especially given the surprise reveal in the epilogue. Kearney continues pressing his flair for the military. The battles are rousing and detailed along lines, fronts, troop and cannon positions, and all manner of pre-industrial warfare that involves gunpowder and sword.