Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review of Kings of Morning by Paul Kearney

Gritty, realistic, violent, pseudo-Spartan—these are the main adjectives characterizing Paul Kearney’s Macht series to date. Plot-driven worldbuilding, The Ten Thousand and Corvus have been prime examples of grimdark without the standard, medieval sword & sorcery façade. The conclusion of Corvus requiring an additional novel, Kings of Morning (2011) completes the trilogy, though not in a manner the reader might assume.

Reversing the tables of The Ten Thousand, Kings of Morning opens in Kufr, and rumors of a massive Macht army approaching, bent on conquer. The situation in Kefran royalty anything but stable, the old king watches his two sons position themselves to kill the other and take his place as next in line, all the while his estranged wife plays political games behind the scenes, maintaining her own realm of power. Corvus, with the hardy Rictus among his generals, does indeed have his sights set on Kufr, and one city after another makes steady progress toward the capital, Ashura. The Kefran king, ignoring his familial troubles, musters the troops in response and rides out for a clash that will decide the kingdom.

I was not disappointed by Paul Kearney’s Corvus. It featured the author’s strong prose and sense of purpose, driving the story rather than dawdling in useless detail (seemingly the opposite of today’s market wherein more words seems the better). At the same time, the story model was relatively familiar: wizened warrior returns home to retire, only to be forced into yet one more battle. The mode was more obligatory than original, which put me off immediately picking up Kings of Morning: I thought I could see where the overarching storyline was going. But eventually I did pick Kings of Morning, and I have to say I was wrong. Where I thought it would simply extend Corvus, Kings of Morning actually drew The Ten Thousand into the fold. While I still feel The Ten Thousand is the best of the trilogy, in the least, however, Kings of Morning rounds out the whole by bringing the Kefr back into the story. Things come full circle, even if in more perfunctory fashion than The Ten Thousand.

In the end, as many readers are hoping, Kings of Morning, like The Ten Thousand and Corvus, remains a plot-driven, action-heavy novel. Kearney remains one of the best writers of epic fantasy on a word by word basis, and his control remains tight. At 400+ pages, it packs more punch than peers of double the page count. Grimdark is a thing, and The Macht trilogy, like Kearney’s prior Monarchies of God series, is some of the best of it, as concluded by Kings of Morning.

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