Monday, August 1, 2016

Review of Corvus by Paul Kearney

Paul Kearney’s 2008 The Ten Thousand was Frank Miller’s 300 without the affected style or overwrought sentiment. Getting down and dirty, and grinding it out phalanxes, Kearney told the gritty story of an army of mercenaries escaping the jaws of death after an ill-fated decision by their employer. Tight in detail and military tactics, the novel was epic fantasy in Sparta, and unique for it. Apparently also successful, Kearney was signed to write an additional two novels in the setting, the first of which is Corvus (2010).

Rictus, now in old age, is returning home with the other Dogsheads from his last commission. Retiring to his farm in the mountains of the Macht, he settles into domestic life, his family and servants glad to have him back. But it’s not to last. A brilliant young general moves through the land, seeking to unite the free states of the Macht under one banner. Knocking at the farm one day, he gives Rictus an offer he can’t refuse. Rictus’ resulting decision having dire consequences, the land becomes swept up in a battle for control and freedom that will change the Macht forever.

Similar in style, Corvus satisfies those looking for more of The Ten Thousand. Gritty and dark, Kearney once again brings to bear his attention to the details of battle—a muddy plain and castle siege, this time around. But where The Ten Thousand can be read alone, Corvus cannot. Its plot escalates and reaches a natural break point at the end, but for certain the overall story still lacks a half. Kearney reserving any denouement for The Kings of Morning (the follow up and concluding novel to the Macht series), Corvus sets the scene, but leaves the fate of the Macht in the air.

The Ten Thousand essentially an extended war measured nicely in doses over the length of a novel, the storyline of Corvus cleaves closer to conventional fantasy. The characters and setting of The Ten Thousand return, but Kearney sets them running a relatively familiar gauntlet. The final half of the novel is something that has been done before, from Tolkien in Lord of the Rings to Kearney himself in his earlier Monarchies of God series. There is a Romeo and Juliet moment, and the extreme treatment of Rictus’ family is, for lack of a better expression, a common-enough tool in contemporary grimdark fantasy inducing reader reaction.

Regardless, Corvus is the first half of the only story about Rictus that could be told after The Ten Thousand. Set twenty years later, Kearney avoids episoditis to tell, or at least attempt to tell, something new in the Macht world. Though more conventional fare, Corvus nevertheless possesses the same attention to military detail—the lines and tactics, positions and soldier movement—as The Ten Thousand, and for this will continue to appeal to fans of that novel.

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