Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book reivew: "Century of the Soldier" by Paul Kearney

Well, it is almost three weeks ago that I have read this omnibus, "Century of the Soldier", which comprises last three books from "Monarchies of God" series by Paul Kearney, but I've been too busy to make a post about it. Good think I took some notes, because I would be lost what to write.

I have read the first omnibus, "Hawkwood and the Kings" almost a year ago and had a good experience with it, which I described in the post. Again, in "Century of the Soldier", it is hard to make a short description because these are actually three books, and the last one happening almost 20 years after the middle one. But I will make a presumption that you have read the first two books. In essence, there are two main lines. In the east we have Corfe, as one main character, with bunch of other characters, fighting against the Merduks who are once again massively invading Torunna. In the West, we follow events in Henbrion, King Abeleyn's fight to reconquer his throne, helped by wizard Golophin, and return of captain Hawkwood from the far West. And the last book combines these two plots in one, where our heroes fight against the might of the Second Empire, a militaristic theocracy empowered by magic (Dweomer) and werewolves (among other things).

There are several things that differentiate this series from other. There is much sex, especially at the beginning of the first book in this omnibus. Even though I remember some of it from first omnibus, it definitely wasn't so bold. But I was much more surprised by brutal and graphical description of was violence, especially Merduk's rape and plunder through Torunna. Battle scenes are also pretty graphical. Kearney sometimes use trick Erikson often uses: talking through perspective of unimportant character that is later not even mentioned again.

I also liked how Kearney doesn't follow the tropes. We have an uncommon romance between younger man who is one of main characters, and (much) older woman. When I think about it, all love and marital relationships in these books are, well, not very healthy. There is also much of nice ambiguous morale - Golophin and others have to choose the side; Corfe and his love to his "daughter"...

Another specialty of this series is its magic system, Dweomer, but also its coexistence with gunpowder and cannons. Nothing much new compared to first two books, but this is a solid part for Kearney. This is not a classical fantasy - it is a historical fantasy but with a nice touch of magic, maybe akin to Guy Gavriel Kay's books.

What is not a solid part of Kearney is his narration, which is very sterile. In these three books I failed to make any connections to characters, so even when they make unexpected decisions (like Bardolin) or even die (and Kearney is not afraid of killing main characters, which will become more evident later), I just don't care. There was no real spark to interest me in fate of people.

I like Corfe's part in first books (there's no Hawkwood in first book), and things got pretty heated up in second book (which I like better). But pace is too fast in occasions and changes come to abrupt, which results in sudden and not-so-solid resolutions. I would have appreciated it more if the pace was consistent throughout the books.

There are very non-cheerful book - even when they are winning, our characters are not happy. Also, there is virtually no humor (except if you count Murad) and bantering between soldiers is bad (which I really take it as serious flaw).

All in all, "Monarchies of God" have some good points: interesting setting and unique magic system, realistic and gritty tone, complexity. "Century of the Soldier" has all this virtues, but I will remember it more by its flaws: not making any connection to characters and strange pace. Even though the overall impression of the series is more good than bad, I don't believe I will buy anything more by Paul Kearney - there is much more solid things out there.

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