Religion is often curiously absent from many major works of fantasy. It’s a shame because in the real-world can not only be a crucial aspect of people’s day to day lives but also a big motivator of their actions. Never was this more the case than in medieval times, a time period in which fantasy often seems to replicate. Looking through some of my favourite works of fantasy I’ve been trying to spot a pattern. Just what do I like about these books in particular? Turns out I like world building which takes into account things like economy, the fact that people have to eat something and that people often feel the need to worship a deity.
Hawkwood’s Voyage is the first book in the Monarchies of God series and it was recommended to me since it tackled, amongst other storyline, a religious conflict. To be honest I was sold on the sort-of like George R R Martin comments but there you are. The comparison is easy to make, Paul Kearney develops a real sense of danger just like George R R Martin through the generous slaughter of characters. This can be just as predictable as the “main hero and followers can’t die” type of books, I seriously doubt King Abeleyn will make it to the end of the last book for instance. The book also tackles a religious conflict and a war for power between the various religions and monarchies on the continent and beyond. The characters also have the moral ambiguity which I also love. Actions are motivated by desires, not simple good/evil duality.
To describe it simply as like George R R Martin does Paul Kearney a disservice. Unlike many fantasy novels the story takes place at a time with gunpowder. It’s not a huge innovation, but it changes the story somewhat and begins to show that at least Paul Kearney is trying to do something a little different. Furthermore this has to be one of the quickest paced fantasy novels I’ve read. At just 382 pages there’s a lot crammed in. Some reviewers claim this comes at the expense of character development, this might become more apparent in later books but for a first book I’d say the characterisation to story ratio was just about right.
The storyline is split into three main threads: Hawkwood’s Voyage with Hawkwood travelling by ship to the western continent, the sieges with the Merduk where our POV is a soldier called Corfe and the political war with the church where our eyes and ears are King Abelyn as he manoeuvres his realm. For a first book in a five book series I’d say it satisfies multiple elements, we have a complete self contained storyline with Hawkwood’s voyage with the other two plot threads working together to describe the various wars – but unlike the voyage these threads are left unresolved for the following books.
A fine first novel in a series and one that leaves me salivating for more.