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The Iron Wars
Book 3 of The Monarchies of God

Paul Kearney
Gollancz Books, 255 pages

Art: Steve Crisp
The Iron Wars, Book 3 of The Monarchies of God
Paul Kearney
Paul Kearney was born and grew up in Northern Ireland. He lived for some years in Copenhagen before moving to the United States with his wife. As well as the first two books in The Monarchies of God saga, Hawkwood's Voyage and The Heretic Kings, he has written The Way to Babylon, A Different Kingdom and Riding the Unicorn, all published by Gollancz. He and his wife have recently moved back to the UK and are living in Cambridge.

Paul Kearney Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

I don't normally dive into the middle of a series, starting with Book Three, but I was sufficiently intrigued by the dust jacket summary of The Iron Wars that I thought I'd give this one a go. Although I was impressed with both the writing and the story, I discovered that this is not a stand-alone novel. On the plus side, I was so impressed with Book Three that I decided to go back and read the first two to fill in the gaps. I would advise you to learn from my error: start from Book One. It's an adventure well worth taking, and you won't want to miss out on any of it.

The story in The Monarchies of God takes place in a fantasy setting roughly parallel to Renaissance Europe. Magic exists, but is on the wane. Gunpowder exists, and is on the rise. There are two great religions in the known world: the Ramusian Faith, based on the teachings of Saint Ramusio; and the Merduk Faith, based on the teachings of the Prophet Ahrimuz. Sound a little bit familiar? Well, yeah, the parallel with Christianity/Islam is obvious, but it works.

The Normannian continent (Europe) is in upheaval. The Merduk hordes are invading on the eastern borders; the remnants of the old empire are stirring again, having united their independent city states, their armies on the march outside their own borders for the first time in centuries; the Ramusian Church is in schism, with the kingdoms divided in church-sponsored civil wars and religious purges. The Dweomer-folk, those with a talent for magic, are forced to flee their homes to avoid the zealots' pyres. A small group of them take ship for a fabled land across the western ocean, which may or may not exist...

And this is only the backdrop. There's a lot going on in this story, and there is a real depth to the world, its history, and the characters. The cast of characters is vast, but each of the protagonists in the various intersecting story lines is clearly defined. Some are eminently likeable, some utterly despicable, but all are shown to have merits and failings. Each is as human as the next -- even the ones who are not quite human.

The Iron Wars, as the title suggests, is a book largely concerned with war, and in particular with Corfe Cear-Inaf, the only soldier to have survived the fall of Aekir, now with his own command.

Every wonder what heavy cavalry can do to light infantry? It's either glorious or terrifying, depending on your perspective. Either way, though, it's going to be pretty messy. Every wonder what a mass of pikemen can do to heavy cavalry? It's ugly. Every wonder what 6-pound guns can do to a tent camp taken unawares? Brutal, all right. And Kearney shows us these battles in all their glory and ugliness. He shows us the horrors of destruction, death, pain and gore, and he shows us heroism that would honour the ghosts of the dead at Thermopylae. He shows us tactical genius in action, and he shows us stifling class-biased military stupidity as agonizing to witness as Galipoli.

But there's more to this book than just battles and bloodshed. We see characters walking some very fine lines, risking everything to juggle such issues as power and prestige, high treason and fervent patriotism, heresy and true faith. There's political manoeuvring, magical manipulation, emotional frailty, and a whole world of fascinating detail. Everything you could ask for in a good solid work of fantasy.

Kearney seems to have a knack for ending the volumes of this series not with cliffhangers, but with just enough plot momentum to keep the reader wanting more. As I ate up the last few pages, I realized that each of Kearney's loose ends are not to be neatly tied off, but neither are they to be left blowing vaguely in the wind. No, these loose ends each have a big juicy hook attached, pulling me inexorably into the next volume.

Of the projected five books in The Monarchies of God series, The Iron Wars is the third. Book Four is anticipated for release in February or March 2000. Gollancz still holds the rights and so, at present, the books are not available in North America. UK and Australian fantasy fans can enjoy the first three fifths of the series now, while North Americans are going to have to either order from abroad or... wait.

(P.S. And I'm sure that whenever Wayne MacLaurin finally gets hold of them in North America, The Monarchies of God books will find their way onto one of his MacLaurin Fat Fantasy Award lists!)

Copyright © 1999 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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