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Hawkwood's Voyage
Book 1 of The Monarchies of God

Paul Kearney
Ace Books, 376 pages

Steve Crispo
Hawkwood's Voyage, Book 4 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 three books in The Monarchies of God saga, Hawkwood's Voyage, The Heretic Kings and The Iron Wars, 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
SF Site Interview: Paul Kearney
SF Site Review: The Second Empire
SF Site Review: The Iron Wars

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

Originally published in the UK in 1995, it has taken seven years for this diverse adventure to reach the States -- better late than never.  First brought to my attention by Steven Erikson's mention of Paul Kearney in an interview, no further recommendation was necessary before immediately placing an order for all of the on-going Monarchies of God novels: to date four, with a fifth and final book, Ships from the West, due out in Britain sometime in December.  Never have I felt shorted by paying the additional pound and shipping costs.  Too bad, though, that the North American edition is available only as a mass market paperback: the series deserves better.

Erikson's recognition is not surprising, as in scope and involvement of religious elements Hawkwood's Voyage draws easy comparison, if not equally grand or epic scale, to Erikson's work.  More direct and straightforward in terms of its writing, Kearney's work is also more firmly grounded in history, though without his mining becoming overbearing or too familiar.  Set within a realm retaining more than a vague resemblance to Europe of the late 15th century (even the accompanying map bears a faint trace of Europe and the Mediterranean, with incongruous gulfs and peninsulas punched out of the coastline), the author's world is poised upon a crux of change, which is acknowledged by certain of the novel's characters.  Threatened from the East by the armies of Shahr Baraz and the Merduk sultanates, the kingdoms of the West are faced not only with invasion from without, but possibly an enemy from within, one whose true identity may remain hidden beneath the trappings of piety and faith.  The Inceptine Order has installed a new pontiff, one who seeks to establish the Church's primacy not only over affairs religious, but secular.  To assert his power, he has begun a campaign against heresy directed at all suspected of dweomer and the practice of "dark" magics.  This inquisition, fueled by the flames of heretics and enforced by Knights Militant, sows dissension and rebellion between the kings at a time when they most need to unite against an even greater foe to the East.  And, as if this were not conflict enough, a schism is poised to develop within the ranks of the Church.

But are the enemies perceived the real threat?  Hints of some darker force at work appears during a sea voyage to the West.  Commissioned by the King of Hebrion, and guided by the rutter of "a ship of the dead," two vessels set off across the uncharted Western Ocean in search of a fabled continent.  But strange and deadly occurrences will take place along the voyage that will suggest there are those who seek to literally scuttle any hopes for discovery.  It is revealed the mariners are not the first to journey across the uncharted sea: others have come before them, their fate a secret disguised by far shores, guarded by forces equally hidden, fell and mysterious.  More, these powers have agents among the five kingdoms, perhaps even among the Merduk worshippers of Ahrimuz.  But the answers to these questions must await a reading of further books.

While much of this seems at surface rather baldly derivative -- monks and papal intrigue, Muslim hordes roaring out of the East, the sailings of Christopher Columbus -- as well as a hodgepodge of historical and mythological references -- dweomer side by side with the homunculus of the Middle East -- Kearney somehow avoids the trap of becoming too blasé or complacent in his borrowings, infusing vigor into this eclectic spectacle through a deft use of multiple perspective and a vivid sense of description that is clear and uncluttered.  His plot, on the other hand, is complex yet well-paced, with plenty of twists that weave without becoming entangled.  Sure to engage, in sheer adventure if nothing else, this energetic tale is populated by a multi-faceted cast whose role within the narrative refrains from dwelling too long in detail or the momentary, without losing any sense or measure of its depth or vitality.  A most pleasurable read, readily recommended, easy to fall into, and one of the better adventures to come along in recent years.   

Copyright © 2002 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction. In addition to his writing, he is pursuing masters degrees in information science as well as history at Indiana University.

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