Ships From the West: The Monarchies
of God Book Five
(Gollancz, £17.99, 296 pages, hardback, published 5 December
2002. Gollancz, £6.99, 296 pages, paperback edition published 8 May
Seventeen years after the end of the bloody Merduk Wars, the continent
of Normannia stands on the brink of a brutal and climactic
conflict. At the heart of the land the Himerian Church has metamophosed
into a theological dictatorship, The Second Empire. Here, the mysterious
magus, Aruan has taken up the role of Vicar-General of the Inceptine
Order, and controls its legions of Knights Militant and horrific army
of Werewolves. With a virtual monopoly of magical power, he is set at
last to embark on the final conquest of the remaining independent nations.
In opposition to Aruan principally stands Hebrion, in the far west,
and Torunna, in the east. Each is ruled by a charismatic warrior king,
and each has spent years preparing armies and fleets to meet the coming
need, but both are far more dependent on cold steel and gunpowder than
magic, and must fight at great distances from each other, with little
opportunity to lend effective aid. Their sole new advantage is the unlikely
alliance that has blossomed between Torunna and its old enemy, the Merduk
realm of Ostrabar.
Within this fraught arena, Kearney deploys his cast of well-established
characters, and again displays his striking ability to construct intricate,
suspenseful plots and write sharp, compelling battle scenes.
The book is brisk and vivid, and as ever full of surprises and painful
reversals. People don't just die in Kearney's novels, they die badly,
with a credible but not overwhelming edge of realistic pain and squalor.
Once again, then, we watch as Kings Abeleyn of Hebrion and Corfe of
Torunna, the Mage Golophin, the master-mariner Richard Hawkwood, race
against time and unpleasant odds to save their world, and their lives
(a race they don't all win...).
In choosing to commence this novel seventeen years after the conclusion
of the last in the sequence, Kearney has departed from his previous
practice, where each novel picked up quickly from where the last took
off. The intervening years are reduced to ocassional asides or commentaries,
but this is handled deftly, with a careful balance between detail and
pace, so that the reader is informed about past developments, without
getting bogged down. Certainly there would have been enough incident
in the intervening period to merit another novel, but Kearney has made
a good job of bridging the gap, and the story does not suffer unduly.
More surprisingly, however, is the fact that the story as a whole draws
to a final conclusion by the end of this volume. Only in the last fifty
pages or so does this seem inevitable. Prior to that one could clearly
see the potential, in a half dozen unresolved situations, for another
good sized book, at least! Here then, the story feels not rushed, but
certainly compressed. A longer, more suspenseful account of several
elements that have been reduced to quick sketches, might well have been
written, and would have been doubly satisfying to Kearney's enthusiastic
Regardless of this, the story still satisfies. Kearney's characters
are compulsively interesting in their striving, struggling, and (all
too often) dying. In places the tale canters briskly along, in others
it gallops! As a final verdict one can only say that if the story leaves
the reader hungry for more of the same, then the author has done a very
fine job indeed.
Review by Simeon Shoul.
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