Paul Kearney, Hawkwood's Voyage (ACE, 2002, 3rd edition)

A long time enthusiast of Renaissance history, Paul Kearney uses his extensive knowledge of the historical period as well as his own personal experiences to create the world of the The Monarchies of God, a land rich in the tradition of war and religious strife. Kearney brings a new crispness to his detailed and extravagant description of the people, places and events as well as clear understanding of the political and social climate in Ramusia, a group of kingdoms where the Blessed Ramusio is worshiped.

A detailed map outlines the Monarchies of God, five separate but allied countries patterned losely after Medieval Europe. Fimbria, patterned somewhat after Rome, once held sway over all of these kingdoms, building great cities and accomplishing great things, but now stands apart, refusing to acknowledge religious leaders (described somewhat like our own Roman Catholic clergy), who have an unhealthy amount of power over both church and state. The Order of the Blessed Ramusio is headed by High Pontiff Macrobius, although it is the Prelates of each kingdom and their watchdogs, the Inceptines, whose abuse of power culminates in the genocide of the Dwoemer folk, users of magic, some merely folk medicines, as well as immigrant people whose blood is not "pure." Prelate Himerius of Hebrion tricks a young and inexperienced King Abeleyn into signing an edict, the consequences of which he is unaware.

In a situation gone far out of control, King Abeleyn attempts to save some lives by chartering a voyage at the request of his less than honest cousin Murad. Murad has information concerning a legendary western continent and would start a colony there in his cousin's name. Abeleyn signs the charter with the condition that the colonists be Dwoemer folk. Ship owner Richard Hawkwood accepts the charter with grave misgivings, because it gives him the chance to rescue most of his men, who have been taken prisoner because of their race. With odd passengers and even stranger cargo, the Grace of God and the Gabrian Osprey set sail with no particular destination, only vague directions from the King's cousin Murad, who is in charge of the expedition. Only he is aware of the morbid history behind this voyage and the danger involved.

On board, a powerful mage named Bardolyn shields a young girl named Griel, a shape shifter, lest her darker were-like alter ego gain control, thereby putting the entire ship at risk. Another odd incident is the last minute boarding of an Inceptine priest, presumably sent as a spy for the Prelate.

On the other side of the world, meanwhile, the holy city of Aekir and home of the High Pontiff is overrun by the dreaded Merduks, an enemy that attacks from the south and can only be compared to the Mongol hordes. Among the pitifully few survivors is Corfe, a soldier separated from his leader, who is now dead, and also from his wife, who has been taken prisoner to join the concubines of the Sultan of the Merduks. Feeling guilty for his life, Corfe prays that his Heria is dead and beyond the not so tender ministrations of the Merduks. Now he uses the life he has been left to help a blinded old priest and his wounded assistant. Upon arriving in Ormann Dyke, the last line of defense in this gruesome war, the pontiff is recognised and Corfe is given a position of authority for his experience.

Back at the religious center of Charibon, Himerius is elected High Pontiff when Macrobius is believed to be dead. This is the beginning of a scourge like never before. When the Kings meet, King Abeleyn of Hebrion, King Mark of Astarac and King Lofantyr of Torunna,an already critically wounded country, stand together against Himerius the Pretender, having heard that Macrobius lives. In a land already under attack from without, this decision by three of the Kings threatens to put Ramusia at war against itself. The loner state of Fimbria stands behind the three rebels.

Hawkwood's Voyage takes a reader far deeper into the story than just the voyage or even the war. Kearney's technical descriptions are near overwhelming to the casual reader, but those who enjoy well-planned battle action on land and on sea will find this a very worthwhile read and look forward to the sequel.

[Kate Brown]

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