Paul Kearney, The Heretic Kings (ACE, 2002)

In a setting first introduced in Kearney's Hawkwood's Voyage, the main players in this book, a mere handful of men, effect great change across the entire face of this vast and diverse world. The Heretic Kings are Abeleyn, Mark and Lofantyr, the three who rebelled at the Kings Conclave and are now excommunicated by Himerius, recognized by much of the Western world as High Pontiff.  However, in Ormann Dyke, home of Kim Lofantyr, the true Pontiff, Macrobius, is alive and fairly well -- all things considered -- and rests after a gruelling journey from his worn-torn city of Aekir. His companion, Corfe, uncomfortable with the dandified version of soldier preferred in the city of Ormann Dyke, is rewarded by the Dowager Queen, a known witch and mother to King Lofantyr. She offers protection from political intrigue, and he is given 500 soldiers to lead on a mission. He soon finds out that his soldiers are nothing more than galley slaves and his mission a domestic one. It appears that the joke is on him. Corfe, however, manages to turn his 500 bodies into soldiers, who are successful from their first time out.

Again in the chapters of The Heretic Kings, Kearney's talent and knowledge of his subject shows clearly as he relates to the reader the trials that Abeleyn and his company endure making their way home from the Kings Conclave.  When they reach Abrusio, the destruction Abeleyn finds is heartbreaking, and the seige that follows is the ultimate test of his leadership and military might.  Abeleyn fights the Knights Militant, the army of his nemesis, the pretender Himerius, whose man now controls Heberion and has put many of Abeleyn's subjects to death. His beloved city lies mostly in flames. However, Abeleyn's ace in the hole is his Hebrion Army, loyal to Abeleyn despite the threat of death from Himerius.

Meanwhile, in the holy city of Charibon, Himerius' stronghold and the home of hundreds of monks and priests of several orders, a humble assistant librarian and Antillian monk named Albrec stumbles across documents that predate the religion itself.  These documents and other findings threaten the very fiber of Albrec's faith and the roots of the belief of thousands.

Hawkwood's contingent, at the same time, is attempting to establish a new settlement -- despite inclement weather that is foreign to their experience and threatens their very lives. This new world that they have discovered holds many surprises, including dwoemer life, and far more powerful magic than anything Bardolin, the mage, has ever come up against. In their search for native life, the group comes across a woman, seemingly inhuman, who offers assistance. As they follow her, Bardolin becomes more and more concerned.  The home of this land's native people proves to be beyond horror. Only three survivors make it back to tell the gruesome tale of the hideous discovery.

The end of this chapter in Kearney's Monarchies of God series sees Ramusia, a once peaceful and united kingdom, split politically, taken hostage by the pretender Himerius, and facing invasion by Aurungzeb, Sultan of the Merduks and his war commander.  Questionable also is the survival of Hawkwood and what is left of his crew on the far western continent.

The talent of Paul Kearney to take his readers to wherever he wants leaves them least it has done this reader. Where do they go from here? I'll be looking for the next part of The Monarchies of God to find out.

[Kate Brown]