Hawkwood and the Kings is an omnibus of Hawkwood’s Voyage and The Heretic Kings, first released in the mid-nineties to critical acclaim but limited commercial success. Paul Kearney is, to the detriment of readers of fine fantasy, one of those authors who ran into publisher difficulties. Had the publisher actively marketed the original releases of The Monarchies of God, the books would have sold well and would unquestionably be considered classics alongside other great adult fantasies like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Unfortunately, Paul Kearney is among the more unnoticed and underrated authors of epic fantasy today.
Hawkwood and the Kings is set in a parallel to our world’s late fifteenth century. This is a fantasy with gunpowder and magic as well as clashes between Church and State, Church and Magic, and East and West. Kearney deftly weaves a story that uses the schism of the 13th century, the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the voyage of Columbus in 1492, and the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Church in the 1530s.
There are four major story lines in Hawkwood and the Kings. Richard Hawkwood is forced to undertake a dangerous journey into the unknown West with a man he detests. King Abrusio of Hebrion leads a revolt against the Ramusian Church (loosely based on the Christian Church). Corfe is a young officer who flees the destruction of Aekir instead of joining the last stand of the defenders against the Eastern Merduks (though Corfe later helps with the defense of the kingdom of Torunna against the Merduks). Finally, there is the story of the monks Albrec and Avila, who uncover an ancient document that goes to the heart of the dispute between the Ramusian Church and the Merduk’s faith in their Prophet.
Kearney has written a tightly plotted, character-driven epic fantasy that reflects something of our own world, but he makes his story entirely new and exciting. Hawkwood and the Kings kept me awake at night turning pages, and it is one of the best books that I have read in recent memory. It is adult-level fantasy that does not pull any punches. Kearney’s writing is gritty, realistic in its blood, violence and sex, but also shows how humans can, once in a while, shine. Kearney builds a fantasy that demonstrates clearly that a series need not be epic in size to be truly epic.
Kearney’s battle scenes are the best I have ever read in fantasy, or even empirical history, and that includes the likes of Steven Erikson and George R.R. Martin. His battle sequences are clear and descriptive in a manner that is at once exciting and horrifying. However, Kearney is not a glorifier of violence, and it is clear that he views war in all of its forms as a very poor way of resolving disputes, which is a major theme of the series.
My only complaint about this book is that the publication value by Solaris is a little low. The words are crammed on the page, the print is small, and the number of typos is excessive for a book that has already been published once. However, this is easily overlooked when the quality of the story is considered, and the cover to Hawkwood and the Kings is simply gorgeous, which made me wish that the covers of Kearney’s The Ten Thousand series were half as good.
I read Hawkwood and the Kings together with Century of the Soldier, which is the concluding omnibus of The Monarchies of God, and the pace does not let up. Though that is a separate review, I rate the entire series at five stars. Paul Kearney has become one of my favorite writers, and I eagerly look forward to his new novel in the The Ten Thousand series, Corvus. I strongly recommend readers of good epic fantasy everywhere to buy The Monarchies of God, now.
ANGUS BICKERTON practises law in a small town in Eastern Ontario. He lives with his wife, their two youngest children, and their black lab in a 160 year-old stone home, which also holds his law office. He has become, through inadvertence bordering on negligence, an expert in money-pit properties, and in do-it-yourself repair and construction. He has always dreamed of writing novels, but so far he has only self-published a play about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ entitled The Gate.
The Monarchies of God — (1995-2002) Publisher: In a land torn by religious war and chaos, rogue mariner Richard Hawkwood is forced to lead an expedition across the Great Western Ocean to find a legendary lost continent where safe haven may be found. But before the explorers find sanctuary, they must first survive the journey.