In Heloise’s land, the foremost rule of the Order is clear: “Suffer no wizard to live.” For the exercise of magical powers, it is said, will open a portal to hell through the eyes of the wizard, allowing devils to come through and wreak destruction among men. But all sixteen year old Heloise can see is the oppression of the religious Order, which allows its Sojourners and Pilgrims to bully and oppress the common people. Anyone even suspected of using magical powers, or protecting those who have such powers, is immediately executed by the flail- and chain-bearing Order members, who act in the name of the Emperor.
Heloise Factor lives with her parents in the small medieval-type village of Hammersdown, where families are named for the father’s profession: Factor, Trapper, Fletcher, Grower, and so forth. Heloise’s best friend Basina Tinker comes from a family of metalworkers, who form metal ox yokes and other items for the villagers. But the Tinkers also create secret weapons and war-machines under Imperial commissions, like giant suits of armor that give the wearer immense strength, speed and endurance.
When a cruel Sojourner, Brother Tone, forces the villagers to participate in a manhunt, killing innocent people accused of engaging in (or harboring sympathy toward) wizardry, or even just being a person with a mental disability or such a person’s relative, Heloise rebels against Brother Tone and the Order. Her actions spark a village rebellion that may prove the destruction of her family and even her entire village.
Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint (2018) is a magical fantasy set in a harsh, unfair medieval world. It’s a familiar type of setting and, personally, it wasn’t a world I particularly cared to experience. The sadistic, quasi-religious Order members who embody the Emperor’s brutal government were distasteful and play into anti-religious stereotypes. Like Inquisition agents run amok, the Order terrorizes and murders villagers in order to enforce the social order. The religious oppression theme is continually hammered home, bolstered by scripture-like quotes at the beginning of the book’s chapters.
Heloise is a rather frustrating protagonist. She makes several questionable choices due to her immaturity and impetuosity, gravely endangering her family and her entire village as a result. She’s tremendously passionate, but not terribly bright, at least not in a practical sense. Heloise is nonetheless a sympathetic character, coming of age in this story and coming to terms with her feelings toward her best friend Basina, which is all in a furtive Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name kind of way, due to their culture. Basina is betrothed to a village lad, and it’s not at all clear that she feels anything more for Heloise than deep friendship. But The Armored Saint is ultimately very affirming of Heloise’s sexuality:
Never be sorry for loving, Heloise. No matter who it is, no matter how it is done, no matter how the person you love receives it. Love is the greatest thing a person can do. Most go their entire lives knowing only ritual and obligation, mistaking it for love. But you have loved truly, as few can ever hope to do. This pain you are feeling is a triumph, Heloise.
This is Message Fiction, which clearly has its place, but it’s not a subtle message. Still, The Armored Saint is a novel that may be helpful to the self-acceptance of teens who are gay or otherwise feel marginalized.
I give The Armored Saint props for one seriously eyebrow-raising twist that I in no way expected. Unfortunately the reader isn’t given a full explanation for why and how this event occurs, but maybe that will be disclosed in the sequels. The second book in THE SACRED THRONE series, The Queen of Crows, is scheduled for publication in October 2018.
Tadiana’s done a wonderful job of recapping the circumstances and story within The Armored Saint, including its flaws — and we’re talking about a novella, so there’s not much I can add in the way of plot details or twists (though what a twist!) that won’t outright spoil everything for readers who haven’t yet cracked Myke Cole’s book open.
For me, The Armored Saint reads as a very long prologue: Cole takes time setting up the ruthlessly oppressive and religiously-based way of life for Heloise and her fellow villagers. The scene in which the Order is introduced is terrifically chilling and threatening, and goes a very long way toward explaining why they are so feared, to the point that their subsequent appearances lose some of that initial menace and almost become caricature. It’s not until the very end that things really pick up steam, the aforementioned twist comes into play, and Heloise develops into something more than a determined and brave (but immature) young woman. As for The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name, well … it’s always gratifying to see characters say things like “Never be sorry for loving,” but I was disappointed with the resolution, which I’ve seen implemented far too often in fiction.
On the other hand, now that Heloise’s backstory and motivations have been properly established and the cover art’s amazing suit of armor has been put into play, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in the upcoming sequel The Queen of Crows, since Determined!Heloise holds a lot more appeal for me than Fearful!Heloise. There are clear and obvious influences from the life of Joan of Arc within Heloise’s character, and I want to see how closely Cole hews to historical precedent or, alternatively, takes new spins with the narrative.