The Heron Kings have been betrayed. A century after their formation from a
gang of desperate peasant insurgents, the shadowy band of forest rangers
suffers a rare defeat when a skirmish turns into a bloody ambush. Their shaky truce with the crown is tested as young members Linet and Aerrus work to track down their enemies. When reluctant peacetime soldier Eyvind reveals a conspiracy to welcome the charismatic invader Phynagoras, the trio must convince a weak king and pitifully few allies to stand against the storm.
Their only hope lies in the forgotten tactics of their own guerrilla past, and a terrifying new alchemical weapon the likes of which the world had never
imagined. The only question is which side will be destroyed by it first…
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Tree Publishing dedicated to full-length original fiction in the horror and
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Thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for organising this tour and to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.
I haven’t read the first book, can’t imagine why, possibly I was having some time off blogging. I started reading this book at the beginning of the month but life got in the way so today (12th June 2022), conscious that I had to write this review by Thursday night at the latest, I sat down and read the whole 359 pages, right from the beginning.
The day this review is posted is also my birthday. So far, I have swimming for an hour or ninety minutes in the afternoon, and, later, tea with my dad and step-mum planned. Not sure what else, yet, since I’m getting old (39!) and I don’t drink.
Anyway, I really rather enjoyed this book. The Heron Kings are a secret organisation of rangers who arose to lead a guerrilla war against badly behaving lords, but now they deal with bandits and the incursions of mountain tribes. Until they are betrayed and lose a large contingent.
Aerrus takes himself to have words with the lord chancellor in the Argavon capital Carsalon, while Linet goes seeking News from her spies. In the process she runs into a garrison soldier, Eyvind, on the run from his lord, whom he has just discovered plotting against their king, Osmund.
Osmund is generally considered a bit useless, and has no standing army.
Which is unfortunate, because they’re about to be invaded by a murderous paedophile with a messiah complex and an army of worshippers. Linet and Eyvind take the news to Aerrus in the capital, where they try to convince Fluffy Osmund to actually do something for once. Instead he runs away.
The three, after saving the king from assassination a few times go with him to a neighbouring kingdom where they try to gain help. Some very odd visitors arrive, and suddenly everyone decides the war is on.
There’s traps, tricks, battles and explosions as an new weapon is brought to play and unexpected allies lend a hand. Our heroes have mixed results and there’s lots of death, injury, burning, and explosions.
An old world order dies as technology and society moves on, the birth pangs are painful, and not just for those who’s homes are invaded.
Did I mention the explosions?
The author tackles complicated subjects, and I noted inspiration from past and current world events. The stakes should be familiar to anyone who knows their vampire lore and Eastern European Mediaeval history, for instance. The migrant ‘crisis’ in the novel is one facing the current world, as war and environmental devastation force people from their homes and on to the mercies of those in more fortunate places. How we accommodate the movement of humans across the planet is an important question of our times we can be compassionate or we can be cruel. There’s also the difference between the refugees seeking help and people displacing others for the political goal of their leaders. People seem to think that migrants and refugees, especially if they’re from Asia or Africa, who are escaping poverty, war, oppression, environmental degradation and torture are a great hoard coming here (by which I mean Europe, or Britain) to replace local populations and/or force ‘foreign’ habits on ‘us’, or they’re trying to steal benefits or jobs. It’s all so much bollocks.
The wholesale massacres and replacement of populations by migrants brought in by political leaders should be familiar not just to those who understand history (WW2 – Germans moved into conquered states, post-WW2 ethnic Germans in places where multiple ethnicities/cultures had co-existed for centuries were deported or murdered by the incoming Russians and local nationalist groups, for example, in Poland) but to those who keep an eye on current events (Palestine, anyone?).
Sorry, I’ve gone off on one again haven’t I? I wrote a whole paragraph after this sentence originally, but I deleted it because it’s not relevant to reviewing this book.
There’s something of Alexander the Great about Phynagoras (that’s the murderous paedophile with a messiah complex), although I don’t think he ever had sex with his sister or murdered his father. He did bring together a disparate group of kingdoms under one rule and he did stretch too far (he got to India), and was turned back by an unforgiving landscape and local inhabitants who weren’t having any of his crap. His regional commanders were also called satraps, from the Persian tradition, that is after he defeated Darius and conquered Persia. Unlike Alexander, Phynagoras doesn’t believe his own myths until late in the story – for a fair bit of his campaign into Argovan he is quite self-aware that he not only isn’t a god, but that he’s using his fanatical followers to make his army look bigger than it is. Doesn’t last.
I like it when I find some hint of the inspiration for a story in the plot, narratives, characters and words used for people and objects/places. How they’re brought together is important and has to work in the world that’s built. It generally works well here and the explanation for why Argovan is a green and fertile place while Bhasa has become desert is convincing, but I was slightly confused as to why Argovan has a temperate climate (such as would be found in Cornwall) but the lands to the north and south east have the equivalent of Mediterranean and North African climates. Even moist west winds from the sea can’t account for such a difference.
I liked the characters of Eyvind, Linet and Aerrus, they work well together and the development of the platonic and romantic relationships during trying events is interesting, although I didn’t notice any romantic intent until it was written, (one of them discovers showers, and then has to go an tell one of their friends all about showers – corny but funny) but the way the romantic relationship evolved is suitably turbulent and sweet.
I enjoyed the way everything slowly fell apart for everyone, the some people came out of things more intact than others. It wasn’t exactly happily ever after for Argovan and the characters, but they at least had a future.
That is, everyone who didn’t get blown up.
I found it entertaining to read a fantasy novel that relied on people believing technological advances were magic to replace the magic found in a lot of fantasy. Everyone is terrified of this new ‘black magic’ and the people using the new technology are worrying about running out of their supplies and blowing themselves up.
Have I mentioned, there were explosions!
This book was a real page turner. I didn’t move for several hours, I made tea and burnt my sausages while reading this book. I got complained at by both Ezzie and Gyfa because I had to stop scratching them long enough to turn a page every couple of minutes. I’ve been writing this review for almost an hour, it’s 10pm and my hands hurt so I’m going to stop now. I want to read the first book, eventually.
Highly recommended, another excellent addition to Flame Tree Press’ catalogue.