he Heretic Kings is the second book in a five book series called the Monarchies
of God. I think I know why I am enjoying this series so much: it is full of vivid imagery. If I were an capable
artist, this is the kind of novel that would be great to illustrate. Every chapter has a scene or two that
would look terrific if painted by N.C. Wyeth or Frazetta - there isn't much introspection in these books, the
story keeps on charging ahead, always another adventure. There are werewolves, sea battles, musty catacombs,
epic battles as the Merduks attempt to storm Ormann's Dike. There is court intrigue at Tormann, there is
more wrangling as the kings and courtiers vie for power.
The story threads that began in the first book continue in this book (so you definitely
must start this series at the beginning, with Hawkwood's Voyage). We follow King Abelyen to a council of Kings. How will the separate
kingdoms respond to the threat of the Merduk's, now that Aekir has fallen? The pope threatens to exocommunicate
any king that doesn't acknowledge him as the supreme religious authority, which could well lead to civil war in
those kingdoms, plus the Pope controls an elite fighting force of Knights Militant, which back up his papal authority.
Nevertheless, King Abelyen witnessed how the newly elected Pope condemned thousands to death at the stake, and so
he questions whether this new pope is legitimate - after all, reports continue that Macrobius, the previous pontif,
survived the fall of Aekir.
In this book, the survivors of Hawkwood's western voyage set out to
explore the new continent that they have discovered. This is a nice bit of adventure story telling. An expedition
is mounted to march into the interior, and it seems they are being deliberately led into greater danger. There are
hints of werewolves. They stumble upon an ancient statue, so obviously this land was populated by a civilized people
in the past.
Meanwhile, Kearney is also developing the story about the Merduk invasion on the eastern
edge of the continent. We see this battle through the eyes of Corfe, who survived the fall of Aekir and now finds himself attempting
to rebuild his military reputation. This part of the story describes the assault on Ormann Dyke, where the outnumbered
defenders in an impregnable(?) fortress face a vast horde of attackers. This reminded me of the battle of Helm's Deep in
Lord of the Rings, and any comparison to the LotR has to be considered a compliment.
This series is great. I like the pure storytelling and straight forward prose. Kearney has an
epic tale to tell us, and it is fun to read. Despite the many characters and multiple threads, each remains distinct
and memorable, so you don't feel lost in the book. I assume that when I pick up the third volume, The Iron Wars, in
the near future, I'll pick right up in where I left off without missing a beat.