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Hawkwood's Voyage

Posted by Dan Smyth On Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Buzz, buzz, buzz. Can you hear it? Bees? you wonder, but no. Not bees. Did someone leave the stereo speakers on? No. Not that. Huh. Then what? I’ll tell you what. It's the buzz of advertisement. Every once in a while we see it pop up. There’s some new book or author that gets people talking and soon it’s all over the place and everyone wants to know more. There was a bundle for NAME OF THE WIND, a grip for TOME OF THE UNDERGATES, and yes there was enough for this book that I got caught up by it. Thus.

HAWKWOOD AND THE KINGS is an omnibus version of two books written by Paul Kearney back in the mid-90’s that Solaris decided to bring back after some of Kearney’s more recent novels got some acclaim. Decent idea. We’ve seen it before and will see it again. Sometimes it works great: more of a great author to digest. Others, not so much: earlier work isn’t up to par with what we know. Which is this? I can’t say one way or the other as this is the first Kearney novel I’ve read, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s more than likely the latter due to poor presentation. The first book in the omnibus was originally titled HAWKWOOD'S VOYAGE, which I found rather confusing as I was reading it. More on that later though. This review will take us through that first novel collected in HAWKWOOD AND THE KINGS.

The story itself revolves around a couple main characters. The first we meet is Corfe, who is a solider escaping the burning and looting of the City of God. The nefarious Merduks have finally done the unthinkable and sacked the city. Instead of fighting through though, instead of trying to find his commanding officers, or instead of trying to find his wife and save her from their rapacious enemies, he turns tail and runs away. Bye bye city. Can’t stay to chat. Hmm. Unfortunate beginning...

Then we get Hawkwood. He’s the captain of a fine sailing vessel, touting a crew from all over the known world. He’s at the end of another trip and finally sailing back into the realm of the Monarchies of God. As the ship comes into the port of Abrusio, however, he notices that there are burning bodies everywhere. The church has declared all foreigners and those with magical ability to be heretics, and as such they must all be burnt at the stake. Like any rational character would, he ignores all the signs and sails into port. As a result, half his crew is thrown in prison and put in the queue to be killed. And thus he can’t turn his nose up when he’s approached by a representative of the king to load a bunch of magic users into his boat and set sail toward an unknown continent, months to the west. First though, he has to visit his mistress for several days and then yell at his wife for being so weepy after hearing the news. Nice.

The book itself is involved with both Hawkwood’s journey across the waters (eventually) and the advance of the Merduk army across the Monarchies (as preceded by Corfe). There are also a number of other secondary characters through which the story is told. Arungzeb, the Merduk king. Bardolin the Mage. Heria, Corfe’s wife. Abeleyn, the King in Abrusio. Murad, the king’s cousin. Hu--- So many, you ask? Yes, I know--this is quite the list--but there’re still a few more. You don’t want to know? But there’s such a good reason. Here. I’ll just give it to you.

This novel has an omniscient narrator.

We move from one character to the next, sometimes mid page, never really getting a sense of who any of them are; though when we do they're not all that impressive. We see very few connections between them, which are important; we don’t see arcs, which we love; we hardly even see emotion, though when we do it feels like a switch has been flipped. And then flipped off again. There are, in essence, no characters to love. No character to enjoy.

And that completely breaks my heart.

What is here is a ton of possibility for story, but we don’t really get one. In fact, it reads more like a history book through a combination of info dump, prose, and speech:

Here’s what’s happened up to this point.

Here’s a good description on what the city/room/landscape/boat looks like.

Here’s some conversation to help you understand what’s happening around the world (most times with little to no obvious connection to a character of interest)

Next chapter.


The one thing that Kearney does do quite well is give a good sense of living on a boat. As a significant portion of the story happened on a boat, this was an added bonus. But bonuses do not a story make. Especially if said voyaging boat trip doesn’t start until 60% of the book has already passed. (You find that odd too? Well then.) Writing was well-done. Pacing was rough for the most part and shifted frequently. As I mentioned, no real character development. Logical progression. The scope was epic though, I’ll give it that: the big bad church, politics spanning vast countries, evil baddies from other countries coming to chop you and yours to bits, magical heretics peppered in amongst it all. And there was even a werewolf.

The problem was that I couldn’t care a fig about any of it. Too bad, really. I would have loved to see something non-mediocre. It just wasn’t there. That said, there wasn't enough to put me off of reading the next part of the omnibus.

Recommended age: 18 plus
Language: Occasional, but strong
Violence: War and werewolves. Yeah.
Sex: Several scenes that, oddly enough, received more detailed attention than the main crux of the story

Paul Kearney’s Homepage

3 comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Posted on March 25, 2011 at 9:16 AM

     
  2. I stupidly posted before editing. Meant to ask, is it the fact that it is written in omniscient third-person that you don't like, or is the omniscient third-person simply done poorly.

    Dune and The Lord of the Rings are both written in that style, and more often than not people still enjoy them.

    I don't want to be led astray from reading this if it is just personal taste that is hindering you from liking this (no offense intended)

    Posted on March 25, 2011 at 9:22 AM

     
  3. Dan Smyth Said,

    I loved Dune. Absolutely and unabashedly.

    And honestly, it's been almost twenty years since I read The Lord of the Rings.

    I can deal with omniscient third-person, it's just annoying. This kind of writing style makes it way too easy to disconnect from the characters. It can be done (Dune), but it's tough to do it well.

    The very real problems with this one for me are listed in the paragraph following my omniscient narrator statement--those dealing with character and story arc. Presentation was tough too, as it mostly felt like "here's the information you need" instead of "enjoy the story".

    And no offense taken. I know there are some people who have really liked this one. I just didn't find anything beyond mediocre in it, and this is, after all, simply my opinion. :)

    Posted on March 26, 2011 at 5:37 PM

     

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