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Friday, October 29, 2010

"Corvus" by Paul Kearney (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Paul Kearney Website
Order Corvus HERE
Read FBC Review of The Ten Thousand HERE

INTRODUCTION: Two years ago in the series debut The Ten Thousand, Paul Kearney created the secondary world of Kuf which has a large landmass populated by numerous people who are currently under the sway of the Assurian Empire. To the north and east, separated by various seas and the remote fastness of the Harukush Mountains, lies the home of the legendary Macht people—warriors of great renown and ferocity who are divided into various city states under the aegis of Machran. So the Greeks vs the Persian Empire with some little touches of the fantastic and a twist or two, but otherwise The Ten Thousand was a pretty faithful retelling of the classic story with the same name.

Speculative fiction allowing both historical time-compression and event simplifications, fast forward 23 years only - rather than the roughly 50-70 from the historical timeline - and several years of events rather than several decades and Corvus an enigmatic young military genius has appeared out of nowhere in the Macht lands and is taking over them with force and sweet words and this book is his first part of the story; in an excellent narrative choice, the story is told through the eyes of others, most notably the former commander of the Ten Thousand, Rictus now the most famous and acclaimed mercenary leader of the Macht.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: Corvus stands at about 460 pages divided into 27 named chapters and an epilogue. The book starts with a map of Kuf. There are several threads with various POV's, most notably Rictus and his sidekick/sub-commander Fornyx, Karnos - the Speaker of the most important Macht city of Machran - Phaestus, a friend of Rictus and leader of another Macht city, the smaller but geographical crucial Hal Goshen, while of the women, Rictus' wife Aise and Karnos' fiance Kassia who is also the sister of Machran's army commander Kassander are the most prominent.

Corvus is military fantasy; it stands well on its own with a clear definite ending, though of course the story continues next spring/summer towards its logical destination in The Kings of Morning.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: “We just keep marching,” Rictus said softly. “That is what we do. We carry the Curse of God on our backs and go into the dark together.”

starts with Rictus in charge of his now large mercenary company, fighting successful campaign after successful campaign in the spring and summer for whichever Macht city pays best and returning to his wife and daughters in a hidden mountain cottage for the winter.

But now a young charismatic conqueror has appeared in the Macht lands and he is planning to unite them at sword point if need be; and of course Corvus needs Rictus for credibility and for other reasons that are pretty easy to guess once you advance
a little in the book. The Macht love their "freedom", even if it is only the freedom to war among themselves and enslave or kill the weak, so the job is not easy.

"Corvus" is a page turner that will keep you hooked until the end even though you can easily guess its general thrust. It is also a novel of heroism and brutal fighting with explicit descriptions of gore, military camps, logistical considerations and life in a besieged city or in the besieging army.

Paul Kearney's major strength as storyteller of battles, fighting and war is on display here and as in all his previous similar work, whether in the just reprinted Monarchies of God series or in The Ten Thousand, he makes you root for both sides. The freedom loving Macht led by the city of Machran and its unlikely but brave and determined leader Karnos and the destiny man with a dream Corvus clash brutally and there can be only one winner; while we sort of know how it will end, the skill of the author is such that we are kept in suspense to the end and we somehow want both to win...

In addition to the big picture, there are several personal story-threads, some dark and violent, some domestic and of course the back story of Corvus himself - something not hard to guess anyway - but very well done and with great touches, not the least his Kufr Companion Cavalry and his reluctance to try his father's "Curse of God" black armor that is so prized among the Macht.

And in these side stories, we see the war and its human cost through the eyes of the women and children adding an extra dimension to the usual "band of brothers" blood-and-guts subgenre.

"Corvus" (A+) delivered what I expected of it with brio and reinforced the standing of Paul Kearney as a master of military fantasy.


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