The High King of Montival by SM Stirling


Having followed the novels of "The Change" since the brilliant opening trilogy it is fair to say that S. M. Stirling deserves every accolade spewed liberally on the ROC jacket. His simple post-apocalyptic vision that has Nantucket returned to an early Bronze Age earth and the subsequent impact on the current timeline of the remainder of Earth - that electricity and high explosive do not work - has paved the way for the greatest alternative history series of the past decade.

Rudi Mackenzie - Artos - has claimed the Sword of the Lady. The merge of pre-Change literary romance novels and epic sagas into what Astrid Loring deems the Fifth Age moves us ever closer to a new imagining of the legend of King Arthur and his Knights. It remains to be seen if the round table will make a pine-timbered appearance in future novels. Rudi has his Excalibur, has danced with a symbiosis of Nimue and the Moirae, and lived to tell the tale. This seventh novel follows Rudi as he treks back westwards to his people in order to unite a land, bring a vast army to bear against the Church of the Universal Truth, consolidate his own power and marry Mathilda. Along the way he sweeps up Bjarni, new King of the Norrheim and defeats a large Cutter force at a key ranch in Darnheller before his triumphal return.

This novel is one of transition. It will prove the glue between the search for the Sword and Rudi's role as Ard-Righ in the books to come. To be honest, little actually happens in the 481 pages and it is very slow for the first part, dealing with Rudi's coming to terms with who he is and ensuring a groundswell of support for him. The irritation of the Tolkien-obsessed Dunedain-wannabes continues and there are terse flickers of exasperation with the gullibility in some of the characters who fervently cling to the notion of Tolkien's stories as true Histories. Still, it does drive home the point that history is written by either the deluded winners or the powerfully charismatic. Anyway, this aside, science is losing its grip on Earth and magic is beginning to seep back into the very air. A magic deeply rooted in Celtic and Norse mythology. It actually reminds me of that other current series written by another maestro - Terry Brooks. His "Word and the Void" series is acutely similar to Stirling in his transition from apocalypse to a "purer, somehow more noble" medieval/faerie world. It's interesting to see how Stirling (who is behind Brooks from a development of this notion) parallels the advancement from 21st century Earth to Shannara-esque idealism. Then again, it would be interesting to have the Change reverse and see how everyone gets on with electricity back in place.

So, "The High King of Montival". Expertly handled by the undisputed current master of alternative historical fiction. I hope this series continues for many books to come. I'd have given it A top rating but I find Astrid Loring's almost narcissistic obsession with Tolkien a touch too irritating.

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