Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘The Heron Kings’ by Eric Lewis, organised by Random Things Tours. I was delighted to have participate in this tour, and I hope that you will check out both the author and the book.
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.’*
After a warlord slaughters her patients, Sister Alessia quits the cloister and
strikes out on her own to heal the victims of a brutal dynastic conflict. H er
roaming forest camp unwittingly becomes the center of a vengeful peasant
insurgency, raiding the forces of both sides to survive. Alessia struggles to
temper their fury as well as tend wounds, consenting to ever greater violence
to keep her new charges safe. When they uncover proof of a foreign
conspiracy prolonging the bloodshed, Alessia risks the very lives she’s saved
to expose the truth and bring the war to an end.
The Heron Kings is a brutal book. It does not shy away from the horrors of war, especially for those caught in the middle. That said, it will not be for everyone. There is a lot of violence and gore, with attempted rape, death of a child and one particularly horrific scene involving a Pregnant woman that may discourage some readers. At times, it feels a little too extreme, even when considering that within the context of a war that has been raging for years, that has pushed all sides to extremes. Yet for the most part, you can see the reasoning behind each act, no matter how horrific and how much you disagree with it, and it fits in with the savage world of the story.
What ‘The Heron Kings’ does, that many books don’t is that it is written from either side of the war, but rather about those who are caught in the middle. Not soldiers, nobles or bankers – although they all play their role throughout – but the peasants, who have suffered because of the war because of raids, conscription, lack of supplies, and the need of both sides to send a message. This is not a story about choosing sides. It is about remaining neutral, surviving in a world where everyone apart from those trapped in the middle with you would kill you in an instant, revenge and trying to bring the war to an end. Not so that one side can triumph over the other, but so that the characters – and the people they represent – can survive and reclaim the world that had been taken from them by the war. I enjoyed this approach, and for me, this is where the biggest impact of this book lay.
In terms of characterisation, I felt that the strength lay in the main characters rather than the secondary characters. Alessia caught my attention from the start, not least because she wasn’t a warrior but a physic who wanted to help people and was ultimately prevented by the war trying to cast her on one side of the conflict which set her on her path into that middle ground. She is an interesting character, because while she has the ideals of being ‘lawful good’, she isn’t a saint, and she develops and changes because of what she witnesses and endures. Ulnoth lost everything and turned to revenge, but even that wasn’t that simple, because it wasn’t targeted only at the side that had destroyed his life, but at both sides of the war, understanding even in his grief and occasional ‘madness’ that both sides were responsible for the conflict. They made for an unusual pair, initially brought together by circumstance, but through wit, banter and negotiation, their relationship and approaches dovetailed nicely and brought together the rest of the cast.
Another character who played a large role in the story was Vivian, a common-born Spymistress, and she was written exceptionally well, showing a great deal of intelligence of personality. We were given hints, and intriguing plot points via her character, and I would love to have learned more about her, both in terms of her backstory but her role in the larger war. Still, the intrigue around her character was done beautifully and added another facet to the story.
The secondary cast certainly added to the story, showing different parts of this middle ground – some were there for survival, some by chance – but all affected by the war in one way or another, and wanting to stay out of the conflict. There were points where they seemed to blend into one another, and with a few exceptions, it was sometimes difficult to feel invested in enough in certain individuals to appreciate them fully. In some ways, The Heron Kings feels that it should have been a longer book, and maybe with more room for the development of the cast, this would not have been the case.
I enjoyed Lewis’ writing, and for the most part, I found it incredibly well-paced, if a little too dialogue-heavy at parts, but there was enough action and key events to stop that from slowing the plot down. The description is very bare-bones, whether about characters or setting, and much of what we learn about the context and world-building is through conversates and inside thoughts, something that worked very well in this book, allowing the characters to carry the story. The ending did feel a little rushed, again giving the impression that the book should have been longer to do it full justice, but for all that, I enjoyed the ending, and in particular, I liked the fact that it didn’t just automatically reset things. The characters didn’t just slip back into their old lives, the losses and suffering left scars that would endure.
For me, the good points certainly outweighed the bad, and I was gripped from start to finish reading this book in the space of an afternoon. If you like darker, grimdark fantasy and aren’t squeamish then this is a book I would highly recommend, especially if you want a unique view of war and its impact on those caught in the middle.
About the Author:
By day Eric Lewis is a PhD research chemist weathering the latest rounds of mergers and layoffs and still trying to remember how to be a person again long after surviving
grad school. In addition to subjecting his writing to one rejection after another, he can be found gathering to himself as many different sharp and pointies as possible and searching for the perfect hiking trail, archery range of single malt Scotch. Don’t ask where, because he’s never lived anywhere for longer than five years.
The Heron Kings – Eric Lewis (Published by Flame Tree Press, April 23rd 2020) – **** (4/5 Stars)
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.