Sunday, February 14

The Scourge of God - SM Stirling

Rudi Mackenzie, tanist of the Clan Mackenzie, and his travelling companions are en route to the fabled island of Nantucket, and arduous cross-country trek made more difficult in this 22nd year after the Change by the increasing prevalence and ire of the Church Universal and Triumphant - in addition to being fanatical, invadingly territorial, intolerant and sexist, CUT members are virtually unstoppable in battle. Even when mortally wounded they manage to fight long after ordinary men would be gone.
Rudi's most immediate task is freeing his childhood anamchara Matilda, princess of the Portland Protectorate and her companion Odard Liu, along with Ingolf Vogeler, himself a target of the cutters. New friend Frederick Thurston decides to join them rather than fight with his brother Martin, in part because it's a fight that will surely end in fratricide.
As they reach Deseret the band come across and join forces with a Mormon group who are also resisting the CUT. Her beliefs are very different from his but Mackenzie member Edain, Rudi's closest childhood friend, falls for the Mormon leader's daughter Rebecca; the tragic result of an impossible task required to allow them to continue their information gathering and quest is made all the more tragic by this fledgling relationship, and foreshadows the rest of the series.
Injured in the resulting battle, Rudi is seriously injured - as his team find safety and shelter so he can recover, Rudi has a vision; the Norse god Odin appears to him and tells him that his life will be short, sacrificed willingly for his people.
The Scourge of God is complex and mythologic in scale as well as content - the synopsis above barely traces a third of the text, and doesn't even touch on the plot winding through the various communities back West, which intersect the questing narrative.
At the same time Stirling continues to explore different ways of dealing with the aftermath of the Change - as Rudi and his group travel zigzaggedly across the continental (former) US they encounter communities that have survived and adapted, including a few religious orders, and the remnants of isolated groups that failed.
Although I am more interested in what happens after Rudi reaches Nantucket, I've accepted that this is a questing trilogy, where the goal is unlikely to be reached until the very end, and in which the journey is at least as important as the destination. The characters do develop, and their relationships too, and even the endless fight scenes are grippingly portrayed. But I did find myself getting a little tired of the repetition, hoping we could occasionally cut to the chase. That said, I already have the next book on reserve, so I'm clearly ready for more! - Alex

The Emberverse novels of the change:
Dies the Fire
2. The Protector's War
3. A Meeting at Corvallis
4. The Sunrise Lands
The Scourge of God
The Sword of the Lady
7. The High King of Montival

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