Rudi Mackenzie, tanist of the Clan Mackenzie and leader of a band of travellers bound together through adversity and all manner of kinship ties, is crossing the breadth of what was once the United States from his homeland in Oregon to the island of Nantucket in search of a sword that has been foretold will allow him to unite his region and defeat the greatest threat since the Change. Along the way they has make friends, and enemies, endured many losses, and decided that their disparate home communities will be united under the name Montival. Their resolve is strong, and they have proclaimed Rudi (whose birth name is Artos) their first High King.
When they finally reach the island, Rudi is stunned to discover densely wooded forest with trees older than any he's previously encountered, peopled by a small population that seem unlike modern men at all and insist they come from another era. When Rudi enters a lone building he discovers the sword he's sought for over a year, and has a vision akin to that he had while injured during a battle. This time, though, instead of seeing Odin he sees three women - an exotic youth, the likeness of his own mother, and a more aged black woman. And when he exits the building, sword raised high, Rudi is forever changed.
Readers of Stirling's Nantucket trilogy will already understand why he set the Change for 1998 - to tie in with the other side of events, where the modern inhabitants of Nantucket, along with their island and a region of surrounding ocean, where transported back to 1250BC. In this final instalment of the second Emberverse trilogy (with another three books scheduled), the worlds cross over briefly - though familiarity with the other series would help a little in the last section, it's not necessary.
There are still battle scenes aplenty, and encounters with different ways groups evolved post Change. I also found a couple of sections that particularly resonated - first when Matilda (Princess of the Portland Protectorate) reflects that if you act as though there's no doubt you'll be obeyed, especially when people are frightened, odds are you will be. And I really liked Sandra, Matilda's atheist mother, when she silently observed that not having anyone to be thankful for can be a drawback to having no faith: "My eternal gratitude, O blind and ontologically empty dance of atoms, just isn't very satisfying, somehow."
And this is not a book to read when you're hungry - the loving descriptions of feasts could be used to entice the appetite-suppressed to dine lavishly.
I was relieved that the quest for the sword was finally over, and glad that Rudi's journey is not yet over. I really enjoy the Emberverse Stirling's created - it's rich and textured, layered and satisfyingly complex. I'm going to take a little break before reading the first in the third trilogy, in part to concentrate on less engrossing and taxing tales, and in part because deferring the reading myself is less frustrating than waiting for their release! - Alex
The Emberverse novels of the change:
1. Dies the Fire
2. The Protector's War
3. A Meeting at Corvallis
4. The Sunrise Lands
5. The Scourge of God
6. The Sword of the Lady
7. The High King of Montival