The Heron Kings By Eric Lewis
Flame Tree Press, pb, £9.95
Reviewer HT Scott
Sister Alessia is an acolyte and training physic. Whilst attending the injured soldiers of the war between Queen Engwara and King Pharamund, the temple in which she serves is raided. Led by Taurix he and his soldiers kill the sick and injured rival soldiers and tell the sisters that they are not allowed to choose sides. This means not helping those who need it and goes against Alessia’s beliefs. When more villagers arrive and are denied entry to the temple due to the threats of Taurix, Alessia’s faith is at odds with her morals. As a result, she leaves the protection of the temple and sets out in her own to help those in need with her physic skills. Armed only with a bow and arrow and her determination to help, she sets out alone.
Meanwhile, a peasant called Ulnoth is enjoying a night in the arms of his mistress when Taurix’s soldiers attack and burn his farm to the ground killing his wife and daughters in the process. Overcome with anger at himself for not being there and the grief of losing his family he takes to drinking. When a soldier comes into the tavern boasting about his raping and pillaging success, Ulnoth literally sees red and kills him. Running from the scene he stumbles blindly into the woods.
Alessia has now met up with a caravan of people fleeing the soldiers who are attacking and pillaging everywhere. She soon realises that these people are desperate and not to be trusted. She escapes into the woods and uses her bow to catch food. Hungry and hurt after days in the woods she chances upon the village of Firleaf which soon becomes her home. The villagers are pleased to welcome her and the skills she brings and they convert an old barn into a physic practice for her. Having already been ransacked by reavers the villagers think they won’t return but they do. In the commotion, Alessia escapes into the forest where she literally bumps into Ulnoth. Somewhat the worst for wear himself and still filled with regrets the two decide to travel together and help whoever they can along the way.
As the war tears the country and its inhabitants apart Queen Engwara’s spy mistress Vinian tells the queen that Taurix must defect to their side if they are to win the war. Queen Engwara is dealing with problems of her own, the bank is threatening to take away the funds they have been providing. She sends Vinian to persuade Taurix to defect and hopefully help win the war.
Alessia and Ulnoth are now leading several refuges to Wengeddy. Having intercepted the queens’ courier they find orders for an attack on the town. Arriving too late to help they witness a man running from the fray being chased by soldiers. Much to their astonishment, a flock of herons comes to the man’s aid hiding him from the soldiers. Alessia and Ulnoth save the man and take him along with them. The man, Corren is a deserter and wants no part in the war. Together, this company of misfits discover truths about war and how they are fought. Truths that could end the war but they will need help.
Fast-paced and gripping The Heron Kings is riveting stuff. Eric Lewis’ ability to take his reader in and entertain them is wonderful, at times I felt like there was actually a movie in my head. His characters are flawed, they are real people who act and react in human ways. I enjoyed the way that Alessia’s character is at odds with Ulnoth’s and it shows how very human they are. Theirs is a friendship with flaws that they tolerate for the greater good. All of the characters have character, good and bad. Lewis has used each of them to help craft his story perfectly. Often with fantasy novels, the world-building and lore are complicated. Lewis hasn’t done that, instead, he’s kept it very basic and that works to his reader’s advantage, you follow the story rather than getting confused by names and places. Having never read Eric Lewis’ work before I will now be putting him on my reading list. Definitely worth a read.