Paul Kearney,
Ships from the West
(Victor Gollancz, 2001; Ace, 2003)

This is the fifth and final book in The Monarchies of God series. Having not read the original four I was wary of approaching this volume. I needn't have worried; it stands up very well as a book in its own right, although I image that given the choice one should read the entire series in sequence.

This is fantasy at the top end of the scale. Here you can retreat from the trials and tribulations of the modern world and enter a new realm. This for me is the attraction of the genre. You can enjoy Grisham and King and the like, but even in their fiction, the real world can be detected. Not that fantasy takes us completely away. The continent of Normannia is on the verge of war. The Ramusian kingdoms endure religious differences and the savage Merduks are lurking.

As always in reviewing a book one is torn between giving the flavour of the work and not spoiling the suspense, the plot twists and the outcomes for future readers.

The book abounds with well-drawn characters -- no easy task in the fantasy world. They are superhuman but remain plausible. We have the immortal shape shifting Aruan with his deadly army. We have struggle between good and evil and between the supernatural and the traditional.

This is a sort of Patrick O'Brian sea-faring adventure crossed with the fantastic world of Luke Skywalker but producing a complexly new and believable -- or as believable as possible in fantasy -- cast of characters.

This was a page-turner in every sense and I read it in two sittings. It might have been one but for having to work for a living.

If you enjoy fantasy you will love this book. If possible read the other volumes first but missing them is not an insurmountable obstacle.

One small request to this and other authors, a list of the characters at the front or back would help. The human mind can class Joe or Jack or Mary but in fantasy the names by their nature tend to unusual and we poor mortals can lose the plot.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 24 May 2003

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