The Sacred Throne Series
by Myke Cole
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
The Armored Saint / The Queen of Crows /
The Armored Saint is the first novel in a new fantasy series, which will be a trilogy I believe, although a third title has not yet been announced. I haven't bought the second one yet either, but it is very high on my wishlist. Myke Cole is either currently active, or maybe ex-miltary, and has been an intelligence officer during portions of his service. All of his other fiction has a military focus, even if there is also an SF or fantasy element. This is something a bit different, although there is an action component, and my perception of what type of story it would be changed at least three times. That is in no way meant to be a negative statement. I adore stories that subvert my expectations, as long as the changes are logical, and an extension of the already established character dynamics and world-building.
As in a lot of fantasy, the setting is somewhat medieval. The protagonist, sixteen-year-old Heloise, lives in a small village with her parents. Other villagers are farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen. Each family is identified by their trade. Heloise's father is Samson Factor, his trade described by the #5 definition of the term: a person who acts or transacts business for another; an agent. Most of the people are illiterate, so they hire Samson to record deeds and contracts, and keep family records of marriages, births, deaths, etc. Heloise's best friend Basina's father is Brandan Tinker. He makes metal tools and implements for others, and has an exclusive contract with The Order for weapons. His sons will follow in that trade when he passes. The land is ruled by the Emperor of the Sacred Throne, supposedly immortal after having died and been resurrected. Legend has it he defeated demons who tried to come into the world from the Veil, but he was successful in killing them and closing off the portal. His exploits are recorded in sacred texts known as The Writ. The Emperor's military troops, The Order, maintain discipline by rooting out any who practice wizardry, since that might provide the demons another portal into the world.
Some of the people, Heloise included, don't subscribe to the threat of wizardry. They feel it is just a tactic used to keep the populace under control. However, they have to refrain from saying anything about it publicly, since that might direct suspicion onto them, and everyone knows what happens to anyone accused of being a wizard. My first notion was there wouldn't be a fantasy element, that the stories of the Emperor and demons were just superstitious nonsense, that it would be an alternate world tale of Heloise successful in debunking the myths, of defying The Order and the Emperor. One fantastical (or maybe just alchemical) element introduced early is the use of seethstone, which when combined with water creates a chemical reaction that produces heat, which powers various machines and devices Tinker has built. That gave the story a bit of a steampunk vibe, but just barely. Once these plot points had been established, the story became more Heloise-centric, focusing on her internal struggles, her faith in The Writ and the Emperor contrasted with her atheistic attitude towards wizardry and demons. Also, her dilemma of not wanting to follow the path expected of women, to be subserviant to a husband, merely a housewife and producer of children. She doesn't want to marry, she wants to become Factor after her father, which might be a possibility since he does not have a son. I won't mention her most emotional quandary, because it would be a massive spoiler concerning what I consider to be the best written scenes.
When the fantasy element is finally established, it seems almost benign, nothing to fear. Without going into too much detail, I was taken by surprise when that notion was later subverted, and so was Heloise. Yet it afforded her the opportunity to prove her heroism. It may be a cliché, but this is an absolute emotional roller-coaster of a story. We go from Heloise's fear and anxiety concerning the basic nature of her world, move into a more serene contemplation of love and companionship with two wildly different people, back to fear when she realizes someone dear to her might actually be a wizard, then all of it crashing down on her with the realization that the demons are real. Not all of the individual components of the story have to make sense, since it is a fanstasy. All of that is just the framing device that tests the mettle of the characters, to propel them into facing their fears, to rise to the challenge of defending their home and their loved ones. Heloise makes quite a few mistakes along the way, battles are won but there are also losses. Her world is shattered in many ways, and she, her village, the entire country will never be the same. It would not be out of character for her to retreat into depression, to mourn her lost love. Instead, she seems prepared to carry the momentum forward to the next battle, and that is likely to come very soon.
Not sure when I'll get to The Queen of Crows, but I'll update this page when I do.
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