Although the battles are good and the campaign is gritty, this book really lacks emotion and momentum. It makes you feel like you marched 100 miles with a mouthful of dirt and a spearhead in your gut. What went wrong?
This is the finale of the Macht Trilogy, but it doesn't feel like it. It has the same characters as the other books, but there really isn't any kind of continuity aside from the battle campaign. (And then Corvus sacked this city... and then Corvus occupied this city... and then Corvus defeated this army...) There aren't any character arcs that continue from book to book and many of the important scenes are written so matter of factly, that they lack emotion.
Kings of Morning chronicles the bloody conquest of Corvus's Army as they attempt to extend their kingdom. The first 130 pages deals with a rival kingdom and how much it sucks to live there. A young boy, wrongfully accused of spying gets raped, tortured, and castrated for no reason. There is dissention within the royal family as well, and these things always get bloody. These scenes just feel thrown in there to make the reader hate these guys, so Corvus can be the good guy as he conquers their cities.
You should be able to describe a character without mentioning their job or what they look like. Unfortunately, this is almost impossible to do with the characters in these books.
My name is Corvus and I lead.
My name is Rictus and I stab.
We are soldiers and we do what they tell us to do.
I'm the bad guy and I torture little boys and beat and humiliate women.
There you have it.
Without deep characters, there is only one thing to root for and that's the military campaign of Corvus, which is pretty linear.
The battles and attention to detail regarding the campaign are great. Paul Kearney also paints a gritty picture of the life of a soldier. This is his strength and very few writers can do this. But there are not enough happy scenes to offset the torture, war, battle, dying, rape, stench of sweat, corpses, etc... The book is really dark. If a soldier marches 20 miles in the blistering desert sun and finally gets a drink of water, it should not taste like horse pee. And even if it does, it should taste wonderful to the character because it's keeping them alive. You need little happy things every so often or you'll just depress your audience.
Unfortunately, many of the dramatic scenes are mostly told to us and don't really unfold. The main story really isn't presented to us in a way that we can root for the characters. This is mostly about a linear military campaign.
This reads like a desert region in the Bronze Age. Soldiers march with spears and take on other cities. There is also very little detail about the cultures of each race. There're no fantasy creatures, magic, etc... It's pretty basic.
The action is epic, gritty, and leaves behind miles of corpses. There are fights, sieges, battlefields, armies on the move, etc... This is the strength of the book. You really get a sense of what it is like to fight in a battle line against a charging horde of enemies.
Kid Rape, Gore, Violence, Torture, Language... This book is pretty hard core and kids shouldn't read it.
The Macht Trilogy
The Ten Thousand was just OK.
Corvus was a Great Book.
Kings of Morning takes a big step backwards and is just OK.
This book has great battles and tactics, but it's lacking in a few major areas. The characters don't grow and develop. Many of the conflicts are resolved so quickly, that there is no drama or suspense. You just read, "And then these guys surrendered to Corvus." There should be a scene where Corvus can't afford to fight these guys because his men are exhausted and wounded, and can't waste the time or resources to fight them. Maybe winter is coming and the passes will be snowed in. Maybe another city will get reinforcements within the month, and they have to sack it as soon as possible. If they can't sack it soon, they'll be outnumbered 5 to 1. These perils should be explained to the reader and they should be given time to think about the consequences. This leads to suspense and drama.
Many of the characters lack personal goals outside of the military campaign. I know that this is hard to write with soldiers hundreds of miles away from home, but there's gotta be something in their lives besides sticking a spear into a rival soldier. Maybe two soldiers are competing against each other in enemies slain, scars, collected ears, or loot. Maybe there's a scribe in the company who is writing about the soldiers and they're all trying to find ways to separate themselves from the average grunt. Maybe there's a trash talking guy in the group.
The lack of character arcs also hurts. Maybe a new soldier who is deathly afraid of battle becomes a hero. Maybe a veteran loses his humanity because he has seen so much death. Maybe a hero loses a leg and has to deal with it. Maybe there's the guy who gets promoted to Captain, but isn't qualified. Maybe there's the guy who is qualified and gets overlooked...
Sadly, all of the characters in this book are flat.
Read this book if you like gritty chronicles of soldiers and epic battles.
Read this book if you like visceral and intense action.
Avoid this book if you can't handle kid rape.
Avoid this book if you need deep characters.
Avoid this book if you like high fantasy with magic and dragons.
If you enjoyed this book, read Hawkwood and the Kings by Paul Kearney or any of the David Gemmell books, especially Legend, Waylander, Sword in the Storm, Winter Warriors, or the Lion of Macedon. If you want more character, read the Blackhearts in the Warhammer Universe. If you want more fantasy and can handle evil characters, check out Malus Darkblade or The Grimblades, also in the Warhammer Universe.