Kings of Morning is the fourteenth novel from Irish fantasy author Paul Kearney, and the third in The Macht series. It putatively concludes the story begun with The Ten Thousand dealing with the invasion of the Asurian Empire by the Macht, a warrior people modeled after Greek mercenaries circa 300 BCE.
Surprisingly historically accurate for fiction
The first book in this series, The Ten Thousand, is actually a retelling of an existing historical piece, Anabasis by the Greek historian and soldier Xenophon. It is the story of a group of ten thousand mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger to overthrow his brother, Artaxerxes II of Persia. The plot of the book pretty much matches the historical events exactly. While the events of Kings of Morning bear no resemblance to anything those soldiers did after the events of The Ten Thousand, they certainly could have followed from what happened.
I am a student of history, and I started in Classics, so while my knowledge of Greek history isn’t that of an actual expert, I can confidently say that everything in Kings of Morning about the superiority of the Macht forces militarily and the decadence of the Asurian empire certainly fits in with the cultures of that period of Ancient Greece.
Fantastic action scenes
As you might expect from an author doing fantasy retellings of Greek military history, there is a strong emphasis on warfare and combat in this book, and Kearney does a fantastic job. While the “military society whose dedication to the arts martial place it in a position to completely overwhelm even superior numbers through skill and discipline” is pretty much a trope by this point, Kearney manages to keep it fresh and interesting throughout.
He is also able to capture the method of recounting combat that was done so well in the epics of Homer and Aeneas: broad strokes to set the stage, and then zooming in on some individual encounters, giving a strong sense of the scope of what is happening without getting bogged down in dealing with dozens or hundreds of people in a sentence.
Warriors and philosophers
Another thing Kearney does to great effect in this book, hearkening back to the classical tradition, is his portrayal of several of the kings, generals and soldiers as being much deeper than simple men of war. Corvus and Rictus often think about the far-reaching consequences of their actions, the meaning of a life of war and battle and death, what might be waiting for them if they could ever put down their swords. It lends a lot of gravitas to the characters.
As well, the storyline running alongside that of Corvus, centering around a Prince of the Asurian Empire on the run from the political infighting of the imperial family in the face of the invasion, has similar depth. On the run out in the wild, Rakhsar comes to a better understanding of the lives of the common people he’s taken completely for granted. Altogether, it weaves some social commentary, some philosophy and some great military action into a fantastic story.
Why should you read this book?
Paul Kearney has a lot to offer for any fan of military history, Roman or Greek history, or fans of low magic, character driven fantasy. His actions scenes are great and his characters are well-formed, engaging, and have deeper thoughts than their surface role in the plot. He keeps things moving well, staying with important things until they are properly described, neither rushing past the major points nor lingering on minutiae. It is a fine line, but Kearney walks it very well.
Obviously, if this sounds interesting, you should start with The Ten Thousand and read on from there.