Book Review 2010 #8: The River Kings’ Road

A book I received due to the graces of Amazon Vine…


An impious mercenary witnesses, and avoids an attack in a bordertown between two fractious medieval fantasy kingdoms, Langmyr, the site of the attack, and their implacable enemy, Oakharn. Also surviving the attack are a young woman, and the heir to the Oakharn lord killed in the massacre.
This sets the stage for a complex web of alliances, struggles and strivings, as forces not only on both sides move to investigate and take advantage of the attack, but powers from beyond Oakharn and Langmyr as well. Godtouched champions of good and light maneuver against each other, and those caught in the middle simply try to survive, and wait to see if this massacre will lead to yet another conflict on already blood-soaked ground.
Such is the fodder for River Kings’ Road, a fantasy novel debut by Liane Merciel. The broad lines of the world and conflict she creates is nothing new for experienced fantasy readers. Medieval fantasy, magic based on devotion to one of a pantheon of deities, the basic trappings of a typical fantasy world. Digging a little deeper, the novel features a variety of multidimensional characters on a decidedly complex chessboard of groups seeking to quell or enflame, the fires of war and conflict between the two kingdoms. Merciel does a good job at the shades of gray between the the two characters who really are black and white. She also has clearly read and grokked the Anderson essay “On Thud and Blunder”. She gets underpinnings right that many authors completely and utterly forget. Horses in her universe, for example, are *not* treated as motorcycles. The medieval feel of the world is pervasive and palpable. Faith has a role in this world that feels authentic and nuanced rather than “Crystal Dragon Jesus” .
My only major complaint is that it is not extremely original. I’ve read much fantasy like this before, of varying qualities, degrees and shadings. Its familiar territory. Kingdoms with ambitious vassals, sorceresses, paladins, and so forth.
Oh, and the novel really could have used a map and a glossary or concordance. While these two features in a fantasy novel are practically cliche by this point, when you have a novel geography and world, it is often useful for really getting a handle on who is where, where they are going, and how people are related to each other.
It’s a decent debut, even if not groundshattering. Merciel has ideas here that I would like to have explored further, and I hope her novel does well enough that readers such as myself will have the opportunity to discover them.