Book Review: A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling

Posted March 9, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling
Genres: Action, Adventure, Alternative History, Dystopian, Military, Science Fiction
Published by Roc on September 5, 2006
Pages: 497
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library


In the tenth year of The Change, the survivors in western Oregon have learned how to live in a world without technology. But a confrontation between the forces of those who would rebuild the world peacefully and the feared Protector, who will use whatever means at his command to extend his power, threatens to plunge the entire region into open warfare.

Also by this author: Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, The Scourge of God, The High King of Montival

Third in the Emberverse science fiction dystopian series of an alternative history for the world and revolving around the survivors of an EMP.

It’s 2008, and it’s been seven months since The Protector’s War, 2.

My Take

Oh. My. God. Make sure you have a TON of tissues before you finish this. I cried great gulping buckets. Even now, just thinking about it has me breaking into tears. A neighbor showed up at my door and was surprised by how much I was crying. Fortunately, she’s a reader, so she understood completely. And I really don’t see why Stirling had to end it like this. Maybe it’ll make more sense in the next story, The Sunrise Lands.

Jesus, after what the Protector planned for the Lorings and company and what he did do to the Pride of St. Helens captain, he’s got a nerve thinking he’s entitled to the ship.

It’s a world where someone who knows basic skills like farming, gardening, hunting, crafts, engineering, working with mechanical wonders is a treasure. It’s a world where most people work for someone else in exchange for food, shelter, and protection. Many hope to save up a small stake so they can afford to stock their own farms. When someone like Sam comes along, the situation makes you appreciate a good teacher (and lord) as he explains how and why he’s doing what he’s doing for the farm. Which reminds me of a curious thought I’ve had: how do you determine how much wheat, vegetables, meats, etc., a family needs when you have to produce it all yourself and not rely on driving to the store?

I am surprised that the Mackenzies don’t have scouts out around Dun Juniper after events in The Protector’s War. If ever there was a lesson in ambushes on friendly territory!

Oh, lol, I did like Mike’s summing up of Jeff Wereton’s parental origins. Then he sums up Arminger and the whole Association set-up. You’ll laugh. Then there’s Nigel and how sweet was the task that kept him at Dun Juniper!

I like the surprises Mount Angel has in store. I’ve always coveted my own hidden passage after growing up with Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase. Then there are the plans Stirling has in store for young Rudi as well, the way he’s going on about him. And how much his enemies are admiring him. A Meeting at Corvallis provides a number of useful experiences for Rudi in how to govern a people and comparing the ruling styles of the Protectorate with his mother’s and Uncle Mike’s.

It’s rather funny how the Protectorate Church demonizes the Mackenzies and brings back the “old” prejudices against gays and people not of the state religion.

Jesus. Juney talks about loosing 130,000 arrows in one 10-minute attack, and that the Mackenzies have more. Enough more that those 130k arrows are nothing.

For obvious reasons, I’ve hated Tiphaine. And, I’ve had to revise that hate when I see the changes she makes in her new demense. If only more of the so-called lords had behaved this way… It also seems that she doesn’t like the Lord Protector’s policies, although she is loyal to Sandra. Well, no one said Tiphaine was a stupid woman.

Oh, boy. Books must be in worse shape than I thought as Rudi talks about how much he loves Donan Coyle.

There are some major battles in this: plenty of action with good tactics, handy weapons, and some useful ambushes. The one at the end is quite decisive and had damn well better be worth it!

The Story

The Protector has been having a bad spring with too many setbacks, and it’s all the fault of those Englishmen, the Bearkillers, and the Mackenzies.

Juney, on the other hand, is ticked that people are impugning the honor of the Clan by mistreating Matti.

Pro-Protectorate Corvallans are about to sell the city out to the enemy in exchange for being a charter city. How long that would last is anyone’s guess. They’re also much too supportive of this new concept of a “select militia”. It says something that Mike is against it as he’s so angry about constantly being the buffer for Corvallis.

The Characters

Clan Mackenzie

Dun Juniper is…
…HQ for the Mackenzies and home to Juniper Mackenzie, the Wiccan Priestess of the Goddess and the Chief of Clan Mackenzie. The core group of the Clan were friends and/or fellow members of the Singing Moon coven. Rudi Mackenzie is her heir, her son, and the now-acknowledged son of Mike Havel. He’s also Matti’s friend. Epona is the wild horse who took to Rudi in The Protector’s War. Saladin is Matti’s unfriendly cat. Old Cuchulain sired puppies: Ulf and Fenra.

Chuck Barstow is the Clan’s Second Armsman, the High Priest for the Dun, and Lord of the Harvest. Judy Barstow is his wife, a registered nurse, and High Priestess. And she hates Matti. Aoife Barstow (the former Mary) and Daniel Barstow are what’s left of their fostered children, the ones rescued from the schoolbus; they are Rudi and Matti’s bodyguards. The third one, Sanjay Barstow, died in the raid in The Protector’s War. Liath Dunling (she used to be Jeanette, Melissa’s niece) is Aoife’s romantic partner.

Uncle Dennis is the oldest in the Dun at 58 and is a friend of Juniper’s from the time before. He’s the chief brewer and distiller, wood carver, and leatherworker. Sally is his wife. Andy and Diana Trethar once ran an organic grocery store in the city; now they prepare food for the crowd.

Jack, Burach, Laegh, and Devorgill will help hunt for Rudi. Willow, Otter, Finn, and Liam are some of the schoolchildren taking part in one of the school classes: archery.

Colonel Sir Nigel Loring (he was with the SAS for 22 years) wears a kilt these days. Makes sense since he’s engaged to Juniper. Maude was his beloved wife who died during the escape from their English prison. His son, Alleyne, who had been a re-creationist before the Change, is keeping company with Astrid, and Sergeant “Little” John Hordle, who’s keeping company with Eilir, are the Englishmen who escaped King Charles III and thwarted the Protector in The Protector’s War. Hordle’s father ran the Pied Merlin when he was a lad.

Dun Fairfax was…
…the Fairfaxes‘ farm before they died when their insulin ran out. Now Sam Aylward, a.k.a., Aylward the Archer, a former SAS who was hiking through Oregon when the EMP hit, is its lord. He’s also the Clan’s First Armsman due to his archery skill and his greater skill at building bows. He was once part of Sir Nigel’s unit. His current life, growing his own food and protecting his own, is his idea of bliss. Melissa is his wife and High Priestess of the coven at Fairfax. Tamar is her daughter while Edain is their son. Fand is their youngest. Other kids include the Smiths and Dick. Garm and Grip are their dogs. Kate works the dairy on the farm. Larry, a former bookstore owner, is now the shepherd. Harry, oops, sorry, Húrin (he’s Melissa’s nephew) and Miguel Lopez are farmhands. Henry is Sam’s best riding horse.

Dun Laurel is…
…the newest of the Clan duns with 120 inhabitants. It’s where Juney will meet with free-tenants or itinerants in the Protector’s territory to speak of alliances. Rogelio is one. It’s a daunting meeting as Juney refuses to be anything but honest.

Sutterdown is…
…the only town in Mackenzie territory. Tom Brannigan is the mayor, High Priest, brewmaster, and vintner. His Special Ale is famous. Mona is his wife and the High Priestess.

Dun Carson is…
…the old Carson farm. They were burned out and decided to join with the Mackenzies since their own people couldn’t get up the energy to come to their aid. Cynthia Carson is part of the First Levy and eager to continue taking her revenge.

The First Levy are the best trained of the Clan.

The Bearkillers in Larsdalen are…

…a mercenary group, a.k.a., the Outfit, that Mike Havel, a former Force Recon Marine who was a pilot when the EMP hit, assembled, protected, and taught until they got to the Larssons’ farm. Now he’s Lord Bear and married to Ken’s daughter and Eric’s twin, Signe. They have two twin daughters, Mary and Ritva, and Mike Jr., their son. Gustav is Mike’s horse. Eric Larsson (Kenneth’s son and Mike’s brother-in-law and right-hand man) and Luanne Hutton (Will and Angelica’s daughter) are married. Billy is their oldest; Ken is another son. Ken Larsson, their father, was a CEO and engineer back in the day. Today he’s re-inventing the wheel and married to Pam, a vet and the swordmistress. They have two children as well. Will Hutton was a horse wrangler pre-Change, and now he’s Mike’s left-hand man; Angelica is his wife and handles logistics. The Huttons also run the Outfit’s breeding and training programs. Lucy is young Mike’s nanny. Talli is one of the cooks.

Aaron Rothman is their gay primary doctor for Larsdalen; he was rescued from cannibals but not before they ate his left foot. Captain Sarducci has been working with Ken on some field artillery.

The A-listers are the full-time Bearkiller warriors, the elite of the Outfit. Lieutenant Smythe rides in with an unwelcome message. Captain Dinsel, Angie, and Wendy are more of the warriors.

The Bearkillers own a substantial house, think of it as an embassy, in Corvallis for those times when they must come to the city to do business. Hugh Zeppelt was the custodian for the farm at Larsdalen pre-Change, now he’s the caretaker for the Corvallis house. Jolene is one of the house staff.

Dúnedain Rangers are…

…a newly formed troop of the younger ones (each Ranger must know Sign and Sindarin) and led by the very skilled and virginal Astrid Larsson, Ken’s youngest daughter, along with her soul-sister, Eilir, Juniper’s deaf daughter. Astrid has an obsession with everything Lord of the Ring. Asfaloth is Astrid’s horse and Celebroch is Eilir’s. I’m guessing that Alleyne and John are members along with Crystal, Miniel, Sadb, Kevin Lewis (he’s their medic), Dathar, and Pilimór.

They’ve recently set up a base camp at Mithrilwood, and they’re hiring out as merchant escorts and patrolling isolated stretches. They are receiving payments from the Bearkillers and the Mackenzies.

Mount Angel is…

…the Benedictine abbey where Abbot-Bishop Dmwoski leads. His horse is Sobieski. The Bearkillers follow him for their religious leanings. Father Andrew is one of his. Father Plank is the prior. Sister Antonia is geared up for war.

Corvallis is…

Oregon State University with their Faculty of Economics the steering committee for the territory. They’re split between those wanting to placate the Protectorate and those who don’t trust ’em. Their primary goal is to maintain the school’s teaching functions and not let knowledge die out. Thomas Franks is their president.

Major Peter Jones leads their militia and is inclined toward the Bearkillers and Mackenzies. Pre-Change, he’d been a Society fighter and teaching assistant in the Faculty of Agriculture. Nancy is his wife, and they have kids as well. He’ll end up leading the First Corvallis Volunteers with Edward Finney. Seems there’s a loophole in the Corvallis charter.

Lieutenant Sally Chen, Jack, and Hillary are guarding one of the gates. Detective Simon Terwen is not happy.

Master William Hatfield is a tanner and the Dúnedain will stay with him. Harry Simmons and Dave Trevor are Hatfield men — lucky and unlucky — who will guard the prisoner. Bob Norton was an organic farmer pre-Change; his family includes Karen, Danny, and Karl.

Master Turner is a banker/”venture capitalist” partnered up with Mistress Kowalski who sells handlooms and spinning wheels. You’ll remember that they tried to entice the Sutterdown people into accepting her rent terms for a putting-out system that Juney quashed after a consult with Nigel in The Protector’s War. They’re dealing with the Protectorate and more interested in their own fortunes than their territory’s.

The Finney farm was…
Luther‘s place. He had been Juney’s friend and used to board Cagney and Lacey for her over the winter months. He died some months ago at the end of the harvest, and now his son, Edward, former Air Force, along with his wife, Gert, and Hans and Simon, their sons and Susan and her husband and daughter live there.

CORA stands for…

…the Central Oregon Ranchers’ Association, a loose organization of ranchers. John Brown was one of the movers behind CORA.

The Portland Protectorate Association encompasses…

…Portland and its surrounding area. But it’s not enough for The Protector, the former history professor, Norman Arminger, who has been influenced by the Norman duchy and its offshoots from Ireland to Sicily and the Crusaders. He’s absorbed many of the members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), now called the Society (his Society name was Blackthorn of Malmsey), and many gang members. Princess Mathilda, a.k.a., Matti, is his and Lady Sandra’s daughter currently held hostage by the Mackenzies.

Castle Todenangst is…
…where Arminger bases himself for this story. And how appropriate that angst is part of its name. Sir James Wickham is guarding the reserve herds when he sees and covets Epona. Lord Burton is the officer of the day.

Conrad Renfrew is the Grand Constable, Count of Odell, and Marchwarden of the East. His wife is the Lady Tina. Sir Buzz Akers is one of the Constable’s own vassals. Sir Richard Furness had been a combat engineer in the National Guard. Sir Malcolm, Baron Timmins’ son, seems intelligent and ambitious.

Katrina Georges was Tiphaine’s secret lover and was killed by Astrid when the Mackenzies thwarted Kat and Liu’s attempted kidnapping. Tiphaine Rutherton is a skilled warrior, assassin, and bodyguard to Lady Sandra, eager for her own vengeance. Joris Stein has too big an ego. Enguerrand, Ivo Marks, Ruffin Velin, Raoul Carranza, and Herulin Smith are part of the kidnapping crew — only Ivo and Ruffin will get knighthoods, to Joris’ dismay. Joyce is Ruffin’s leman; Debbie is Ivo’s.

Lord Jabar Jones is Baron Molalla, his wife, the Lady Phillipa, and their son, Lord Chaka, have a lot to answer for after events in The Protector’s War. Lord Emiliano Gutierrez, Baron Dayton, is appointed the Marchwarden of the South, replacing Baron Liu whom Eilir had killed. The belly-ringed Lady Dolores is his wife; Julio is his heir. Lady Mary, the dowager Baroness Gervais, wants vengeance. Her brother, Sir Jason Mortimer of Loiston manor, is a hothead.

Melford was another idiot. Sir Ernaldo Machado is a good man, but Lord Piotr Stavarov, Old Stavarov’s son, likely won’t listen. Alexi Stavarov is Baron Chehalis, Marchwarden of the North. The Wereton family hold Laurelwood Manor by knight-service to Lord Harrison Decard, the Baron of Forestgrove. And Sir Jeff Wereton is gonna get spanked.

Their church, the Orthodox Catholic Church, is led by Leo, their pope who’s gone over the edge. Father McKinley is a Dominican and the personal “confessor” for the Protector and his family. Their Holy Office of the Inquisition reports directly to the Protector. Bishop Mateo (a junior social worker in the old days) foams off at the mouth. Bishop Landon Rule had been a good man before the Change; he ordained Abbot Dmwoski.

Domain of Ath is…
…the reward Tiphaine receives at the end of her successful mission. Castle Ath is the seat but it seems that Montinore Manor is more livable. Richard Wielman has been the Lord Protector’s steward of this land. I think the greatly disliked Keith “the Pig” Anton is the bailiff’s son. Father Peter is the resident priest. Delia Mercer is a free tenant in Montinore where her father has a mill; she fulfills the family’s boon-work three days a week for six months of the year by serving at Castle Ath. It’s a shame because she’s an amazing seamstress and embroiderer. Her fellow weavers include Rose and Claire who’ll be teaching the new classes. Steve Collins is one of Tiphaine’s bond tenants. Bors and Fayard are two of Tiphaine’s men-at-arms.

The “gypsies” are…
…anyone who remotely looks and dresses like one. It’s a good way to hide if you’re a Wiccan. Rogelio and Estella Maldonaldo are conspiring with the Mackenzies and the Dúnedain.

The Protectorate has an embassy in Corvallis as well, and it’s headed up by Lord Carl Wythman. Baron Kramer whom Mike dearly wants to hang is also there.

The Pendleton area has…
…made a deal, and Sheriff Hank Bauer and his crew have aligned with the Protectorate. Sheriff Simmons.


Well, Italy at least. Cardinal Ratzinger is leading the Church there.

The Cover and Title

The cover features Michael Havel in his chainmail, holding his war ax, standing front and center with the battered skyline of Portland behind him. A team of horses is pulling a converted vehicle behind him on the left.

The title is a term in the treaty: A Meeting at Corvallis.

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4 responses to “Book Review: A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling

    • I’m not surprised, Felicia. Do know that they are fat books and Stirling is very descriptive. If you love a back to nature scenario with obvious good and bad characters in an apocalyptic setting, you’ll love this.

  1. I listened to the first bok in the series and really liked it so I bought the first couple of books. I never actually got around to reading the 2nd though. Your review just reminded me that I REALLY need to actually start reading them!

    • They are big books, so I can understand your holding back. Worse, Stirling manages to end them right where I NEED to know what happens next. The next one up…hoo, boy…an even more terrifying premise!

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