Book Review: The High King of Montival by S.M. Stirling

Posted June 24, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The High King of Montival 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.

The High King of Montival by S.M. Stirling
Genres: Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Published by Roc on September 7, 2010
Pages: 481
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Rudi Mackenzie journeys back to Montival with the Sword of the Lady, ready to face the legions of the Prophet. To achieve victory, Rudi must assemble a coalition of former enemies and forge an army that will rescue his homeland and tear the heart out of the Church Universal and Triumphant once and for all.

Also by this author: Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, A Meeting at Corvallis, The Scourge of God

Seventh in the Emberverse overall series and fourth in The Change subseries of this apocalyptic science fiction series revolving around Rudi Artos Mackenzie. It’s Change Year 24 and our year 2023.

My Take

The main characters in The High King of Montival are Changelings, the children born after that EMP took out the world’s technologies. They have never experienced that tech and look upon the stories their “elders” tell as fairy tales. They can’t tell the difference between those tales and those of dragons and Rings of Power.

Stirling does take some grandiose liberties with that sword. I’m not objecting as I enjoyed the challenges it presented Rudi, as well as the benefits it wrought. Still, it was “amazingly” miraculous, especially when Rudi held it to the High Seeker’s forehead. That poor boy. It helps Rudi remember absolutely everyone, to see over the land, to know all languages, to free the possessed, and to view the past or future.

This is a brilliant trip in so many ways and a great experience for Rudi, for he learns much of how others govern, the good and the bad. He’ll take these lessons home along with valuable allies. It also gives him time to learn about the sword. Some of it terrible, terrible and great, and some of it a blessing.

The Catholic priests in this are very able to twist events to suit their doctrine. It’s all in the hands of God, and it will be a Catholic God. I do prefer Rudi’s Old Religion with its incredible tolerance for the beliefs of others.

It’s a hard slog, convincing potential allies why they want to join with the Mackenzies and the PPA, and it provides Stirling with the opportunity to explain how the concept of Montival will work, how it will benefit everyone.

Lol, Bjarni adds an incentive to the Bjorning council meeting to hurry up the decisionmaking. Very clever. Mathilda lets us know the Bjornings have kept that Maine accent, lol. Later in the story, seeing the numbers that central America can field, Bjarni wonders why they bothered to come, but it’ll be an eye-opening trip for him.

This is a difficult time for Graber, a time for thought, of how to atone, how to rescue his family.

There’s a fascinating side trip up inside a highrise in Toronto where the Changelings get a glimpse of what their elders miss. I like that it makes them think of the future. Their own future in which they too will do grand things, their own grand things. It’s a trip that sets Bjarni to thinking about the future of his people.

Oh, thank god. I was so worried about the widowed Cecile Thurston. Seems she has an idea of the truth, and Astrid plans to do something about it with Eilir.

It’s an interesting combination: the men-conserving yet ambitious Martin Thurston and the Prophet who cares nothing for the lives of his people. Not like Rudi who will make Mark his uncle’s aide in an attempt to keep him safe.

Oh, you smokers will love the Richlanders. They grow tobacco and no one cares about the old days when they said smoking was bad for you.

I am in favor of the death penalty, and Rudi sums it up for me: “very odd, to make honest folk pay to support the wicked [in prison].”

The Story

The quest has lost a month and the town on Nantucket Island, but Rudi has gained what they sought: the sword of the Lady. A sword that is the only hope the Mackenzies and their allies have of defeating a force that is more than twice their size. A sword that leaves Major Graber with a life-changing decision.

At least Rudi’s possession of the sword means that the enemy’s hoodoo no longer works.

But all is not well in Norrheim, for the Bekwa are crossing into Maine, ready for war.

The Characters

Rudi Artos Mackenzie is of the Old Religion and the High King, the Ard Rí, acclaimed by all in his party. Epona is the horse he’s had since he was a boy. Mathilda Arminger, a devout Catholic, is the crown princess to the PPA, and betrothed to Rudi, her best friend since childhood. Father Ignatius of the Order of the Shield of St. Benedict is a Catholic warrior-priest whom Rudi will ask to be his Chancellor of the Realm. Edain Aylward Mackenzie, a.k.a., Aylward the Archer, is Rudi’s best friend and right-hand man. Garbh is Edain’s mastiff bitch. Mary and Ritva are his half-sisters; they have a shared father, the deceased Mike Havel. Ingolf Voegler is Mary’s husband. Frederick Thurston is the younger son of the murdered General Lawrence Thurston and married to the bloodthirsty Virginia Kane. The Southside Freedom Fighters are part of a tribe Rudi picked up outside Iowa in The Sword of the Lady, 6, and includes Tuk, Samul, and Rattlebones.

The Mackenzies and Their Allies

The Mackenzies are…
…followers of the Old Religion, and Juniper Mackenzie, Rudi’s mother, is the Chief of the Clan, their Witch-Queen, and Goddess-on-Earth. Sir Nigel Loring is her husband. Fiorbhinn is one of their daughters and a dab hand at songwriting. Maude is another daughter and both will be furious over missing the ceremonies. Sam Aylward is Edain’s father and the original Aylward the Archer. Dickie is his son, Edain’s younger brother.

Eithne is handfasted, to Edain’s relief, to Artan Jackson, a leatherworker.

The Bearkillers are…
…a.k.a., the Outfit, a military group assembled by Mike Havel right after the Change. It’s now led by Mike’s widow, Signe Havel. Mike Jr. is seventeen now, and an initiated Bearkiller. He likes Rudi a lot more than his still-jealous mother. The one-handed Eric Larsson is Signe’s twin and the Bearkillers’ war-commander.

The Dúnedain Rangers are…
…a group of young women and men who act as scouts and guards. They have a fascination with the Lord of the Rings — they refer to them as the Histories — and they all speak Sindarin. Aunt Astrid is married to Alleyne Loring, and she leads the Dúnedain. She’s also Signe and Eric’s sister. They have three children: Diorn, Hinluin, and Fimalen. Eilir is Juniper’s deaf daughter and a co-leader with Astrid. She’s married to Little John Hordle, Alleyne’s childhood friend. Hírvegil and Imlos are some of the Rangers.

CORA, the Central Oregon Ranchers Association is…
…a loose coalition of ranchers allied to the Mackenzies and Bearkillers. Rancher John Brown is one of its leaders.

Mount Angel is…
…a Benedictine monastery of warrior monks led by Abbot-Bishop Dmwoski. Their brothers are trained in a wide variety of skills with missions sent out all over the land.

The Seven Free Cities of the Yakima are…
…new come to the alliance. Zillah is one of the cities.

The Portland Protective Association (PPA) is…
…Matti’s inheritance, but her mother, Sandra Arminger, is the current regent, a cold killer who loves her daughter. Castle Todenangst is the government center and the primary home of the Armingers.

“…some says she’s a sociopath. Some say psychopath. Sandra says her chosen phrase would be ‘very focused’.”

Sir Joscelin is a Wereton of Laurelwood. Lady Jenhane Jones is Lord Jabar, the Count of Molalla’s, youngest. She is confidential secretary to Lady Sandra. Baroness Tiphaine d’Ath is the Grand Constable and supreme commander for the PPA armies. Lady Delia is still with Tiphaine and chatelaine of the castle.

The Sioux, Lakota, and Olgalla

John Red Leaf is the representative the Seven Council Fires of the Lakota send to negotiate with the Mackenzies and the PPA. Rick Three Bears is his son. Fox Woman is John’s wife. (We met them in The Scourge of God, 5.) Their land covers half the Dakotas; chunks of Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado; and a bit of Nebraska.

Idahoans are…

…fed up with the CUT and Boise. Sheriff Robert Woburn leads them and still feels a debt to Mike Havel and his Bearkillers over events in Dies the Fire, 1. His son Tom died battling the Corwinites. Eddie Running Horse is hoping to catch up on events in their lives.

Nantucket Island

There are three groups on the island: Rudi and his friends, the corsairs, and The CUT. The tribe Ingolf had met on his trip east three years ago includes Dove — and Ingolf’s young son. Kills Orca is Dove’s father and the chief of the Sea-Landers.

Hrolf “Blood Ax” Homersson, Ulfhild Swift-Sword, and Asgerd Karlsdottir are some of the Norrheimers who’d volunteered to come on this trip. Karl was Asgerd’s father, and he’d been a policeman in New Hampshire before the Change. Grettir, Hauk, Erik, Brynhildr, and Tóra are her siblings. Sigurd was her betrothed before he was murdered by the CUT. Now she and Edain have hooked up.

The Bjornings in Norrheim, Maine

Eriksgarth is…
…the steading of Godhi Bjarni Eriksson in what was Aroostook County; he’s also chief of the Bjornings and will become Bjarni Ironrede, Bjarni of the Iron Counsel. Lady Harberga Janetsdottir is Bjarni’s wife, and she’s had her baby, Erik Bjarnisson. Gudrun Eriksdottir is his sister. Erland Johnsson is birdmann, a guard in Bjarni’s service. Halfdan Finnurrson, Uncle Ranulf will end up staying behind, and Ingmar are some of the Bjornings who go to battle.

Kalksthorpe is…
…the steading that had been attacked by the Cutters and corsairs in what had been Robbinston, Washington County. Kalk the Shipwright is its leader. Karl is the fourteen-year-old door guard. Heidhveig is the Norrheimers’ seeress. Thorleif is her son. Gundridh Thorvinsdottir is her great-granddaughter.

Hrossings are led by…
Syfrid Jerrysson and Bjarni’s rival. He had been Erik’s friend and right-hand man who thought he should have become chief of the Bjornings and not Bjarni. Halldor is his fifteen-year-old son. Other steadings include the Wulflings, Verdfolings, and the Hundings who are led by Inglief.

Readstown in the Richland territory is…

…where Ingolf’s people are. Doc Pham is their doctor. Ingolf’s brother, Ed, is the sheriff there and is married to Wanda. Their son Mark is anxious to go off to war — he’s Ensign Mark Vogeler, First Richland Volunteer Cavalry now, and there is nothing Ed or Wanda can do about it but consign him to Ingolf’s care. The rest of their children include baby Jenny, young Ingolf, Dave, and Melly. Wilma. Samantha is a Wiccan and the Voegler’s housekeeper. Major Will Kohler, the local drill instructor and teacher of martial arts, is the temporary commander of the Readstown contingent. Colonel Ingolf will have to take command due to Will’s status.

Otter was Jake sunna Jake‘s wife, and she grieves his loss. She’ll follow Rudi back to Montival. Rudi and company have to impart the news of Pierre Walks Quiet‘s death which devastates his wife.

Sheriff Bill Clements is the high sheriff over all of them. Events in Iowa have them all up in arms, and the towns all around are gathering up contingents to send with Rudi. They include Dan Rassmusen in Fargo, Greg Johanson in Marshall, Carl Mayer in Nebraska, Andy Hickock in Kirksville, and McIvery in Concordia. There’s no more tolerance for Cutters here anymore.

The Provisional Republic of Iowa is…

…now led by the Regent, Lady Catherine Heasleroad, on behalf of her son, Thomas Heasleroad, heir to the Bossmanship (their story is primarily in The Scourge of God, 5 and The Sword of the Lady, 6). Abel Heuisink is a landed gentleman, a Farmer, and he’s the Chancellor helping Kate rule. Captain Dietrick is the commander of the State Patrol.


Dickie is a young man they meet outside Toronto and provides a thoughtful lesson for Bjarni.

Inspector James Rollins is the Canadian commander, soon to be made general. Premier Szakacs and Premier Wuthrich lead the territories of Moose Jaw and Minnedosa, but I’m not sure which.

The Dominion of Drumheller covers…
…the province of Alberta. Constable Ian Kovalevsky is with the Force (modeled on the Mounties) and perform the same sort of tasks as the Rangers. Led by Corporal Dudley, he and his fellow constables are charged with getting Ritva through to Montival. Premier Mah is the leader of the Dominion.

The Anchor Bar Seven Ranch is…
…within the Drumheller Dominion and run by Avery McGillvery, a captain in the South Alberta Light Horse Regiment, a Justice of the Peace, and a member of the Legislative Assembly. His father, Keith, was the ranch manager when the Change hit. It’s also an outpost protecting the Drumheller border. Naomi is Avery’s wife; Dirk and Amy are their children. Doctor Padmi Nirasha was part of a gang who raided the ranch years ago. Annie is one of the young girls on the ranch, and she fires a mean crossbow.

The Cutters are…

…followers of the Church Universal and Triumphant, which is led by the psychopathic Prophet Sethaz. The High Seeker in charge of the troop chasing Rudi is demon-possessed and turns out to be Bobby Dalan from Scrabbledown Ranch, now a five-year-old boy in the body of an adult. The man who had torn Mary’s eye out. Major Graber commanded the troop that has been hunting Rudi since The Scourge of God, 5.

The United States of Boise…
…joined with the Cutters once the current president, Martin Thurston, killed his father.

The Bekwa are…
…an Indian tribe stirred up by the Cutters, and they hate the Norrheimers.

The corsairs had…
…been on parole for their actions in The Scourge of God, 5, but their aid leads Rudi to change his decision. Abdou al-Naari is their leader. Ahmed ibn Abdou is is son. Jawara, captain of the Gisandu, had been Abdou’s friend.

Montival consists of “what the old world had called Oregon and Washington and parts of British Columbia. William the Great is the king of England and a friend of Sir Nigel’s. He’s also looking at the east coast of America.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a faded out landscape with a pale, pale blue sky, a mountain range in the background, and a withered grassy plain with a wrecked plane behind Rudi. Artos is in his combination leather and armor and what appears to be black combat boots, side-on to us, and holding the sword up in a ready position.

The title is what Rudi is acclaimed, The High King of Montival.

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