Book Review: The Scourge of God by S.M. Stirling

Posted April 13, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Scourge of God 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 Scourge of God by S.M. Stirling
Series: ,
Genres: Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Published by Roc on September 2, 2008
Pages: 464
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library


Rudi Mackenzie - son and heir of the High Priestess Juniper Mackenzie and the Bear Lord Mike Havel - continues his trek across the land that once was the United States of America. His destination: Nantucket, where he hopes to learn the truth behind the Change, which rendered technology around the globe inoperable. Dreams, visions, and the accounts of those who dared to set foot on the island hint at forces beyond comprehension...and with the competing agendas for the future of the human race.

During his travels, Rudi forges ties with new allies in the continuing war against the Prophet. Presiding over his flock, the Church Universal and Triumphant, the Prophet teaches his followers as he has been taught: God has punished humanity by destroying technological civilization. Now, the Prophet's Cutters perform the "holy task" of destroying any technological remnants they come across, and those who dare use them.

But one fanatical officer of the Sword of the Prophet has an ever greater mission: to stop Rudi from reaching Nantucket - by any means necessary.

Also by this author: Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, A Meeting at Corvallis, The High King of Montival

Fifth in the overall Emberverse apocalyptic science fiction series and the second in the second trilogy in the Emberverse, The Change, which revolves around Rudi and his merry country-crossing disparate band that includes Mathilda, Edain with Garbh, Odard, Father Ignatius, Frederick Thurston, and the twins, Mary and Ritva.

My Take

It’s a terrifying start and only gets scarier. There is action galore, terrifying adventures, ambushes, torture, attacks, hair-raising escapes, horrible wounds, deaths, Western duels, chases, war. There are disasters and triumphs, times to mourn and time to rest. One mercy are those epigraphs at the start of some of the chapters that quote a ballad or poem written by Fiorbhinn Mackenzie in the first century CY. It helps when I’m hyperventilating over the action!

That battle to rescue Ingolf, Matti, and Odard is terrifying for what it reveals. The truth it displays about what motivates leaders of the CUT. It’s in the aftermath of this battle that Father Ignatius and Rudi wonder if their generation is moving back into the time of myths and legends. And Odard told Matti he loved her.

I do enjoy (and feel Rudi’s frustration, lol) Stirling’s minor conflict of Matti holding true to her faith and holding to her virginity for the man she marries while Rudi’s faith has no problem with casual, friendly sex. There are aspects to Rudi’s faith that I enjoy and his comments about the differences between Matti’s Christian faith and his own are hilarious. That bit about why Catholics think their God likes them to be uncomfortable, the time they waste on guilt.

Odard has the nerve to compare his dad to Chuck Barstow. I loved Rudi’s riposte: “…and he picked up a busload of stranded children…”.

Oh, lol, I guess Hordle was a Monty Python fan: “Nobody expects the Elvish Inquisition!”

It’s outnumbered they are and a bowman cries out that it’s simply an opportunity for more targets. Ya gotta appreciate a positive attitude…

Matti wonders how the Mackenzies and the Buddhists get the same answers as the Christians, and Father Ignatius essentially tells her that Christ’s Passion and Resurrection moved backward and forward in time. That it’s the only true myth, implying that the rest are simply myth. Figures.

Fred picks up some wisdom with their travels as he notes that the laws of a land are not what’s important but the type of men who rule that matter.

I can’t help but laugh about Winnemuca’s comment as well about the Mackenzie war paint:

“You white-eyes always go overboard with an idea once you steal it.”

Farmers today might be envious of Heuisink’s wealth in the Emberverse as he explains tax write-offs in the old days to Rudi.

Wow, Des Moines sounds incredibly impressive with its factories. It also sounds incredibly awful with the soot and smog of the coal.

And Rudi is not looking forward to more than a year of no sex.


The Story

A mystical rite among the clan’s priestesses expose the women to their own visions of the future, a prelude of what is to come for our brave band.

It continues with Rudi and the survivors planning to rescue their friends. It makes events at home seem idyllic, really, compared to what Rudy and company have coming up.

And the Boise regulars and Cutters are gathering…

The Characters

The company heading east
Rudi Mackenzie, a.k.a., Artos (and he’s riding Epona) and the Sword of the Lady, is the leader of this band of brothers with Ingolf Vogeler, the scavenging explorer as his second-in-command. Princess Mathilda Arminger is the heir to the Portland Protective Association who snuck off to join the troupe along with Sir Odard Liu, Baron Gervais, a.k.a., Chief Good Lance, a knight of the Association, who came to protect her and work his interests. Edain Aylward, Sam Aylward’s son, has brought his mastiff bitch, Garbh. Mary and Ritva Havel (the twins are amazing scouts) are Signe’s daughters and members of the D&uacutenedain. Captain Frederick Thurston is Martin’s brother, on the run from his father’s assassin. Knight-Brother Ignatius of the Order of the Shield of St. Benedict, the former Karl Bergfried, aided Matti in joining the band; Godfrey is his horse.They’re still the only ones who know the truth behind the assassination of Frederick’s father.

Alex was Odard’s valet who betrayed Mathilda, Ingolf, and Odard to the Cutters.

Clan Mackenzie

There are five priestesses presiding over this rite: Juniper Mackenzie who is also High Priestess, Chief, and Goddess-on-Earth; Sumina; Melissa; BD of the Kyklos; and, Signe Havel.

It sends chills down my spine every time I read the Mackenzie war chant:

“We are the point —
We are the edge —
We are the wolves that Hecate fed!”

Dun Juniper
Juniper is Rudi’s worried mother; Sir Nigel Loring is her husband. Judy Barstow is one of the priestesses and the chief healer. She’s married to Chuck Barstow who is now the First Armsman and the gardener who taught everyone how to plant and survive. Rowan is one of his sons. Oak, bow-captain for Dun Juniper, is one of their foster sons, and he’s married to Devorgill. They have three children: Lutra, five-year-old Laere, and a baby. Tamsin has sons now.

Dun Fairfax
Melissa is Edain’s mother, equally worried along with her husband, Sam Aylward, the now-retired First Armsman.

The Dúnedain in Mithrilwood are…
…Rangers who provide protection to merchants, travelers, and hunt down bandits. The group was influenced by Astrid née Larsson Loring, who was inspired by the Lord of the Rings. She’s married to Sir Nigel’s son, Lord Alleyne, and is their Hiril Dúnedain who leads the Rangers along with Eilir, Juniper’s daughter, who is married to the massive “Little John” Hordle. Húrin, Melendil, Morwen, and Aratan are part of the ambush in Pendleton.

The Bearkillers

Signe Havel, Mike’s widow, is the current regent for the Bearkillers. Eric Larsson, Signe’s twin brother, is the Bearkiller war-chief. Bill Larsson is Eric and Luanne‘s oldest son and became an A-lister this year. Mike Havel, Jr. is 14 now and part of the Allied army.

Mount Angel is…

…a military monastery led by Abbot Dmwoski.

Central Oregon Ranchers’ Association is…

CORA, a loose-knit organization of ranchers who have allied with Clan Mackenzie and the Bearkillers. John Brown of Seffridge Ranch is one of its leading members. Bob is one of his sons.

Corvallis is…

…a university town that has held onto its educational roots. Edward Finney is Luther’s son and allies himself with Clan Mackenzie. The rest of the town is somewhat divided between wanting to hunker down and not have to participate and going all in.

Kyklos is…

…is a “scatter of independent villages around Silverton”. Beatriz “BD” Dorothea runs the Plodding Pony service delivering high-value freight. She employs Rangers as escorts. On the sly, she collects information for the allies. She brings along her slow cousin “Hugh” on this trip. Chucho is one of her men.

The Portland Protectorate Association is…

…a lot gentler, even though it’s still a feudal society. Lady Sandra is acting regent. Lord Conrad Renfrew, Count of Odell, is the Lord Chancellor of the Association. Tiphaine d’Ath, Lady Sandra’s pet assassin and the former Girl Scout Collette Rutherton is the Baroness d’Ath as well as the Grand Constable. Lady Delia de Stafford is still with Tiph. Lioncel and Diomede are Delia’s sons and pages for Tiph. Armand Georges is Tiph’s squire; Rodard is his brother and both are nephews of Tiph’s dead love, Katrina Georges. Sir Ivo and Sir Ruffin.

Alexi Stavarov is a pig, and his son Piotr is worse. Cardinal-Archbishop Maxwell. Dowager Baroness Mary Liu is interfering in her son’s lands and will be having a very tense conversation with her overlord.

New Deseret is…

…the land of the Mormons, a.k.a, the Saints. Colonel Donald Nystrup is in command of the 2nd Cavalry; Bishop Nystrup and his daughter Rebecca whom we met in The Sunrise Lands, 4, is the colonel’s uncle and cousin. Nystrup believes that Martin won’t be keeping his father’s promises.

Native Americans are…

…a mix of whites and Native Americans. Typical of Change survivors where individuals joined the group or clan nearest them to survive.

Three Tribes are…
…allies of Clan Mackenzie and the Bearkillers. Winnemuca leads the contingent that comes to war.

The Sioux, Lakota, and the Seven Council Fires…
…follow the old ways with a number of ingenious ideas. Some of those ideas came from Ulagan Chinua, a Mongolian studying at South Dakota U, who built a ger. Uncle [John] Red Leaf is a blood brother, er, uncle, to Virginia. He has a BS in Range Science and is now the Kiyuska tiyospaye of the Ogallala and the Lakota tunwan. Rick Mat’o Yamni (Rick Three Bears) is his son. Sungila Win is Red Leaf’s wife. Winona is Red Leaf’s niece. Black Elk and Jimmy Many Coups take part in the duels. The Kit Foxes are a brotherhood that defends the tribal borders as well as the social organizers for dances, marriages, and more. Other societies include the Tanners and the Virtuous Women.

Chenrezi Monastery was…

…hosting a conference of Buddhist monks from all over the world when “the mother of all service interruptions” happened. Tsewang Dorje is Rimpoche, teacher. Master Hao teaches them their way of fighting. Mr. Ford runs Ford’s Khyentse Cowboy Bar & Grill where the troupe can get meat.

Powder River Basin is…

…located after the monastery in Wyoming and encompasses a number of ranches. Some have succumbed to the CUT while others are holding out. Virginia Kane‘s father, Dave Kane, was one who was holding out until he was cut down, a big wheel in the Powder River Ranchers’ Organization. Vince Rickover of the Bar Q is a greedy neighbor.

Lord Wanderer is a god who comes to Rudi in a dream with prophecy. And warns him that time is a serpent. A warning that ties in with what Father Ignatius and Rudi wonder about.

The Corwinites are…

…religious fanatics whose Prophet is possessed and intends to conquer North America. Sethaz is the nutjob Prophet (now that his stepfather died) of the Church Universal and Triumphant, a.k.a., the Cutters or the CUT. One of their goals is speeding up their breeding program. Jesus, they’ve got breeding pens! Kuttner was the spy at the Bossman’s house in Des Moines who betrayed Ingolf. General Walker will lead the armies.

Major Peter Graber, raised in the Houses of Refuge, is the intent soldier sent to capture Rudi. High Seeker Twain is possessed. Their scout is part of the Morrowlander Troop tribe and one of their best at tracking. Their next Seeker, Dalan, is almost more terrifying.

Rancher Jed Smith of the Rippling Waters ranch commands the levies from his ranch, Runamuk, and Sweetgrass. Ted, Andy, and Mark are his sons. His nephew, Jack, is an idiot. Lin, Dave Thorsson who’s a second cousin, and Artie are some of his men. I’m not sure if Katy and Lorrie are his wives or daughters.

The Houses of Refuge is where the Corwinites send the children they orphaned where they are indoctrinated into the religion.

The U.S. of Boise was…
…the assassinated General Lawrence Thurston‘s idea. Well, actually, he saw it as the kernel of a re-birth of a new United States. Everyone else adds on the of Boise. General-President Martin Thurston is his oldest son, and he’s thrown in with the Church with dreams of empire in his eyes. Colonel Jacobson is in charge of a unit of lancers.

Sergeant Rosita Gonzalez will lead her detachment in feeling out the troops, spreading the truth behind the assassination. Major Hanks, the engineering officer, will set up a network.

Pendleton is…
…another association of ranchers which gives refuge to bandits and pirates. Carl Peters is its bossman. He’s held onto power mostly through the loyal fanaticism of his Registered Refugee Regiment, men with special privileges who are unpopular with Pendleton’s citizens. Estrellita is his wife. Some say she’s the power behind the throne. They have two sons and Jorge is one of them. Rancher Sandy Jenson is an old customer of BD’s. George is one of his men and infatuated with the CUT religion. Captain Carlos da Costa is one of the militiamen. Ben Murdoch is a spy for Lady Sandra; he runs Murdoch and Sons, an importer. Sim and Stan are some of his day laborers.

Isherman’s shop, Weapons Shop of Isherman and Sons, is renowned for the quality of their work.

Rovers are…
…people, now outlaws, who barely survived the Change. They move from place to place and have very little. It makes them susceptible to any group who will offer them anything. Or they’ll take it.

Des Moines is…
…ruled by Tony Heasleroad, the bossman who sent Kuttner and Ingolf back east to bring back treasures (see The Sunrise Lands). His father, Tom, was the man who took out Alexandra’s father. The State Police are Heasleroad’s personal force. Captain Edgar Denson tells our troupe the rules when they enter. Captain Schlenker is with the Iowa National Guard and in charge at Hawarden. Sergeant Morrison is part of Schlenker’s command. Tancredo is a contact of Ingolf’s.

Colonel Abel Heuisink is a Farmer and Sheriff with land, the Victrix Century Farm, near Des Moines. Alexandra is his second wife; her father had been the legitimate governor until his “accident”. He’s the father of a close friend of Ingolf’s, Corporal Jack Heuisink. Jack is married to Cecilia and they just had another child, a son, young Ingolf. His sister Louise married Hauk, Sheriff Clausen’s son. George is a younger brother while Andrea and Dorothy are sisters. Francine and Marian are maids in the household.

Edain and Rudi are offended that one family has 50,000 square miles of land.

Changelings are the children born after the Change or too young at the time to remember the old world. The nemed is a circle of trees around a circle of grass with a stone altar at its center. Sindarin is the Elvish the Dúnedain speak amongst themselves, from the Lord of the Rings. An anamchara is a soul-sister or -brother, bound life-long to protect each other’s lives and secrets. Vakis are what they call evacuees in Iowa.

Seekers are war-priests.

The Cover and Title

The cover is an urban background of oranges, rust, and cream, of a city missing a span of bridge, the nearer end mounted on huge piers with Rudi standing with his back to us. He appears to be in black and wearing combat boots. An incongruous sight with that sword slung over his shoulder and his crossbow in his right hand.

I think the title refers to the church and its mad Prophet, The Scourge of God.

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