The eighth book in Stirling’s post-apocalyptic Novels of the Change series is a mostly tedious wheel-spinning installment, with repetitive plotting and labored prose.
Stirling (The High King of Montival, 2010, etc.) began the Change series with 2004’s Dies the Fire, in which all technology on Earth suddenly stops working, and people have to adapt. Now the world has been reconstituted under a feudalistic system, complete with lords, castles, knights, squires and the like, and magic and prophecies play increasingly important roles in the story. After questing for several novels, nominal protagonist Rudi Mackenzie has finally retrieved the mythical Sword of the Lady and is working to unite disparate factions as part of his new kingdom of Montival. Rudi, also known as Artos now that he has ascended to the role of High King, needs as many allies as he can get in order to face down the forces of the Church Universal and Triumphant, an evil organization that uses mind control to keep its subjects in line and is bent on conquering all of what was once North America. The novel follows dozens of characters as they maneuver things into place for the big showdown, but it’s almost all set-up for a climax that never arrives. Stirling spends paragraphs describing the clothing and weaponry of his characters in agonizing detail, while moving the plot along at a glacial pace. Although there are some fun nods to fantasy fandom (among them a faction of warriors who base their entire worldview on the Lord of the Rings novels), the writing is mostly deadly serious and dull. Stirling whips up a couple of lively set pieces, including the aforementioned Tolkien acolytes liberating the captive family of one of the opposition leaders, but the plodding boredom far outweighs the intermittent excitement.
Dedicated followers of the series will likely want to see it through, but this installment doesn’t bode well for the books still to come.