Edward the Third stands in the burnt ruin of an English church. He is beset on all sides. He needs a victory against the French to rescue his Kingship. Or he will die trying.
Philip of Valois can put 50,000 men in the field. He has sent his priests to summon the very Angels themselves to fight for France. Edward could call on God for aid but he is an usurper. What if God truly is on the side of the French?
But for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell and take an unholy war to France . . .
Mark Alder has brought the epic fantasy of George R.R. Martin to the vivid historical adventure of Bernard Cornwell and has a created a fantasy that will sweep you to a new vision of the Hundred Years War.
The Antichrist is the single most moral character in this book.
That sentence should defy all logic, and yet, Alder has done such a convincing job of laying out his version of Christianity that it actually winds up making perfect sense. In this world, as the story goes, Lucifer was the creator, and reveled in the joy of his creation, while the angel Ithekter wished to be worshiped. Eventually, Ithekter overthrew Lucifer, declared himself God and put Lucifer under the watch of his gaoler, Satan in Hell. Those who worship Lucifer claim that Christ was not the Son of God, but rather Lucifer in mortal form. Further, they go on to mention that demons are fallen angels, where devils are creatures “created from spite and envy.” And ever since that day, there has been civil war in Hell – between Lucifer, his demons and followers who would only wish for peace for all and Satan, who wishes to keep him contained. Lucifer is now trying to escape hell so he can set Earth back to what he created – as opposed to what the usurper has ultimately wrought on it.
And although this sounds sacrilegious at first, there’s something very respectful about all of this. The so-called “cult” of Lucifer isn’t an attack on Christianity at all. If anything, it comes across as Christianity in its most idealized state: equality for all, and no man above another. Ultimately, this retelling feels like a condemnation of the Catholic Church during this time period: the Angels only help those who build the biggest and the most beautiful temples, and God’s favor can literally be bought. There’s much talk of the divine right of Kings and you see many instances of the Church using its power to trod upon the underclasses. And the squabbles of man – such as Edward and Philip’s struggles to control France – are almost equally found amongst those that serve god and all have their own agenda. Lucifer wants out of Hell. God wants the AntiChrist left alive while Satan wants him dead (“Servants often have different plans than their masters” is mentioned more than once, as is the notion that God likes to play the angels and devils off one another for his affections). The divine politics are easily as complicated as (if not more so than) the politics on earth. It makes for some fantastic reading.
In a lot of ways, this book is about faith to: the Antichrist (who I don’t want to spoil) is a very moral man and his faith is absolute. LIkewise, Montagu, Lord Marschall of England, is devout in his beliefs as well. He hates himself for what he has done, so seeks to damn himself – although in so doing, he is serving Lucifer, and arguably, the better team. We also have characters like Osbert the pardoner whose faith only extends so far as to supporting the side that can support him best. It’s all complex and well thought out.
This is a book I gravitated towards because the summary grabbed me, and it yet it wound up being so much more than I expected it to be. If you can open yourself to what the book is trying to present, I think you’ll find that this book is not only an engrossing read that is beautifully written, but it may even make you think too.
This is easily the best book I’ve read to date this year, and I can’t imagine it not making my Top 10 list. If this intrigues you at all, hunt it down (sadly, this book doesn’t have an American distributor yet – tips for locating it will be below) because it’s definitely worth the read.
Verdict: Buy It
Available: Now – If you want to get your hands on the book, you’ll need to look to UK distributors. Your best bets are Amazon.co.uk for a Kindle version or The Book Depository for a physical copy. Amazon sellers just aren’t going to be a help here.