Book Review: "Sword of Hemlock" by Jordan Maclean
Sword of Hemlock by Jordan MacLean is an intense story. Although the prologue is great and hints at things to come, what drew me into the story was the first chapter. It establishes what the characters including Renda, a Knight of Brannagh, and daughter of Lord Daerwin, Sheriff of Brannagh, will face and the price it will cost them.
One of the interesting dilemmas that Renda, faces throughout, is at the beginning of the book she wished that the war (which lasted over 500 years) was still going on, even though her squire Gikka points out how many would suffer. She wonders several times if she is facing the consequences of that wish, but even then Renda canít deny the increased purpose and vitality she has, even as everything falls apart around her.
Although less angst ridden, Gikka is a great character. She has a interesting past as a thief and a con artist that she now uses to serve Renda and the family. Her skills are legend and she passes on her increased wisdom to a young man named Chul who is suffering with his own temptations to steal.
Chul is suffering a cultural crisis. In his own society he should have been put to death for his crimes, when he is banished instead he has to forge a new way of life while feeling all the time that he doesnít deserve it. His story serves is not important because of his role, but also serves within the larger discussion of displacement and uncertainty.
All of these characters and more have to face a creeping dark presence, which will stoop to killing children for itís nefarious purposes and a plague that seems incurable. Everything is overshadowed by a war that ended two years previously, but had shaped their world of hundreds of years and uniquely touched each characters life. What do you do when peace finally comes? But instead of this peace being about integrating back into society, instead it is facing new dangers, and perhaps these ones might not be able to be defeated by the sword.
Besides these problems the characters have to face increased political turmoil in a society that has known nothing but war, but isnít so sure that they are now better off. Although the war is over it left grudges and increased strife, and these new dangers only serve to set formerly peaceful groups against one another, the strains of finding new place in society, span religion, magic, and the harvest. The characters want to uphold the honor and history of Brannagh, but there are those who donít believe that Brannagh has honor and views the characters a self-serving at best, and oppressive and evil at worst.
This is not the end of the journey, but part of a larger series call the Lords of Syon. I am intrigued to follow these character on a their journey where for them, the rules have all changed. It is an engrossing read with a lot of unpredictable turns and interesting characters. The dark tone was perfect for this story, and the world in conflict.