Rich Horton Reviews For the Killing of Kings by Howard Andrew Jones

For the Killing of Kings, Howard Andrew Jones (St. Martin’s Press, 978-1250006813, $26.99, 368pp, hc) February 2019.

For the Killing of Kings, the opening volume of a new fantasy trilogy by Howard Andrew Jones, is exciting, absorbing, and a great deal of fun, and it ends on a cliffhanger, which is, perhaps, to be expected. It’s fairly traditional fantasy in form and action, with a small band of heroes (many of whom have no idea what they’re getting into) recruited to oppose treachery within their realm and a dire threat from without. There are great warriors and brilliant mages on both sides. Working within that quite familiar template, Jones rings some enjoyable changes – some original magic and some interesting worldbuilding (which promises to become more important in the rest of the series).

The book opens with the great archer Kyrkenall returning for his yearly vigil at the tomb of his friend N’Lahr, a great swordsman and the hero of their victory in the last war against the barbarian Naor. We gather that Kyrkenall regarded the truce with the Naor as a betrayal, and that the Naor are ready to invade again. Then we meet Elenai, a Squire of the Altenarai, the leading military force of the realm, as she assists Asrahn, the Master of Squires, in cleaning up prior to the celebration of the anniversary of the end of the war. So Elenai is there when Asrahn discovers that N’Lahr’s preserved sword, Irion, said to be the only sword that can kill the leader of the Naor, is a replica. Shortly later, Asrahn is murdered and Elenai finds herself in the company of Kyrkenall, who is falsely charged with Asrahn’s murder, as they are perhaps the only ones who realize that the leader of the Altenarai and the Queen are traitors. They escape into the Shifting Lands, looking for the true Irion, which may be found in one of the Fragments. (The geography of this world, and the reason for it, is only hinted at in this book, but will likely be crucial in later volumes.)

Meanwhile Rylin, a young man recently elevated to the highest ranks of the Altenarai, is recruited by the older Alten Varama, a brilliant woman known for her experimentation, to help investigate some things Varama finds suspicious – about Asrahn’s death, for one, and about the increased influence of the Mage Auxiliary under the Queen’s author­ity. Rylin spends much of his free time courting women, so he is soon assigned to seduce an old lover who had left the Altenerai to join the Auxil­iary – and before long Rylin and Varama are also on the run, having discovered some things the Queen and her allies didn’t want known.

The rest of the book follows the separate teams – Kyrkenall and Elenai on one hand, and Varama and Rylin on the other – as they make their ways to different objectives in the strange magical geogra­phy of this world. We meet intelligent dragonlike creatures; we learn about the dangerous “hearth­stones” that store magic and that may have some to do with the very structure of their world; there is a resurrection and some unexpected deaths, and plenty of action and excitement: battles and romance, treachery and honor. Jones is a devotee of the classic adventure stories of Harold Lamb and Robert E. Howard, and their legacies clearly are part of the warp and woof of his writing, to good effect. The book ends, as mentioned, on a cliffhanger – and I expect to be eagerly reading the next book when it appears later this year.

Rich Horton works for a major aerospace company in St. Louis MO. He has published over a dozen anthologies, including the yearly series The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy from Prime Books, and he is the Reprint Editor for Lightspeed Magazine. He contributes articles and reviews on SF and SF history to numerous publications.

This review and more like it in the April 2019 issue of Locus.

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