Scourge of God Review
The Scourge of God, sequel to S.M. Stirling’s The Sunrise Lands, and a part of the larger Change series, picks up where Sunrise Lands left off. Our protagonist, Rudi Artos MacKenzie, is on his hero’s quest to the fabled island of Nantucket to retrieve the Sword of the Lady (which happens to be the title of the next book in the series), with his companions from the previous book. As with any true heroic journey, this Fellowship of the Sword encounters dark mages, tyrannical despots, rescued heroines, and suffers deep wounds and tragedy as they make their way from the battlegrounds of Idaho through the Sioux Country to lush Iowa, which is ruled by a mad hereditary governor.
Meanwhile, as our heroic fellowship journeys east, their parents and other kin are engaged in a war with the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) and the Republic of Boise. The bloodthirsty and murderous CUT is led by Sethaz, who inherited the rule of this cultish, Luddite theocracy upon the death of The Prophet (the equally bloody and Luddite Ted Kaczynski). It is in this character, Sethaz that we begin to see where Stirling is taking the book series. Sethaz uses mystical powers to bend others to his will. He also has the apparent ability to direct the priests of his cult from far distances. This introduction of obvious mystical powers into the non-technological world of the Change moves the series from a straight-up alternate history/Sci-Fi story to more of a fantasy realm. Sethaz reminds me of the Thulsa Doom/Thoth-Amon character from the Conan the Barbarian stories; an evil sorcerer with a cultish following who is able to influence people with his mind. To that point, our hero, Rudi, is taking on Conan-like properties as he journeys across the old United States. Also, we see the appearance of the deities protecting/leading/encouraging our heroes. The passages where Odin All-Father and the Virgin Mary (not together), appearing to Rudi and Father Ignatius, respectively, sent chills down my spine, as it became obvious that we were entering into a fantasy realm where the men and women of the world were becoming the playthings of the Gods.
Stirling’s Scourge of God is a very good continuation of his Change books. The heroes are heroic, the villains are evil and worthy of killing, and the newly developing societies that Rudi and his fellowship encounter are interesting, spiritual in their own unique ways, and actually quite logical, given the circumstances of the Change. The book ends with Rudi on an individual mission upon which his friends’ lives are in the balance, and the weight of the world is on his shoulders. Just the perfect ending for a heroic fantasy. As I said at the end of the review of the Sunrise Lands: I cannot wait to start the next book in the series to see what happens. Stay tuned…