The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis

Firstly, thank you to and Flame Tree Press for the ARC of The Heron Kings!

And here we go with the inaugural book review on Britta Reads Things.

I wanted to love The Heron Kings, let's get that out of the way from the get go.

The world Lewis has created is fascinating, from the dueling crowns at the top to the day-to-day struggles of the little guy at the bottom. It is easy to believe in Bergovny and Argovan, thanks to Lewis’ deep dive into the history of the struggle between the lands, and “boots on the ground” approach to POV characters.

Characters are not the problem with The Heron Kings, as we’re introduced to Alessia - a former novice turned physic/bandit, Ulnoth - a peasant farmer terribly wronged, Corren - our military tactician and Vinian - spy mistress, overall badass.

One absolute strength of the text is the flexibility of those characters and their moral alignments. It is not as easy to place Alessia into a lawful good category, when her arrows fly true and her moral compass is constantly being tested. Nor is it a simple matter to place Ulnoth into a chaotic role when he is a) one of our underdog protagonists and b) struggling to recover from severe trauma. His heart is in the right place, his mind however…

The way Lewis fleshes out their struggles and has the characters overcome, or even fail, at the obstacles in their paths is wholly believable and it is in these moments that the work shines. Giving his characters realistic struggles, temptations and leanings towards evil creates an interesting conflict within their POV chapters, allowing the reader to relate moreso to their struggles. Our heroes are cast in grayscale, and even the character one can most easily assign the designation of “Big Bad Evil Guy” even offers up a solid argument for his actions (even if his execution is gruesome).

Where the book lost me was in it’s lack of ultimate dedication to these excellent characters, their own plots weakened by the introduction of minor actors taking major plot points (example: a love story that could be altogether erased, or re-assigned to Alessia and the object of her affection). Backstories are brushed over, or shared as a last minute device to introduce a key player in the third act, minimizing their impact on the whole to the character they attempt to build out.

Vinian, for example, I felt deserved more exploration. A common-born spymistress trusted by a queen, respected by a general, and feared by her contemporaries. We, as readers, were given many hints as to her past, current aches and woes, yet when the backstory was finally revealed it seemed to hold little weight with the character’s current positioning within the world, as she herself brushed over the facts of her past. Yes - explanation as to how a common born woman rose to high positioning is justified and interesting, but give us more. How exactly did she become held in such high regard by a general and a fellow spymaster - beyond the obvious cast of her innate and trained skills? What, exactly, lead her to make the choices she did? Lean in to the relationships that set her on this path.

As with Vinian, we are also treated to a few abandoned plot-lines that I felt deserved more exploration. Mystery illnesses and unrequited lust - not that a medical diagnosis and a love scene are wholly necessary, but they would help to add a sense of completion to their respective character arcs.

On the whole, The Heron Kings is a fine entry into the greater grimdark lexicon. An interesting plot populated with engaging characters always makes for a solid read. Some tightening of arcs and voice is needed for this book to make the jump from Fine to Good, and deeper exploration of drives, desires and demands moving forward along the peninsula could take the book from Good to Great.

I look forward to reading more from the author, as his work has solid bones and he clearly puts deep thought and critical concern where it counts.

Besides, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a good ‘rogue bandits versus the crown’ storyline?


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