After a warlord slaughters her patients, Sister Alessia quits the cloister and strikes out on her own to heal the victims of a brutal dynastic conflict. Her roaming forest camp unwittingly becomes the center of a vengeful peasant insurgency, raiding the forces of both sides to survive. Alessia struggles to temper their fury as well as tend wounds, consenting to ever greater violence to keep her new charges safe. When they uncover proof of a foreign conspiracy prolonging the bloodshed, Alessia risks the very lives she’s saved to expose the truth and bring the war to an end.
In The Heron Kings, Eric Lewis has brought a really interesting narrative to life. It is a story of war and revenge, vigilante justice and self-discovery. The characters are fascinating, and the world building is really good, as well, making for a well-balanced book.
The Heron Kings is character-driven, and what I love about the setup is that, while for much of the story many of the characters are traveling together seemingly working toward a single goal, each person is also on their own individual journey. The two main protagonists are Alessia an Ulnoth: the former trying to find her way after leaving the cloister to help those in need, the latter looking for revenge against soldiers who attacked his village. They make a bit of an odd couple, which adds to the intrigue of the story when they are thrown together on this journey. Of course, they meet many others along the way who wish to join their cause, each with his or her own motivation and end goal in mind. This is the kind of story where the reader gets to know many characters throughout the book, and in a way feels very intimate. I enjoyed the closeness I felt to the characters.
Even though it was a bit small, I thought the world building was good. The history of the Kingdoms is demonstrated through the actions of the leaders: this is a time of war, and it shows. Tensions are high between the kings and queens, and it is the commoners who are caught in the crossfire. I like the unique setup of this world, and how the back and forth between ruling parties affects everyone else. This is a great medium for a growing story to branch out: people turning to mob rule, creating militias, and other groups for protection. Alessia, Ulnoth, et al, fighting the powers that be on both sides of the conflict. It creates a lot of action-filled drama, and makes for an intriguing read.
There was one noticeable flaw, in my opinion, and that was the fact that there was not enough tension-building from beginning to end. While there were pockets of intrigue and drama throughout the book, I would have liked to have had more buildup overall toward one larger goal. It felt as though there were a series of small climaxes, but having one peak to work towards would have added an extra layer to the story.
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Heron Kings. The story was interesting, the characters were easy to connect with, and the world building was very good. I recommend this book for fantasy readers.