Book review: Lord of Mountains

Every time I introduce a Pagan to the Emberverse series by SM Stirling, they curse my name.

This is not an unusual reaction and it’s one shared by non-Pagans, too.  I’ve lost seven copies of the first book in the series, Dies the Fire, because the persons who borrowed them from me lent them out to others.  And so on.  Then they all curse my name for turning them on to such an addictive series.  The series is addictive to Pagans because it spells out one of our fantasies – what would it be like if our religions were dominate in the community we live in?  Or at least one of the dominate religions? If our rituals, our ethics, our Gods were unabashedly the norm and seen as positive and vibrant and diverse.

The series primarily focuses on how the characters survive the loss of 600 years of technological progress after an event called The Change happens, which causes electricity, guns, explosives, and other methods of power production to stop working.  Approximately 90% of the population dies off and small bands of survivors form around charismatic leaders.  Some of those leaders are Wiccans and Heathens. Others are not.  (You’ll be amazed at what a troop of Eagle Scouts turns into)  What was the modern United States is now a splintering of isolated communities that look to the past for inspiration and knowledge of how to survive.

Book review for Tears of the Sun
Authors Books Change Opinions about Paganism

Lord of Mountains, the 9th book in this series, continues to paint our fantasy with likable and realistic Pagan (and many non-Pagan) characters set a generation after The Change.

Book:  Lord of Mountains
Author:  SM Stirling
Publisher: Roc
336 pages, Hardcover

This title will be released on September 4, 2012.

Available in hardcover, Kindle, and Nook, and audio book/CD formats.

Lord of Mountains is structured differently than any of the other books in the series.  Almost 2/3rds of the book is concentrated on a few critical days in the middle of a war for humanity’s very survival.  The remaining 1/3 is filled with short glimpses and vignettes of the aftermath.   Forming a true kingdom out of scattered and very diverse communities.  It’s also, as is often the case in this series, filled with magic.

Wiccan Rudi Mackenzie and Catholic Mathilda Arminger continue to be the main characters in this novel, but like the previous book (Tears of the Sun) Lord of Mountains is expanding on lesser known characters while it advances towards the final conclusion of the entire 10 book series.  It’s also, through dramatic scenes towards the end, opening up the series for two other  possible trilogies.  Most of the book takes place in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which is now called Montival.

After being on the defensive and losing considerable territory, Montival, under High King Rudi and High Queen Mathilda, have won a few battles against the villains of the tale, the Church Universal and Triumphant. Now we are ready for the decisive battle, the one that could drive the invaders out of Montival. If they are successful, the dream of a united realm covering much of Central and Western US has a chance.  If not, it’s not just Montival that will suffer.  Yet even with the stakes this high unity is hard to achieve and some community leaders are willing to put personal ambition and petty arguments before survival.  Rudi and Mathilda solve this by taking part in a ritual ceremony that bind them and their descendants to the people(and the ancestors) and the land.

“The land has accepted us, the ancestors and the Powers,” [Rudi] said.  “Our blood has been bound to the land and the folk, and so it shall remain so long as our line does – unless the sea rise and drown us, or the sky fall and crush us, or the world end.”

This book is the deep breath before the final plunge, but it doesn’t feel like you’re treading water.  The battle scenes are pivotal and you relish the opportunity to get closer acquainted with minor characters who are obviously essential in the final book.  There is also a death that is heavily foreshadowed, and yet hits you like a ton of bricks.  SM Stirling is not as brutal in killing off scores main characters as George R.R. Martin, but he doesn’t shy away from it, either.  Stirling provides a valuable, and confident, service to his readers that I wish more authors would provide – he posts 1/3 to 1/2 of each book he writes online as a sample.  You can try before you buy.  You will buy.

As usual, SM Stirling delivers a rich world readers want to live in.  Fully formed and alive characters you wish you could drink a beer with or follow into battle.  Because of the diversity of cultures you experience in the series, there’s somewhere for every person to dream about, there’s a home for you in the Emberverse.  When Pagans attend festivals attendees shout “Welcome home!” to them.  Because they are home, they are where their people are.  Every time you open one of Stirling’s Emberverse books the characters shout, “Welcome home!”  These books are where your people are.

Editor’s note:  I was provided an advance reader’s copy of the book for the purpose of writing a review.  

Editorial – Author’s Books Change Opinions About Paganism

Books have always had a powerful impact within the Pagan community, the two best examples being Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land’s influence on The Church of All Worlds and Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.  However, while these books influenced the Pagan community internally or helped Seekers realize that Paganism exists as an option, they didn’t affect non-Pagans’ perceptions about our religions.  The Paganism depicted was either too easily dismissed from serious thought as too vague, too exotic to be connected to anything in real life.  One author who is changing non-Pagans’ perceptions of our religions through realistic Pagan characters is S.M. Stirling.

The books are set in a contemporary post-apocalyptic America and many of the main characters and heroes of the tales are Pagans of some variety.  For a look at what the books are about please see this article.

SM Stirling (center) with Charles Morrison (left) and Greg Dalen (right)

Mr. Stirling was in town Tuesday on a promotional tour for his new book, The High King of Montival.  The book is the fourth in the Sunrise Lands series, which is a continuation of the Dies the Fire series.  I entered Uncle Hugo’s book store excited at the prospect of having Stirling sign my Nook.  Yes, I am that much of a geek.  I was also excited at the prospect of talking to some of my fellow non-Pagan book geeks to judge the impact of Stirling’s books.

Greg Dalen and Charles Morrison were happy to talk about all things Stirling.  When asked what they liked about the Dies the Fire books, Dalen said, “I don’t like how in most post-apocalyptic literature they end up with everyone fighting everyone.  That’s not realistic.  People would organize.  People would pull together like the Clan Mackenzie. (the Wiccan group formed by main character Juniper Mackenzie)  The characters are gripping.”

The characters are gripping and the author’s understanding of Wicca and Heathenry is both deep and nuanced.  When asked, in a separate interview, how he accomplished that feat, Stirling responded, “Partly pure research, more a matter of getting in contact with a fairly substantial number of actual Pagans and Heathens, Kier Salmon, Diana Paxson, and others, and having them go over rough drafts of my work, correct errors, tell me stuff, and point me in the direction of necessary information.  Also the ability to do ‘projective empathy’ is really necessary for a writer.  You have to be able to see the world through other eyes.

Continue reading