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Book Review: Throne of Darkness


Last Updated: 07/21/2015 9:21 am

It's always delightful to watch a child grow into an adult, as hints of potential become fully realized strengths and learning deepens into expertise. That's the very treat in store for readers of Nicholas's trilogy, which began with Something Red (2012) and The Wicked (2014). In the opening paragraphs of the third book, Throne of Darkness, we meet our young hero, Hob, in the middle of a pitched battle for his life against tough odds. Happily, his teachers have been good, his wit is quick, and his ally Jack is not far away.

Even those who've never before encountered the good-natured and multi-talented little troupe making its way through the intrigues and dangers of 13th-century England will be drawn in at lightning speed. The opening battle is just a skirmish in a larger challenge: Molly, the matriarch of this traveling band, has gained considerable renown as someone who can resolve problems that baffle—even terrify—the heads of church and state alike. Her success in vanquishing especially nasty evils is making it harder and harder to maintain the relative anonymity of a simple group of traveling minstrels and healers.

Now Molly has been summoned by an agent of Rome, an interesting turn of events indeed for one whose allegiance is to the Great Mother and to Gaelic Ireland. For Molly is, wouldn't you know, the legendary Queen Maeve herself. When the Catholic Church reaches out to the likes of her, you know things must have gotten mighty weird.

And indeed they have. Molly's sensible desire to keep a low profile and bide her time is about to collide with the intricate power politics of the times. It seems that even the mighty Church, albeit well supplied with money and assassins, can't figure out how to deal with troublesome, treasonous King John and his alliance with necromancy.

It's a delicate problem. Had Molly the choice, she might prefer not to get involved, and not to embroil her loved ones—her warrior consort Jack Brown, her fierce and lovely granddaughter Nemain, and Hob himself, a young man about to become a father to Nemain's baby—in a dispute in which, from her point of view, there really are not any good guys.

But it's useless trying to sidestep one's destiny. The church has noticed that Molly's methods of dealing with otherworldly evil seem markedly more effective than their own exorcisms and wafting incense. They'll hold their collective noses and strike bargains with a sorceress if that's what it takes, and they're not above some vicious arm-twisting.

Thus are our friends thrust into the middle of a truly epic mess, one that will require steadfast courage, skills both mortal and magical, quick wits and deep love. They must make haste across the lovely, haunted countryside to a battle with an uncertain outcome, encountering simple English country folk and Moorish sorcery with equal aplomb.

An award-winning poet and Rosendale resident, Nicholas has a gift for making us feel at home in these distant times and climes. The intrigue is many-faceted, the vivid landscape is a poem brought to life, and the monsters are scary as hell. The power players are, satisfyingly, no better than they should be; the tenderness of his half-Christian, half-pagan wandering band is new as today. Throne of Darkness is history as it should have happened.

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