Friday Reads: Son of the Morning

We’ll be talking about Son of the Morning by Mark Alder (M.D. Lachlan) a lot more later in the year. But the book is fresh in my mind now so I thought I’d pass on a little of the excitement I felt when reading it.

Mark Alder is the pen-name of M.D. Lachlan. M.D. Lachlan is writing a dark and involved multi-volume series about werewolves, Vikings and Mad Gods. Mark Alder is writing a vast, multi-volume, boisterous and intelligent historical fantasy that will tell the story of the Hundred Years War between France and England as if played out in a world where the religious beliefs of the time were true – a world where kings were appointed by God, where religious relics did have power, where angels, demons and devils would intercede in the affairs of men. For a price.

We chose to make Lachlan Alder because the two series bear some common strengths but are very different in approach.

From the first scene of Edward III standing in the ruins of a ransacked church on the south coast wondering how he counter Frances’ attacks on his lands, to the wonderfully vivid and funny account of a Pardoner being pursued by an angry mob he has gulled, to the seething jealousies of the French Court it is clear that Alder has delivered on the promise of a bright, ambitious and entertaining historical fantasy in spades. This is, demons and angels notwithstanding, a superbly believable and authentic vision of the late middle ages. Both Lachlan and Alder do brilliant research and combine this with a natural flair for storytelling. Lachlan plunged us into the Dark Ages and Norse Mythology, Alder has similarly fantastic, yet very different material to work with – Son of the Morning is peopled with a cast of (usually real) Kings, Queens, nobles, merchants, mercenaries, bankers, con-men and boy anti-christs that would be the envy of George RR Martin. The settings and the action of the book are every bit as colourful as the characters.

Let me mention just one eight year old boy. Oh what a little prince this boy is. So Clever, conniving, brutal and downright terrifying is this child that by comparison GRRM’s Joffrey comes over as little more than school bully. As this child existed. Alder brings him to life in loving and terrifying detail.

As he does the character of the time – this is a novel rich with the details and the feel (and the smells) of life at the time. The characters feel real because the world they move through feels so real. There is colour, laughter, misery, riches, poverty. The aristocracy are a class apart and we understand why – we know why they think the way they do, what their upbringing and beliefs have done to them. And we feel the same for the poor.

Lachlan’s books brought Norse mythology to vivid life. What really lifts Alder’s books out of the ordinary is the care and the skill with which he weaves in the theology of the time. However unknowable or obtuse the motives and nature of the divine players are, you absolutely believe in them because you believe the faith of the characters. This was a world so closely connected to the religious as to almost seem like an alien culture compared to ours but Alder makes it incredibly real. There are moments of true horror and sublime beauty in this novel. There are truly remarkable pieces of writing here. Sometimes it reads like a newspaper report of a court intrigue, sometimes it reads like the best war novel you’ve ever read, sometimes like a religious allegory, sometimes a romp, sometimes a tragedy, sometimes like a lost chapter of an Arthurian myth.

All of which is linked together by a sweeping plot that combines the flowering of war between England and France and two quests – one to discover the fate of Edward II (on which the right of the current King to rule is based), the other to find the keys to hell (on which the King’s war against France depends).

This is a beautifully written, wonderfully entertaining, immensely clever historical fantasy. I think Lachlan and Alder are, between them, one of the most exciting and important fantasy authors around. Alder has just thrown down the gauntlet to Lachlan. What comes next? Be sure we’ll be telling you a lot more about both of them.

You’ll have to wait for Alder’s debut, Son of the Morning, till much later in the year. But if you want a sense of what Lachlan can do, may I suggest you try Wolfsangel? You wont regret it. Promise.