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The Protector's War
Series: Emberverse #2
Other books by this author that I've reviewed include A Taint in the Blood, Council of Shadows, Shadows of Falling Night, Dangerous Women, Dies the Fire, A Meeting at Corvallis, The Sunrise Lands, The Scourge of God, The Sword of the Lady, The High King of Montival, The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth.
It’s been eight years since the Change rendered technology inoperable across the globe. Rising from the ashes of the computer and industrial ages is a brave new world. Survivors have banded together in tribal communities, committed to rebuilding society.
In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, former pilot Michael Havel’s Bearkillers are warriors of renown. Their closest ally, the mystical Clan Mackenzie, is led by Wiccan folksinger Juniper Mackenzie. Their leadership has saved countless lives.But not every leader has altruistic aspirations. Norman Arminger, medieval scholar, rules the Protectorate. He has enslaved civilians, built an army, and spread his forces from Portland through most of western Washington State. Now he wants the Willamette Valley farmland, and he’s willing to wage war to conquer it.
And unknown to both factions is the imminent arrival of a ship from Tasmania bearing British soldiers...
Second in the Emberverse science fiction dystopian series and revolving around three bands of good guys: the Bearkillers, the Mackenzies, and the English contingent. This story’s locations encompass England and Oregon.
It’s been nine years since the EMP hit the world and took out all technological advances.
What the Protector’s War does is set us up. It describes the various parties’ progress and alliances and introduces a new set of characters and starts out most unexpectedly in England. I must confess to checking the front cover and Goodreads to make sure I was reading a) S.M. Stirling and b) the second book in the Emberverse. It is Stirling, and he introducing a third “group” while providing us with information on how the EMP hit somewhere other than Oregon. Seems that most of Europe is gone except for England, some of the northern reaches of the Scandinavian countries, and parts of Greece, Sicily, and Italy. Tasmania made out all right as well as New Zealand’s South Island. Australia wasn’t as badly hit as Europe, but it was bad enough. The North Island, well, it’s gone.
Oh, lord, it is a depressing tale of how England fell apart, what it’s come to now, but it is funny when the escaping trio runs into Jamaica Farm and the why of their traditional English smocks. It’s incredibly sad as well to read as Nigel remembers the history of Lorings in England. Their loyalty and vigilance for England, especially compared to how they are now rewarded.
Signe Havel is definitely NOT pleased that young Rudi is the spitting image of his father. Her husband. Nor does she care that his conception occurred before she and Mike hooked up. She’s angry enough that she’ll endanger his life and call down Mike’s wrath on her while Ken points out what she may well be worried about.
Stirling goes on to describe the changes made in their lands in the past nine years. He also notes the development of the “knightly” class as Ken points out the distinctions between those parents/siblings who can afford for a child to gain the skills to become a A-lister. Just as in medieval days, it’s the men willing to fight (and win) who will get the land. The more land you have, the more you have to pass out to followers who in turn work your land for you which gives you more time to practice weapon skills. Which means you can gain more land. And that land requires workers in this low-production economy.
It’s terrifying when the trap Mike and Signe lay turns on them. Most battles are skirmishes between the allies and the Protectorate. Just as deadly, but smaller. But there’s a change in these battles, for neither Mike nor Juniper are content to defend. As they are the good guys, most of their battles are successful, and yet every battle has its casualties. One in particular has a couple that make me cry, and it does yield one highly rated bonus. It’ll be interesting to see how Matilda changes toward her father, or at least his methods, when she has to spend time with the Mckenzies.
I’ve read a few reviews who dislike Stirling’s description of how the EMP affected our world, and I can see their point. However, I have no intention of learning physics, chemistry, or how mechanical things work, so I don’t have a problem with this.
It’s a daring and terrifying escape for Sir Nigel, Alleyne, and Hordle. I don’t envy that a’tall, a’tall. Sir Nigel will turn out to have some really good ideas. It’ll be fun to see out they work out in the next story.
Mike does have an odd grasp of groveling.
I like Astrid and Eilir’s Dúnedain Rangers, and I think they have a good idea going. It’s practical, and I’m curious how it’ll play out, especially since Eilir is starting to question her purpose and being with the Dúnedain Rangers. Shee’s thinking about a family and children. I’m wondering if this is a set-up for Astrid’s death in a future story. Another concern is the new and potentially dangerous competition arises between Astrid and Eilir over Alleyne. Stirling is quite pointed in Alleyne and Hordle voicing concerns about Astrid’s sanity, and near as I can tell, Stirling hasn’t provided us any action or emotional issues that would have me questioning how scary Astrid is in her obsession with the Lord of the Rings. He makes it sound as if she’ll go off the deep end, violently. I agree she’s too obsessed with it, almost embarrassingly so, but Stirling has only been telling us this; he hasn’t done any show that would make me think it on my own. It sounds more as if Astrid has shoved all her fears and PTSD from that night the EMP hit into her fantasy world.
We do get an inside look at the Protector and his “lovely” wife when Sir Nigel and Captain Nobbes arrive. It’s a visit that begins with some hesitation and goes downhill. Words of the Protector that don’t bear out what one sees.
Oh, lol, Liu is really losing it what with Lady Kat picking up the wrong book for Matilda! But I can’t believe Juniper, Sir Nigel, or any of them didn’t plan for an ambush.
A romance is brewing for Juniper, and that ending absolutely sucked!! I have got to know how it turned out, and I’m panting to read A Meeting at Corvallis, 3, after Stirling left me wondering about the results of that ambush and that ceremony for the dead. I can’t tell if anyone died or if it’s a general ceremony for those who have died in this story or if it’s ????
Seems Queen Hallgerda doesn’t like the questions Sir Nigel is asking about Parliament and elections, about lifting the Emergency Powers Act. Too bad Charles doesn’t care to remember who saved his royal ass when that EMP hit.
In Oregon, the Bearkillers and Mckenzies decide to go on the offensive against the Protector. They’re tired of simply fighting back. And they manage to acquire one small “bomb”, hopefully it will be handy against the Protector’s chemical weapons!
Larsdalen and the Bearkillers are…
…a mercenary band, a.k.a., the Outfit, which settled on Ken’s farm. Their people support a dedicated military group. Michael Havel, a.k.a., Lord Bear, is former Special Forces and was a pilot in the pre-EMP world. Now he’s the leader of the Bearkillers and married to Signe Larsson, one of Ken’s daughters. Mike and Signe have twin daughters, Mary and Ritva, and a son, young Mike. Astrid Larsson is Signe’s sister and still completely caught up in the world of the Lord of the Rings. A world that has caught on with many of the young people. She also wrote the Red Book of Larsdalen, which doesn’t half embarrass Mike. Louhi is Mike’s dog while Charger is his horse.
The one-eyed, one-handed Ken Larsson is their father, a former CEO, who now advises Mike and tinkers with machinery, seeing what he can make work in this new world. He’s married to Pam Arnstein, their swordmistress and vet. Vicki is his assistant.
Ken’s son and Signe’s twin, Eric, is Mike’s right-hand man. Luanne, Will’s daughter, is Eric’s wife. Will Hutton began the Change as a horse wrangler, and now he’s Mike’s left-hand man. Angelica is his wife.
A-list members are …
…the elite warriors. New members include Patrick Mallory and Susanna Clarke. Current ones include Mark Naysmith who may not stay one long and then there’s Morrison (he’s still doing household service with his brother Karl) who’s in trouble with Yvonne Hawkins, a pregnant dairymaid on the Huttons’ lands. Lattery is an apprentice.
Josh Sanders is an ex-lumberjack, ex-Seabee, and their expert on field fortifications. Kendricks will go along with Havel and Signe when they lay the trap for Crusher.
Donner is a man-killer whose spirit has been broken. Rudi believes he can help her, and this is where Signe makes her mistake.
The Dúnedain Rangers are…
…a troop of young people led by Astrid (she rides Asfaloth) and Eilir (she rides Celebroch). Reuben Hutton is a member and Will’s adopted son. Others include Marcie, Donnal, and Kevin Lewis, their best medic. Mithrilwood will become their base camp.
The Mackenzies are…
…Wiccans who escaped to Juniper’s farm — now Dun Juniper — and have taken to the wearing of kilts and renaming themselves Mckenzies. The fortified farms they’ve established are referred to as Duns. They’ve grown so much that they have separated into septs: Raven, Wolf, Bear, Coyote, and Elk. (Laurel Wilson and her people are being referred to as the Fluffy Bunnies, F-Bs for short.) The Mckenzies are strong in handcrafts.
Juniper Mckenzie is the Chief of the Mckenzies. Rudi is her son — and the unacknowledged son of Lord Bear; his spirit name is Artos. Eilir is her twenty-three-year-old deaf daughter and Astrid’s best friend and blood-sister. Cuchlain, Juney’s dog, is still alive. Andy and Diana Trethar ran the organic restaurant and food store in Eugene pre-EMP, now they handle the food and cooking for all Dun Juniper.
Dennis Martin has become the clan’s best brewer as well as their best woodworker, carver, and leatherworker. He also runs the honey-wine operation while his mead is much sought after. From being a genial skeptic, Dennis has also become the High Priest of the Singing Moon. Terry is his stepson and following in his stepfather’s footsteps. Jill and Maeve are their other children. Sally is Dennis’ wife and the principal for the Dun Juniper high school and Lore-Mistress for the clan as a whole, overseeing the schools and Moon Schools. Juniper reckons it’s a good role for Sally as she has all the patience that Judy lacks.
Chuck and Judy Barstow were also part of the original core group. He was a gardener and a member of the SCA pre-EMP. He was also High Priest of the Craft. Today he’s Lord of the Harvest, a.k.a., Minister of Agriculture and Second Armsman. Judy is the High Priestess of her own Wolf-Star; in her civilian life, she was a nurse and midwife. Their children include Aoife, Daniel, and Sanjay are their adopted children while Tamsin and Chuck, Jr are their children born since the Change. Pywackett is Judy’s ancient cat. Alex is Chuck’s younger brother and a building contractor.
Dave Trent will play the Green Man. Katherine Doors loves the wooden yoke Sam carved for her. Shaun is one of the Clan warriors.
Dun Fairfax was…
…the Fairfaxes’ farm where the couple were found dead in Dies the Fire, 1. Now Sam Aylward, a former SAS soldier from England whom they rescued in Dies the Fire, and who is now First Armsman, is its lord. Seems he’s making a reputation as Aylward the Archer. The Mckenzies were lucky since Sam’s pre-EMP pastime was the making of bows and arrows. Sam is married to Melissa, who is accounted a good cook. She’s also the High Priestess of Dun Fairfax. I think Edain, the eldest, Tamar, and Richard, a toddler, are Melissa’s and Fand is their newborn daughter. Garm and Grip are the dogs. Eleanor is Melissa’s mother and a bit bonkers. Her fully functional sister, Aunt Joan, has two children: Harry and Jeanette. Sounds like Billy Hickock may be a good match for Tamar. The former bookseller, Larry Smith, is a shepherd now, and Lurp is his collie. Others at Dun Fairfax include Bob, Alice Dennison, Steve, Jerry, Carl is a former architecture student, Wally, Shane, Deirdre, Allison, and Nancy.
The McClintocks are part of the Mckenzies.
Jerry, Luke and another slave were working the scout car.
Cynthia Carson Mckenzie is one of those who joined later; she commands the escort. Her children include Sean and Niamh with Jack as her husband. Her brother Rowan changed his name to Raymond and is a Dedicant in Wicca who is highly skilled with his ax. The pregnant Joanna is his wife. Morianna is their daughter.
…a new town the Mckenzies are raising, and it has a vineyard. Tom and Moira Brannigan are the High Priest and Priestess of Sutterdown. Brannigan serves as mayor and does a special ale Dennis thinks is spiked with magic mushrooms.
Reverend Jennings and his much-diminished flock are still here.
Laurel Wilson is an old friend of Juniper’s who has fallen on hard times. Yeah, I know…who hasn’t? Collin is her husband with a doctorate in mathematics.
The slaves running from their debenture
Jeff Dawson was a high school student, Crystal is his sister who stole Liu’s warbook (she’ll join the Dúnedain), Miguel Lopez, and their families who all seem to have odd ideas about Juniper — that Satan-worshipping Devil Witch!
Abbot Dmowski is a warrior monk from Mt. Angel. The Brigittine monks will ally with Dmowski.
University of Corvallis
Luther Finney, an old friend of Juniper’s, and Captain Jones of the university’s militia are from the Corvallis Faculty Senate. Councilor Edward Finney is Luther’s son, a logistics specialist in the air force (back in the day) and now a farmer. Pete Jones was a history teaching assistant with an interest in the SCA. Too many with the university group want to placate Arminger and includes Turner and Agnes Kowalski. These last two have some, um, “proposals” for Sutterdown on which Sir Nigel coaches Juniper ahead of time, lol.
CORA folks are a loose-knit ranch association, the Central Oregon Ranchers’ Association.
The Lord Protector is…
…a former history professor. Norman Arminger is a vicious dictator who is much too interested in returning to a brutal era of serfs and conquering. His Portland Protective Association is his army. Sandra is his equally vicious wife. Princess Matilda is their young and precious daughter, and only child. Lady Katrina Georges, the princess’ physical education tutor, is sent as a “nanny” for Matilda.
Salazar and Johnson are Arminger’s sparring partners; Conrad Renfrew seems to be a sparring manager(?).
Eddie Liu is now Marchwarden Liu and Baron Gervais, serving Arminger. Mack is his giant friend. Jabar Jones was a Blood before the Change, now he’s an adherent of Arminger’s and Baron of Molalla. Chaka is his young son. Alexei Stavrov had been one of Arminger’s original backers; pre-EMP, he’d been a KGB agent, drug smuggler, extortionist, and loan shark. Lord Piotr is his son.
The castle a’building at McMinnville is…
…bigger than Gervais.
Crusher’s gang is…
…encouraged by Armitrage. Crusher Bailey, a.k.a., Carl Grettir, forces people in the area to spy for him. Arvand Sarian and his family keep the Crossing Tavern. Aram is one of Arvand’s sons. Baron Emiliano is buying horses.
On the way to get the nerve gas, Arminger and crew run into Sheriff Bauer and his men, a local auxiliary group outside Arminger’s territory, who are hunting Indians.
The prison of Woburn Abbey
Sir Colonel Nigel Loring was once deep in His Majesty’s confidence and very popular with the troops. Maude Loring is his beloved wife. Pommers is the horse Loring will have to leave behind. Alleyne Loring ( he has a passion for Tolkien) is Sir Nigel’s son and was a childhood companion of Sergeant John Hordle‘s (a.k.a., Little John), whose father ran a pub close to Tilford Manor, the Lorings’ home. The Special Iceland Detachment (SID), Varangians, are irregular troops for Charles and guarding Sir Nigel Loring.
Major Oliver Buttesthorn and Mick Badding are some of the soldiers who help Loring escape. Bob, Archie MacDonald, a.k.a., Jock, and Gunnar Halldorsson are farmers on Jamaica Farm. He and his have no love for the king. Diana Bramble is the wee girl who delivers breakfast. Seems Uncle Willie is as mad as Charles. Gudrun is one of the wives. Anasi is Bob’s son.
Corporal Artie is leading the search party; Captain Tony Knolles is their commander and distantly related to Sir Nigel. Knolles is quite competent and won’t stop. Jack Graham is one of the archers.
The Pride of St. Helens is the last step in the escape
Nobbes is the captain, a Tasmanian, who turns out to be a bit too credulous. Lieutenant Dominique Flandry. Sheila Winston is Hordle’s opposite number aboard, and he has his eye on her.
The British government has…
…gone mad with King Charles III as the new ruler of England too greatly influenced by Hallgerda for whom he threw out Camilla.
Hobelars are infantry archers.
The Cutty Sark is…
…a China clipper captained by Prince William and on Sir Nigel’s tail. Seems the queen is losing no time in working to eliminate Charles’ children who do not call her mother.
Brushwood Men are…
…cannibals and hunt in packs. The Netherfield Avengers are the ones who track our trio.
The Cover and Title
The cover is a range of browns and oranges into yellow with a man wearing a quiver and clutching a bow who stands atop an abandoned SUV in a a glowing orange field of grasses, looking into a smoky fog of yellows and murky browns. The author’s name is in a dark, embossed brown while the title is embossed and blue just below it in a smaller font.
The title is something of a misnomer. I picked it up expecting it would address the evil antagonist, provide his perspective, since it is the Protector’s War. It’s not. I’m guessing that Stirling meant this as the good guys being protectors.