The Poet King
by Mark Nelson
(forthcoming from Hadley Rille Books)
If you’re looking for a new series to read, a new fantasist to discover, I highly recommend the work of Mark Nelson.
Finishing up the trilogy he started with The Poets of Pevana and continued in King’s Gambit, author Mark Nelson now brings us The Poet King. I love this series, where the gods speak wisdom through their poets. In book one we meet the main players in this book: a minstrel, a spy, a scribe (and a woman poet), a prince, and the leaders of a false, cynical religion that are instrumental in trying to overthrow the old order. Above them all are the old gods, chief of which is a Lady who heals the world with her tears–one of those tears births the bringer of fate–and a cynical trickster god who loves chaos. In book 2, King’s Gambit, pride and avarice cause the king to throw away the lives and livelihood of his soldiers and people on dreams of glory, and his subjects are hard pressed to retain their honor in his sworn service. At the end of the book, the king is killed by his folly and a new order run by a poet king starts to rise.
The Poet King tells of the shaky consolidation of his reign, short on troops from the recent battle with a populace still in mourning for their missing soldiers and shortages of horses, food, and morale. A bastard heir to the old thrown is incubating in the womb of the consort of the lead contender to take over the poet king’s new position; this strains loyalties further and war is brewing. It’s a story of palace intrigue and individual courage, one that highlights the indomitable spirit of the average person, including children.
My one complaint is that the huge oak tree under which the poets told their wise tales to the populace in the first book is cut down during the wars, and in the final book of the trilogy you see a surviving poet helping the children keep the location as a shrine to their favorite story teller, his mentor. He plants an acorn he found in battle in the middle of The Poet King, when all looked bleak. Since the book is not out yet, I will simply ask why this acorn was not seen sprouting as he tells the the children a story in the epilogue. I thought it was set up beautifully and the book was perfect except for that final bit of missing theme.