The Coming of the King

Ye Jacobites by name, lend an ear, lend an ear,
Ye Jacobites by name, lend an ear,
Ye Jacobites by name, your faults I will proclaim,
Your doctrines I must blame, you shall hear, you shall hear
Your doctrines I must blame, you shall hear.

— “Ye Jacobites By Name”

The fault of this history’s Bonnie Prince Charlie is that he’s a vampire. He’s not the Boy King. He’s the Bloodking.

Yes, it’s a William Meikle novel, and I’m kindly disposed to the work of his I’ve read, but I’m not a big fan of historical fantasy. I also don’t consider alternate histories based on magic to be real alternate histories.

I can take or leave, mostly leave, vampire stories.

But evil, vampiric Jacobites is another thing. I’ve heard a lot of Jacobite songs in my time, so that intrigued me. So I got a free copy awhile back, (and you still can too), but that didn’t mean I was going to read it anytime soon.

However, for reasons I won’t get into, I wanted to read some fiction set in Scotland, so I took this one out of the kindle queue.

Review: The Coming of the King, William Meikle, 2016.

Coming of the King
Cover by Wayne Miller

They executed Charles Edward Stuart in 1649, burned him alive in the Tower of London – because that’s what you do with vampires, especially one who is a pretender to the thrones of Scotland and England.

In Milecastle, a fort on Hadrian’s Wall, Sean and Martin and their fellow Watchers keep eyes to the north from where it is prophesied the Blood King, the newest Stuart, will someday descend on England with his army of Others.

In 1745, Campbell, a man from the vampiric kingdom of Scotland, shows up at Milecastle with a sick daughter and a tale of woe and a sick daughter. The Bloodking is afoot. He slaughtered Campbell’s people and left him alive to announce the news of his coming. This history’s Bonnie Prince Charlie is as unhuman as his ancestor; his army is made of vampires and their human allies.

Martin, the son of Milecastle’s Thane, and his friend Sean will have to grow up fast. Destiny has picked them to help fight the Young Pretender.

There are typical fantasy plot elements here. Sean and Martin will make new friends and allies by accident. There’s a tribe of magicians in Scotland’s forests. There are prophecies. There is a beautiful woman. There is a power struggle in Milecastle between its constable and thane.

But there is no quest in this book. Martin goes north with Campbell to spy on the Bloodking’s army. Sean goes south with Campbell’s daughter to see if her nascent vampirism can be cured.  We’re fairly certain Sean and Martin will survive the book. We’re not sure if the other humans will

It’s surprising how much Sean and Martin suffer after killing for the first time, they are not blasé about their deeds nor gladdened. Meikle reminds us that the old have their own wisdom and stories even if his story centers around Sean and Martin. Meikle is deft at mixing sorrow and doubt with his carnage.

The action is inventive, with several vivid bits of violence.

His Others have a compelling back story involving evil Templars and an ancient sinister cult. As Meikle as noted, you can think of the final scene as being like the movie Zulu.

Meikle shows he can alter his voice for the material at hand. This story requires, at times, the full-on action of his S-Squad books, but the book has its quite moments of emotion and character too.

And, yes, it even has the pipes.

So, I’ll be reading the rest of the series. I guess this is another case of the first free taste working in getting me to buy the rest of the series. As far as that goes, Meikle might join Tim Powers and Michael Moorcock as authors I’ll read fantasy from on a regular basis.

Additional Thought (with Spoilers)

The one problem I did have with this book is its confused religious element – a confusion perhaps resolved in future books.

We get a very vivid scene that implies Christianity was, at its heart, a black and secret sect of human sacrifice whose leader did indeed rise from the dead. It is the origin of the vampiric Others who come to Robert the Bruce’s aid, in the form of Templars, at Bannockburn. The Templars have become Others after uncovering the secrets of the cult under the Temple in Jerusalem. Meikle also throws in a bit of Baigh’s and Lincoln’s speculation on the holy bloodline of Jesus. And, if you’re going to have evil Templars, you have to have Baphomet who is, indeed, mentioned.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and  author/editor.

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