Corvus by Paul Kearney


Lemming of Discord
Jun 4, 2006
Twenty-three years ago ten thousand Macht warriors marched into the heart of the Asurian Empire for a contract and a promise, were betrayed, and fought their way back out again. The most famous warrior of the Ten Thousand to still survive is Rictus of Isca, whose name lends weight to any cause he supports and whose personal troops, the Dogsheads, are the most respected soldiers in all of the cities of the Macht. Older and weary, Rictus ponders the day when he can hang up his black armour and tend to his lands.

That day will not come soon. A new warleader has arisen, Corvus of Sinon, and he is absorbing city after city into his fledgling empire through the use of new tactics and weapons of war. He asks Rictus to join his army to help him achieve the impossible: the unification of the Macht into one nation.

Corvus is the sequel to Paul Kearney's excellent The Ten Thousand, although foreknowledge of that book is not required to enjoy this one. The Ten Thousand was a loose retelling of the Anabasis of Xenophon, whilst Corvus takes the rise of Alexander the Great as its starting point. However, the parallels here are much, much looser, reduced merely to the idea of a young leader with some unusual ideas and unshakable self-belief rising to greatness (oh, and he also has a strong cavalry bodyguard known as the Companions). The focus remains on Rictus, who is the principle POV, although we also get chapters from the perspective of his wife and some of his enemies (most notably Karnos, the ruler of Machran, the most powerful of the cities Corvus covets), whilst Corvus himself remains a somewhat remote figure whom Rictus struggles to understand.

Previously Kearney has been compared a lot to Gemmell for his depiction of warfare but also his commentary on glory, honour and heroism, but there has always been a hint of Guy Gavriel Kay (or possibly early Steven Erikson) in his work, particularly his use of tragedy and the mining of characters' emotions to deliver powerful climaxes. Corvus delves into this side of his writing more deeply than before, delivering several painful gut-punches late in the book which take precedence over the, as usual, excellently-depicted battles and sieges. Kearney also develops his secondary characters well, particularly Karnos whose character evolution in a relatively short span of time is exemplary.

The Ten Thousand was my favourite book of 2008, and Corvus (*****) is even better, leaner, more focused, without the slightly predictable ending (The Ten Thousand's sole weakness), and a strong contender for the best epic fantasy work of 2010. It will be published on 26 October 2010 in the UK and USA.


Steven Poore - Epic Fantasist & SFSF Socialist
Feb 4, 2005
Sheffield, SoYo
and again, another one i'm looking forward to. The Ten Thousand was another excellent dig through historical parallels, so i can't wait to get stuck into Corvus.


Well-Known Member
Apr 1, 2007
Very nice review. I always think of Kearney as a prose stylist version of Gemmell. Not similar in theme,type of stories but battlefield,action he is equally as great.

You can write deeper meaning in adventure novels too. Cant wait to read this.


Lochaber Axeman, QC
Feb 9, 2008
Here's my review:

Paul Kearney: CORVUS: 4 stars

I was introduced to Paul Kearney’s writing when I read The Ten Thousand, and I instantly loved the way Kearney does his brand of historical fantasy. Only a few writers have attempted this tiny sub-genre, and only two I know of have done it with any kind of success, one being Guy Gavriel Kay, and the other Paul Kearney. However, the two could not be more different in how they write historical fantasy.

Paul Kearney’s focus is on a Greek-like, Bronze Age civilization peopled by the Macht, a war-like civilization of city-states very much like the Greece of ca. 400 BC. In both The Ten Thousand and Corvus, Kearney uses ancient history as a broad structure for telling a tale of war in all of its bloody horror. In Corvus, Kearney brings back Rictus, one of the leaders of the Ten Thousand, mercenaries who fought their way out of the Asurian Empire after their employer failed to seize its throne, and who are very loosely based on this world’s Ten Thousand, Greeks who similarly fought their way out of Persia. Rictus has a legendary stature in the cities of the Macht, and is the general of the Dogsheads, a phalanx of mercenaries who fight in the cities’ petty and constant wars. The structure Kearney uses this time is the rise of Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. Corvus is Kearney’s Alexander, and he invites Rictus and the Dogsheads to join him in his attempt to unify the Macht into one nation and to leave their internecine squabbles in the past.

Fantasy readers may be put off that there is very little fantasy in this book. Its predecessor was well-received by critics, but received some harsh treatment on fan sites due to the scarcity of fantastical elements (the biggest of which is the mysterious Curse of God, five thousand impenetrable cuirasses gifted to the Macht in their pre-history). I myself do not understand the criticism, as these are fast-paced, character-driven books that open up the reader to something most of us do not understand: war. Kearney pulls no punches in his descriptions of battles, and he does it better than anyone, as I said in my reviews of the Monarchies of God. When I read about his battles, I feel like I am in a blimp overlooking a football game, as I can see, in my mind’s eye, everything. No writer I know of has done it with Kearney’s skill, and he demonstrates so very well the horror and futility of war. Where Kay writes his historical fantasy with beauty and lyricism, Kearney writes his with harsh reality and perfect precision.

Kearney’s prose is economical and fast-paced, but the books in the Macht series do not attempt the breadth that his Monarchies of God series did. Corvus is, by the author’s choice, a different and less-complex book, and it is focused strictly on the Macht war and its protagonists, not an over-arching story line. Kearney could have made Corvus a much bigger book, with more political intrigue, more characters, and more depth. After all, in this historical fantasy construct, he has an enormous amount of material at his disposal, but Kearney chooses not to use all of this possible material. He eschews the idea of a big, sprawling epic (and I like big sprawling epics) and instead gives us a detailed piece of the whole story. I am beginning to like this kind of book more, as it is a quick read (I read it in a day), entertaining and yet significant, but it does not provide me with the depth that I usually crave when I read.

Kearney does an excellent job of showing the characters on both sides of the conflict (Corvus, the unifying would-be-king, and Karnos, the man of the people, standing up to tyranny for the freedom of his city), and the primary characters are developed well and with an ease and speed that demonstrates Kearney’s talent. Readers of Glen Cook or Steven Erikson would likely appreciate Corvus; however, do not be afraid of the lack of magic which abounds in Erikson. Also, it is definitely R-rated, due to the violence, language, sexuality, and scenes of rape. Fans of historical fiction would also enjoy Corvus, as in many ways, this series is closer to history than it is to fantasy. A very good read, and Kearney has once again demonstrated that he is criminally under-read.


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