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    Review of PALADINS by Joel Rosenberg

    Baen, September 2004

    After he had overthrown his uncle, Arthur the Tyrant, Mordred the Great's armies had united Britain and gradually conquered the western world. Centuries later, the Kingdom (England?) has expanded through western Europe. Only the diminished Empire of Byzantium, and the powerful Caliphanate remain unconquered. But evil is not always associated with a state. And the Kingdom's powerful Knights of the Order of Crown, Shield, and Dragon exist to defend Mordred's Pendragon kingdom from all enemies--including supernatural enemies.

    Order Knights Gray and Bear recruit disgraced ex-Knight Cully to help them deal with a dangerous discovery--a new magical sword has been discovered. These magical swords are the core of the Knight's power; in the wrong hands, they could do horrible damage. Together with fisherman Niko, Cully and the others thrash around the Mediterranean, trying to provoke whoever is responsible for creating these new swords into a response.

    Meanwhile, Kingdom Admiral DuPay plots for the war he knows will eventually pit the Kingdom against the Caliphanate. When the Caliphanate's representatives tell him that they are equally concerned about the outbreak of evil magic, he doesn't know whether to believe them--but he isn't afraid to take whatever chances he needs to if it will help the Kingdom.

    Author Joel Rosenberg creates an intriguing alternate history world--one where magic works, where an Anglican version of protestantism developed independently of Henry VIII (who never lived because there was never a Norman conquest--and how did Arthurian British become English, after all? Surely they would have defeated the Saxon/Anglic invasions), and where gunpowder has never replaced traditional weapons of war. His morally conflicted Gray is a powerful and compelling character, while Niko gives the reader someone young and heroic, yet imperfect, to identify with.

    After a strong opening, though, much of the book seemed spent by our heros (and DuPay) wandering around thinking, talking with each other, and not really doing much. In addition, possibly because PALADINS is the first book in a series, a number of loose ends remained--certainly the shadow creatures seemed to be stuck in rather than integral to the plot.

    Rosenberg is adept at manipulating reader emotions. When he lets himself go, as he does at the beginning and end of this story, he creates superior fantasy. But too much of this book was sailing around, going nowhere. I'll look forward to seeing where he takes this series, but for me, PALADINS fell short of its potential.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 12/20/04

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