I love the premise of M.C. Planck’s ‘World Of Prime’ series. One day, Christopher Sinclair wakes up in an alternate universe where technology is limited by a strict code of feudalism and the rules of magic, religion and time. I can’t elaborate further on that last point without spoiling the second book of the series. Sorry.
An engineer by trade, Christopher seems perfectly suited to drag this oddly backward society into a full-fledged industrial revolution and he tries. Much to the annoyance of the nobility, whose rank depends entirely upon magical hierarchy, he is succeeding. Progress is slow, however, and hampered by politics, betrayal and roving bands of wolf men.
We’re now up to the third book in the series, ‘Judgment At Verdant Court’, and the stakes are getting higher. Fresh from betrayal on two fronts, Christopher’s confidence is understandably shaken. He is faced with the worst of choices which basically come down to: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. This has been a theme throughout the series and one Planck presents well through the eyes and soul of the very conflicted Christopher. He wants to do good and be good. Christopher is essentially a good man. His present incarnation as a white priest of the Bright Lady proclaims so, quite loudly. Unfortunately, he’s also the sword of Marcius and, in this backward world, often the only way to good is through less than judicious use of this sword.
Armed with this conflict, Christopher now faces enmity on two fronts: the Gold Throne and the Verdant Court. The first must be put aside in favour of the second for two reasons. Christopher hasn’t achieved a high enough rank to take on the Gold Throne and because he’s a good man. Saving a friend must take priority. So Christopher confronts the druids of the Verdant Court and bargains hard. This is where we see a lot of character growth for our priestly engineer. Up to this point, Christopher has come across as terribly naïve, particularly in relation to anything political. He’s an engineer. His mind moves in different directions. His dealings with the Verdant Court aren’t masterful by any measure, but they show he’s learning. He’s also relying less on his advisors, much to the annoyance of a new companion. I’d love to tell you who this companion is. You’ll find out in the first chapter of the book and will thank me for the surprise.
After dealing with the Court, it’s back to the swamp and the relentless bands of wolf men or ulvenmen. This is where the novel gets even more interesting. We have to get through the swamp first, though. As I followed Christopher’s adventures through the swamp and back again, I wondered if the story had become as mired as Christopher’s army. There’s a lot of marching, fort-building and killing. In between, we get a few more moral lessons and some subtle shuffling of position within the camp. Here (and earlier) there are some nice parallels between the relationships of Christopher’s companions and his internal struggle to embody the archetype everyone has built around him. Then the good stuff happens. The secret of the ulvenmen begins to unravel, the speed of revelation keeping pace with Christopher’s mastery of new spells. Finally, Christopher has what he needs to face off against the Gold Throne. He’s still short of power and resources, but he’s been scrambling after those since he woke up in this strange world. It’s when Christopher is offered an extraordinary hand up that the story gets super interesting, however, and then it ends. Just like that.
Generally, I’m displeased by loose ends that leave the reader dangling for a year or more while we wait for the next book in the series. ‘Judgment At Verdant Court’ does deliver a complete story, however, and once you think about it for a minute, the ending isn’t entirely unexpected. This had to happen sooner or later and now that it’s out of the way, the stage is set for the final act.
Though sometimes slow and muddy, overall, ‘Judgement At Verdant Court’ is an enjoyable read. My hopes for the next and possibly final book include the introduction of more technology to the World of Prime. We didn’t see much in the way of industry this time around, though the theme of technology versus magic is kept alive through debate. I’d also like to see Christopher fail a little more spectacularly. It’s not a cruel wish. He’s come so far, but his main stumbles so far have been made through ignorance. With every book pitting his need to do good against the necessity to do bad, I’d like to see the ultimate test. Learn what this man is really made of. Finally, I’d like an answer to the mystery at the core of this series: how Christopher really got to the World of Prime and what that means.
(pub: Pyr/Prometheus. 343 page paperback and ebook. Paperback: Price: $17.00 (US), £13.69 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-63388-229-4. Ebook price: $ 9.99 (US), £ 5.42 (UK). ASIN: B01CWYTK34)