"The High King of Montival" by S.M. Stirling (open spoilers)

The seventh volume of Stirling’s Emberverse series is out. Now, Rudi Mackenzie was already established as the ultimate Marty Stu: the best swordsman and the second-best archer in North America, the bravest warrior, the most chivalrous knight, the handsomest stud, the most poetically sensitive dude, the savviest leader, the smoothest diplomat, the most pious pagan, the most gods-touched shaman-seer, pure in goodness of heart and practically infallible. At the beginning of The Sunrise Lands he was called on a classic quest to recover an indistinguishable-from-magic sword of great (but not clearly specified) power. Before he retrieved the Sword of the Lady at the end of the sixth volume, he led his little band all across the continent from west to east on foot or horseback, crossed several war zones and the territory of the indistinguishable-from-demonic Cutters, defeated or escaped all enemies they met, succeeded in several side errands and daring rescues, studied martial arts in a Buddhist monastery, got adopted by the Lakota, adopted/recruited a tribe of neosavages, and made friends and allies of the Norrheimers, a Norse-neopagan culture in Maine.

Along the way, Rudi has become Artos the First, the High King of Montival (all the lands of the Corvallis Meeting/Pacific Northwest) in absentia: He decided (based on his visions) that Montival should be a kingdom and he should be its High King, and got all his friends to support the idea and hail him as such, and sold the idea to the folks back home through letters. (The idea is a loose federal state with member states keeping their existing governments, social systems and customs.) No dissent is mentioned. The Mackenzies support Rudi as a matter of course because he is their tanist, the Portlanders because he is betrothed to Princess Mathilda, the Dunedain because it’s, you know, the Return of the King, the Bearkillers because he’s Mike Havel’s son, and by this time the Meeting lands are under fierce Cutter attack and crying out for a leader.

Now Rudi has the Sword and has become a God Mode Stu. He is invincible when he wields it; it cuts like a lightsaber and seems to facilitate Rudi’s entry into a fighting-trance (like a warp-spasm or berserkergang but with more finesse). He also has mental access to a vast database, so he is pretty near omniscient. He can use it to forge a telepathic link with anyone near him. The Sword also has power against the psychic powers of the Cutter priests, and can even break a priest’s link to the entities that control his mind. He (with his band) immediately intervenes in a Cutter-led Bekwa attack on the Norrheimers, saves the day, and causes their leader, Bjarni, to be hailed king on the battlefield (so now he has an ally who owes him one). Now leading a small army (including 500 Norrheimer volunteers and their king), he crosses again from east to west, moving faster, not fighting so much as in previous volumes, and everywhere welcomed as a leader. It also transpires that the assassination of Iowa Bossman Anthony Heaselrode by Cutters (who were actually chasing Rudi) in The Sword of the Lady had salubrious effects, as it conveniently eliminated that unstable leader while alerting all the civilized states of the Mississippi Valley to the Cutter menace, so now they all are allied and marching west for Montana, to open a second front in the war. The representative of the Lakota swears fealty to Rudi, who then publicly claims everything between the Pacific and the Lakota’s eastern border – including Montana and Idaho – as Montival territory. So, by the time Rudi/Artos gets home from his little trip, this son of a Marine and a folksinger has surrounded his enemies with enemies and prepared to conquer them.

How do you top that?!

Or, rather, how do you complicate it significantly, in the remaining two volumes projected? Where’s the tragedy to come into the story arc? Rudi has had visions that he is destined to die for his people (like Mike Havel), and the ninth volume is to be titled The Given Sacrifice, but what foe could threaten such a being?!

Thank you for this summary. I read the first six books but stopped after that. I wanted to know what happened but without all the reading.

One question though, do they ever mention Signe’s reaction to Rudi’s rise? I’m sure she isn’t like how Mike’s actual son isn’t the real leader.

I just hate how Ms. Arminger is getting exactly what she wants.

She’s a bit sour but learns to bite her lip over it. Her son, Mike Jr., admires Rudi, and she’s prepared to accept Rudi as High King.

And, worse, it’s set up so the heroes want exactly the same thing (Rudi and Mathilda, married, and reigning over all Norman Arminger ever hoped to conquer, and founding a dynasty), so even the reader has to side with Ms. Arminger. :wink:

Stirling got Ingolf (and Fred) married off so apparently there isn’t going to be a Lancelot angle in play.

But Mike Junior might become a Mordred figure, a resentful younger relative who overthrows the king. Be interesting to see who would be the Morgaine figure in this situation: Signe or Sandra?

Mike Jr. is shaping up to be a good leader of the Bearkillers, and that works for both Signe and Rudi. In theory, the High King won’t have any direct influence inside any of Montival’s member nations (except that he may also end up sovereign over both the PPA and the MacKenzies), so the Bearkillers will remain in Havel hands.

– not quite. It’s Mathilda’s idea to hail him as High King and talks the others into it, and she’s also the one who sort of ‘announces’ it in her letters home. Rudi’s quite surprised when they spring it on him.

Sandra Arminger then picks up the idea and runs with the football, chortling with glee all the way to the end zone.

Juniper’s less enthusiastic because she understands some of the implications better, but is resigned to it.

It’s like Beetlejuice.

It just occurred to me . . . In Rudi’s mind, at least, this High Kingship is based on the old Ard Ri of Ireland . . . And the High Kings of Ireland are a really bad model for a national monarchy. They never could stop the lesser kings from fighting each other, never could unite them against foreign invaders, and there were long periods when there was no High King and nobody seemed to notice.

It’s several months later now so I’ve forgotten some precise details, but one thing I really liked was the description of how the sword felt to Rudi. Back when I played D&D I was always curious about what actually made a “sword +2” a “sword +2”, or whatever, and I think that was very well done.
I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine what could go wrong. Sure his sword can neutralize some evil magic, but if he goes up against head evil dude, it’s hard to see how there are any guarantees.

I ought to let Steve Stirling answer for himself but he’s chosen only to comment on it being Matti’s idea to declare him High King. I can see various problems on the horizon. First off, the war has got to be won and Rudi can only be in one place at a time. Second, Sethez has just taken over Martin Thurston which opens numerous bad possibilities. Third, internal problems in Montival - once the immediate danger is out of the way are all the communities going to buy into this? Forth and finally, the Sword itself. What is it doing to Rudi? Can he survive as himself?

Plenty of possibilities - probably all of them wrong!

Can’t blame him for not wanting to discuss his ideas for books that haven’t been published yet.

Thing is, in the volumes before THKOM, Rudi faced a lot of challenges and, while you were never in serious doubt he would prevail, there was a certain amount of dramatic tension. That doesn’t happen in THKOM, not once. Plenty of action, but nothing that really challenges Rudi-with-Sword, just triumph after triumph. In fact, there are amazingly few redshirt fatalities, at least on the Good side.

For the rest of the evening I will, in my head, be singing “High King of Montival” to the tune of “High School Musical”.

That doesn’t really bother me. You wouldn’t want to read a whole series of nothing but “good guy is invincible”, but it’s fun for a while, and Rudi has earned it. And as others have pointed out, the challenges will presumably not be of the sort that hand to hand combat can overcome.

I’ve found Rudi to be an insanely annoying and boring character even from book 2. He’s always been the golden boy, the best at nearly every single thing. I was hoping he’d get killed when he was kidnapped long ago, but I knew that’d never happen.

– Rudi/Artos is a bit of a literary experiment.

He’s a capital-H Hero. Not an ironic deconstruction of the heroic model; that’s utterly tired and lame and has been done to death.

He’s the original model. He’s the fated, sacrificial King whose blood renews the land; he’s Sigurd; he’s Beowulf; he’s Roland.

Written with Modernist technique, but done absolutely straight-up serious.

That’s a problem nowadays. So much is done ironically, people have become used to it and have a problem viewing anything that’s being played straight.

Where should/will Artos put his royal capital? Corvallis? Dun Juniper? Castle Todenangst? Salem? Salem with the bones cleaned out, of course, as immediately after the Change a great many died there and it has been uninhabited ever since. But Salem is centrally located between the capitals of the core states of Montival, on a river, good location for a trade depot. The survival of Portland and Des Moines as cities shows how a pre-Change city, even a sizable one, can be retrofitted to support post-Change life. And Artos could use the Oregon State Capitol as his High Royal Palace, like the Bossman’s palace in Des Moines.