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?!