The King's Name by Jo Walton
Hardcover - 304 pages (December, 2001) 
Tor; ISBN: 0-312-87653-X
Review by Bruce Wallace
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When I first picked up my copy of The King’s Name, I was afraid it could never measure up to the first volume of this series, The King’s Peace. My fears were quickly put to rest however.  This continuation of the alternate history saga of King Urdo as told by the valiant female warrior Sulien ap Gwein is excellent.

Sulien ap Gwein is the Lancelot du Lac to Urdo's King Arthur. There are other obvious parallels to the world of King Arthur but to stress these connections adds nothing to a story that stands squarely on its own with characters just as compelling and unique as those of King Arthur’s era.  

In this fast moving novel, we pick up five years after the battle of Foreth, which gave birth to the treaty which brought the King’s Peace into reality and united several smaller kingdoms into one, all sworn to King Urdo.  At the end of the first novel the King’s Peace has finally been won. Urdo's quest for peace and justice for all, no matter their station is now a reality.  In this second installment, the peace having been won must be defended.

The King’s Name is a novel of civil war with all the bloody implications of a war which pits brother against brother and indeed sister against sister. In the course of the story it is revealed that in fact few can be trusted.  It is a tale, in which honor and loyalty are put to the test once again as the king's peace and his good name are put at risk by the machinations of his nephew Morthu who complicates what is already an uneasy peace. 

As if to illustrate how fragile the peace is and how far people are willing to go, the story begins with these stirring words from Sulien: “The first I knew of the civil war was when my sister Aurien poisoned me.”  After this discovery and other incidences Sulien begins to see the depth of the treachery at hand and the need to uphold the peace with both diplomacy and force of arms.

In many ways the story follows the typical direction that any novel that details civil war might follow. There is the sadness involved in discovering that loyalties once held to be absolute have been cast aside, along with the pleasant if unsettling realization that distant allies are the new found friends you now desperately need and hope you can trust. What is compelling about this book and the previous novel, The King’s Peace is the common sense, dignity and intelligence of the characters. They know very well that they stand between the darkness that is war and strife and, the light which peace and common cause offer those who will put aside their differences and work towards something larger than themselves.

The additional skillful weaving of magic both black and white into the story as well as the easy almost day to day relationship with gods of the land enjoyed by most of the characters puts the final shine on a what is already a jewel of a story.