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The Protector's War by S. M. Stirling
Review by Madeleine Yeh
Roc Hardcover Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0451460464
Date: 06 September, 2005 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

This leaves humanity without any modern method of transportation, communication or weaponry. This Change occurred in March of 1998, and resulted in 90% of the human race dead of starvation and anarchy. After the Change there is no method of bringing food into the cities or moving the populace to the food producing and storing areas.

In the first book, a decent size population manages to survive in Portland, Oregon and the Williamette Valley. That book introduced Juniper Mackenzie and her neoCeltic clan; Mike Havel and the feudal society of the Bear Killers; and the medieval tyranny of the Protector. The Protector's War is set nine years after the Change. The survivors have figured out enough about farming and hunting to survive and even prosper slightly; now the really truly evil Protector of Portland is making ready to conquer the other communities. There are several independent communities in the Williamette Valley but the main ones are the Bear Killers, the Mackenzies, the University of Oregon at Corvallis, and the Central Oregon Ranchers Association. The first two groups provide almost all the good guys in the second novel. The good guys know that the Protector is going to attack, and they spend this book preparing for war and taking the fight to the enemy.

Many post holocaust novels emphasize farming or hunting or building or recreating technology and government, they are nearly as much of technological how to as action stories. S. M Stirling's interest is in warfare and military technology. Everyone is limited to purely mechanical weapons, but each community finds a different set suits them better. The Mackenzies use yew long bows for massed infantry. The Bear Killers are trained cavalry with chain mail armor; sabers, lances and bows. The Protector has armored cavalry with foot soldiers using crossbows. The newcomers have plate armor and long bows. All of the weapons and equipment can and have been made without modern equipment. The Pacific yew, one of the easiest woods to use to make a long bow, is native to the Oregon mountains. I set out to do some research on archery and bows and bow making after reading this book and a wooden bow actually requires very little in terms of tools. The metal in now useless cars and trucks can be remade into swords with a simple blacksmith's forge.

S. M. Stirling is a good storyteller and this book is worth reading as an adventure story. The characters are distinct and clearly drawn with a lovely sense of humor. The Mackenzies have made themselves into a clan complete with kilt and tartan and clan name because Dennis Martin thought the idea was a wonderful joke. In the first book, Juniper Mackenzie welcomed her friends to an isolated log cabin with the words "we'll stick together like a clan in the old days and survive this", and Dennis took the whole idea and ran with it to and past the point of absurdity. The Bear Killers swear in new fighters and new landholders in a ceremony cobbled together by a Tolkien fanatic. Kenneth Larson explains the whole Change as "caused by Arbitrarily Advanced Alien Space Bats". Other parts of the book are a little annoying. The characters are a little too lucky, miracles and fortunate coincidences abound. The Wiccan goddess surrounds Juniper's son with omens and auspices as if he is destined to be a young Alexander or Arthur reborn.

The annoyances in the book aren't so bad that I didn't enjoy the story, but they niggle at me. The horses are the wrong color. The Suffolk Punch draft horses are described as roan, but should be chestnut. For people who aren't horse crazy; roan is red hairs and white hairs on the same horse, while chestnut is completely red brown. Stirling seems to have an inordinate love for wheat; he describes harvesting it in three different universes, including this one. I have nothing against wheat but what is wrong with corn? No one is growing the three sisters: corn, beans and squash. These are nearly the easiest crops to plant and harvest with very little equipment. Reinforcements often show up in the nick of time to rescue the heroes. In one instance the Mackenzies position themselves around a bandit camp, disguised in camouflage cloaks, and are not noticed until they spring the ambush. Also none of the main characters are killed during the fighting, only the red shirts and the bad guys. Stirling also has a soft spot for his villains. The Protector has somehow managed with several biker gangs and other thugs to recreate a medieval feudal society with himself as king, the bikers as nobles and the other poor souls as slaves and serfs. Somehow this has formed a viable stable military power not a backbiting starving anarchy.

In conclusion, this isn't a perfect book but its very readable. The initial premise requires a huge suspension of disbelief, but after that its fun. The characters are amusing and distinct. The different human interactions are believable. I enjoyed thinking of technology and practices that could be used by these groups.

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