Emaculum begins right where Nostrum ended. Having obtained three vials of a cure for the disease inflicting the zombie-like “plaguers,” Sir Edward of Bodiam and his friend Sir Tristan of Rye need only to return to the abbey of St. Edmund’s Bury to complete their quest. There, Edward can administer the cure to his afflicted wife Elizabeth and reunite with his beloved. Even more, if they can find an alchemist who can decipher the recipe for this cure, they may be able to save all of England. Yet, as in the first two novels, nothing about such a straightforward quest is ever easy. And I mean ever.
Now that the plaguers can be cured, Edward no longer sees them as monsters, but as victims – the afflicted who need to be spared until they can be saved. As the story progresses, he even comes to view himself as the “champion of the dead.” After all, he’s the only savior the afflicted may have. As a result, the true monsters of this story are entirely human. They include Sir Gerald of Thunresleam, Edward’s belligerent nemesis from the past two books, and – in one of the book’s many surprises – the king of England, Richard II, who has succumbed to madness during these dark times. In the Middle Ages, kings had almost absolute power over life and death, so there are few things as scary as an insane and violent king! Richard is the series’ best villain, so it’s not surprising that Emaculum may be the series’ best book.
One of the author’s greatest skills is his ability to put his characters in a situation and have them suffer the worst outcome imaginable. Often these involve plot twists that the reader may see coming, but only because we’ve become trained to expect the most dreadful results for Edward and his friends. But don’t get me wrong, despite this perchance for putting his characters in unbelievably awful situations, the story’s pace is brisk and thrilling, and it’s filled with witty banter and amusing interludes that provide needed comic relief throughout the tale. Thankfully, the Scourge books are not horror novels, but rather fun, rollicking fantasies in the spirit of classic cliffhanger stories like the Indiana Jones tales – except set in medieval England.
As with the first two books, the author keeps the historical details believable and accurate (as much as they can be in an alternative history), and where he has taken liberties for the sake of story, he admits as much in an excellent series of historical notes at the end. One of my other favorite aspects was the return of a number of characters from the first book that didn’t appear in the second. In this sense, Emaculum takes the entire series full circle, tying up nearly every loose end from the first two installments. This results in a fitting conclusion to one of the more unique and engaging historical fantasy series I’ve encountered in a long time. I highly recommend it!
You can purchase The Scourge: Emaculum here.