There is a secret society of magicians working to protect England and its king. The Pendragon Society traces its roots in a direct line back to Merlin and is currently devoted to protecting King George III. This is a difficult time for the Pendragons, as the seeds of revolution are germinating in the American colonies and dissent is growing in the society itself. Drake Kirkwood is The Pendragon with great material wealth and power backed with the abilities of a powerful magician. One of his closest advisors, his cousin, Dr. Milton Marlowe, secretly uses his own magic gifts to undermine Drake’s position and seize control. The only hope Drake and the Pendragons have is Georgina, Drake’s sister. Disguised as a man, she has fought in wars across Europe as a mercenary officer. Her martial skills are a match for any man and is respected by her fellow officers and soldiers alike. But will her magic and fighting skills be enough to save her beloved country and family?
Secret societies are beloved in fiction, without them where would Dan Brown be? Add in a liberal dose of magic and historical drama and ‘Guardian Of The Freedom’ is what you get. In fact, you also have various incarnations of the masons thrown in to add to the secret machinations. Georgina Kirkwood or Georgie, to her lovers and loved ones, seems to be a senior member of them all. I have a little difficulty dealing with the cliché of the female fighter in drag. I know historically that a number of such fighters existed and female warriors have proven their abilities many times. It is when Shakespearian levels of failing to recognise one’s lovers or friends by strapping up ones boobs and slapping on some stubble stretches credulity. Irene Radford establishes that Georgie is a magician so why not give her the ability to disguise herself using magic? Georgie’s inconvenient magical abilities are also incapable of healing an injury to her reproductive organs leaving her free to duel her way through battlefields and bedrooms alike. This all comes across as a bit too convenient and doesn’t ring true.
The next issue I have is with the language used throughout. Authors in the USA often have an odd way with historical fiction. I was a little overwhelmed by the ‘Tis and ‘Tils liberally sprinkled through the conversations. A highlight was the most spectacular use of a contraction apostrophe I have ever read. We are all used to wandering o’er things and hearing Hea’en above sung in carols but I won’t give away Radford’s particularly incredible contraction masterpiece. It comes across as lazy writing. Such contractions represent the differences between written and spoken speech, not just a veneer of antiquity.
Endemic gender-blindness aside, the plot peaks and troughs its way from one missed opportunity to deal with the plotters to another. At one point, Georgie witnesses supernatural influences being used by one character, but fails to mention or try to fix it. Again and again, she seems happy to let events play out rather than act like the heroic warrior magician she is.
The final scenes drag a little too much. Judicious editing would have improved the pace and sense of urgency. The Pendragon Society, having endured since Arthurian times, comes across as teetering on the edge of crisis after crisis, but never adequately resolving them.
The story has many good and interesting ideas. The idea of a secret society working behind the curtain to protect England and its interests is not exactly new, but the magic and history is a nice twist. I found myself rooting for many of the characters, even while they floundered and flopped around. This is a book for fans of strong female characters who are fed up of being let down by the weakness of the male characters around them. Fans of a different take on fledgling American history might like a look as well.
(pub: DAW. 532 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $36.00 (CAN). ISBN: 0-7564-0178-X)
check out website: www.dawbooks.com