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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Traitor's Blade by Sebastian de Castell (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu & Mihir Wanchoo)

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OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that’s exactly what’s happening… 

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they’ll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor’s blade.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (Liviu): After an okayish start on the light side that gave a taste of the picaresque aspect of the novel, Traitor's Blade started getting darker and more interesting so it quickly pulled me in. By its end, the book turned out to be an excellent read - powerful narrative and many twists and turns of which some major ones are clear from long before, but they are still very entertaining.

Highly imaginative world building which has a little "iffiness" factor true as some things happen too quickly and of course our heroes escape quite a few deathly situations in sometimes unlikely ways, but that doesn't really matter given the rest of the goodies of the novel. Also for once a realistic view of "knights", chivalry and a medieval like society that reads real - brutal, no illusions, no mercy, the powerful oppressing the less powerful and those oppressing the weak.

Narrated in alternate present and past by Falcio val Mond, former First Cantor of the Greatcoats - both Cantor and Greatcoat have definite meanings here - who now a few years after his king's death when the high nobility rebelled against his reforms and King Paelis refused to allow a civil war and ordered Falcio to surrender his highly trained Greatcoats in return for amnesty, surrender that has the survivors now called traitors, tries to keep his last promise to the king and find the treasures the king has scattered throughout the realm and use them to restore a semblance of justice as opposed to the unending brutality of the nobility.

While a great fighter and having a highly developed sense of justice and morality, Falcio is not the sharpest intellect around, so he and his two companions, first sword Kest and first archer Brasti, kind of bumble in and out of mortal peril, are outwitted and manipulated at every turn by nefarious schemers, but in true picaresque fashion, manage to survive despite the odds.

Here is Falcio after killing a renowned knight in a quick battle:

 'I looked out at the night sky and the stars that winked at us as if they were all in on some great joke. ‘Five years ago, after the Ducal Army took Castle Aramor, they killed our King and hauled his corpse up to the top of the castle. They mounted his head on a pike. Some men cheered, some men looked away.’ I took another swig of my wine. ‘And some men just laughed.'

So Lynniac was there, was he?’

Lynniac was there,’ I said. ‘Commander of a division of Knights. I didn’t recognise him at first, but when he was pointing that crossbow at me and he started laughing …’

Feltock bit the inside of his cheek. Then he said, ‘And you think you remember everyone who was there that day?’ I thought about it for a moment. ‘Not everyone,’ I replied. Feltock was looking at me intently, trying to see if I knew, if I did remember. More trouble than it will be worth, I thought, but I was a little drunk and a little tired so I said, ‘But since you’re asking, yes, General Feltock, I remember you.’

Feltock’s eyes went wide for a moment, but then he gave a bitter laugh. ‘Not “General”,’ he said. ‘Not for a few years now.’

We drank some more in silence. ‘So,’ he said, uncrossing his legs with a crack. ‘Are you gonna come for me next, boy?’

I sighed. ‘No.’ ‘Why not? I was there, wasn’t I? I was one of those what took down your King, wasn’t I? So what’s the difference between me and Lynniac?’

You didn’t laugh.’

He just looked at me for a while and then said, ‘Huh.’ Then he stood up and started walking back to the wagons. 

‘Why “Captain” Feltock?’ I asked when he was a few paces away. ‘Why aren’t you a general any more?’ 

Feltock turned and gave me a sour grin. He tossed the rest of his wineskin back to me. ‘Because, boy, when they put the King’s head on that pole, I forgot to laugh.’

In the episodes taking place in the past, we see Falcio's journey from boy to young and happily married farmer, to man on a vengeance quest, to justiciar in the king's elite Greatcoats, to his last order in the name of the king and the slow revelations of that thread are added to the mix well indeed.

Magic is subtle here and nobody is necessarily as he or she seems, while the main characters - villains and heroes of both genders - are in the best fantasy tradition. A great ending which promises much more and a series that already by its first volume vaulted to the top level, so I really want more.

Overall Traitor's Blade is the first "new" fantasy of 2014 that met and even exceeded my expectations and for the reasons above takes its place in my top 25 of the year to date.

ANALYSIS (Mihir): This was a debut, which came to my attention via Liviu, he had mentioned on Goodreads how much he was enjoying this classical sword & sorcery tale. Once I got hold a review copy, I dove in with high expectations and was rewarded for the most part.

The story begins with our sole narrator Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, and his two fellow greatcoats, Brasti, an expert archer, and Kest, the best blade among the Greatcoats. The tale begins when the order of the Greatcoats has been thoroughly disgraced. Forced to lay aside their arms by their King’s orders and watch his execution soon afterwards, has given the order a new name of Trattari or Tatter-Coats. The Dukes were the ones who engineered this coup but the biggest fall was taken by Falcio’s order. When we meet our three remaining Greatcoats, things seem dire as they have just witnessed murder but due to certain magical ministrations are painted as the murderers. Fleeing with their lives and martial reputations intact, our trio will have to uncover this new mystery as well solve the tasks given to each of them by their deceased king.

All in all, things are looking dastardly and that’s where the fun comes in for the reader. Falcio as a narrator is an engaging one as he reminisces of his past life before joining the order. We witness his personal accolades as well the event that lead him to meet King Paelis and later on to the formation of the Greatcoats as well. These flashbacks are nicely ensconced within the present wherein our Greatcoat trio are traipsing through the kingdom of Cristia trying to find the murderer and absolve themselves of the murder charge.

This was an absolute delightful read, combining the charm of the Three Musketeers story along with the twists and turn found in the best of sword and sorcery. Beginning with the pace of the story, which will keep readers engaged as well as the plot twists that will keep them hooked. The author has made this story a very relatable one via his protagonist Falcio who is an everyman hero. Facing rather horrible odds, he and his friends try to stick to their honorable ideals but are occasionally forced to walk the morally gray path. The author makes sure that the heroes are very sympathetic by giving them horrible scenarios and making the villains as evil as possible. After reading a lot of grimdark as well as morally ambivalent fantasy, Traitor's Blade as a debut left me delighted as soon as I finished it.

For readers who are looking for a fun read, Traitor's Blade hit the spot nicely. Not to say that there's no gruesomeness or darkness to the tale. The author does manage to portray a very grim picture for our heroes and makes the story take a few bleak turns. However not every situation is completely explained in regards to the story such as the Ducal insurrection as well as the villains' main plan. I'm hoping further clarification will be provided in the sequel but as far as stories go, this one kept me pretty intrigued with its plot and characters.

CONCLUSION: For all those who enjoy fantasy stories with a light-hearted feel to it, this debut is something that you must take a look at. Combining action and light hearted banter in a simplistic manner; Traitor's Blade is a debut that hearkens back to days of epic fantasy when grimdark hadn't become so widespread.


Unknown said...

I enjoyed this book as well but prefer the UK cover.

The Reader said...

Me too, the US one looks very staid.


Tabitha (Pabkins) said...

I definitely loved this one - and agreed it was light hearted in ways when I didn't expect it to be at all.


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