Jo Fletcher Books, 2014, 370 pages
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.
Sebastien de Castell is almost too perfect a name for someone who writes swashbuckling fantasies. And he poses like this:
Like, is this dude for real?
Despite my skepticism, Traitor's Blade turned out to be a compellingly readable epic.
Set in a vaguely pre-Renaissance fantasy not-Europe, with swords and sorcery and alchemy but also gunpowder, there is nothing particularly original in de Castell's setting. While most reviews seem to make comparisons to The Three Musketeers, this book is really not that. Yes, the main characters are members of an order of magistrates called "the Greatcoats" (for their specially crafted armored coats made by a mysterious old woman tailor), and they're like a fantasy Special Forces team, dedicated to duty, honor, and the King's Law, but it turns out they are also very pragmatic heroes, and that "the King's Law" is a fairly recent invention, concocted by the weak son of a tyrant king who dreamed of something better, and achieved it... for a little while.
Falcio Val Mond, the chief protagonist, is full of angsty background story with a raped dead wife like we've seen a hundred times before. And the plot mostly revolves around outmaneuvering a host of sadistic power-hungry nobles, so it's Game of Thrones with slightly better costumes. This is a not-Europe without Christianity or Greek philosophy or Roman foundations, no Magna Carta, not even feudalism per se, just absolute power and might makes right. It's a shallow setting in terms of setting up the villains and the heroic Greatcoats who oppose them.
So, like I said, nothing we haven't seen in fantasy novels before. And yet I loved this book. Why? Because it's heroic. The heroes are heroes and they perform heroic feats and make heroic sacrifices and they are good when everyone else isn't. And the story moves briskly along with swordplay, magic, treachery, revelations of big bads behind the big bad, tyrants to depose and unbeatable bad guys to beat and maidens to rescue.
I won't say this is a groundbreaking novel, or something unique and special, but I will say it is hugely entertaining and enjoyable if you like heroic fantasy with a swashbuckling flavor. If you are a fan of Scott Lynch or Brent Weeks, Sebastien de Castell writes the same sort of band-of-heroes-against-the-odds-in-a-cra
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