Jo Fletcher Books, 2016, 576 pages
How do you kill a Saint?
Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they've started with a friend.
The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumors are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors - a move that could turn the country into a theocracy.
The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he'll still have to face him in battle.
And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.
Sadly, this series, which started on such a high note, has become weaker with each volume.
Saint's Blood isn't a bad book. It's serviceable fantasy adventure starring a trio of friends and comrades in arms who are seemingly the only heroes in a shithole of a country run by nobles so sociopathic you wonder how any agriculture or industry ever happens what with all the razing and ravaging and burninating of lands and collective punishments to terrorize the civilian populace.
And yet the heroes of the story, Greatcoats Falcio, Kest, and Brasti, still try to uphold the King's Laws in a land with a dead king, his teenage daughter supposedly destined to take the throne except that most of those nobles want her dead and only kind of go along with the legal succession on the principle that the alternative, chaos and anarchy, is worse.
So what went wrong with this book?
In the author's afterword in volume one, Sebastien de Castell jokingly-except-maybe-not talks about how terrified he was upon being given a four-book contract and realizing he actually had to write those books. Well, the last two volumes have read very much like he really only had one book planned and has been winging it ever since. The Continuing Adventures of Falcio Del Mond and the Greatcoats have been adding ever newer and more fantastical elements to the world of Tristia. In the first book, we had "Saints" as a sort of supernatural phenomenon, and gods vaguely referred to, but in Saint's Blood the author brings in the various clerical classes in all their glory... or rather, treats religion and gods with a mixture of contempt and plot contrivance.
For starters, he falls back on that old trope about gods being created and empowered by their believers' faith. Except in Saint's Blood this is worked out to such a mechanistic degree that really, the gods (and the "Saints" who are basically demigods, sort of hopped-up little deities empowered by their embodiment of some concept like Mercy or Romantic Love) are just overpowered NPCs, not really "divine" even in the fantasy sense.
The Big Bad of this volume comes out of nowhere, is yet another dark and bitter gloommonger who wants vengeance against the world because his family died unpleasantly (like pretty much every family in this series), and so through a process that is never really explained or justified, literally creates a new god to replace the old ones and then take over Tristia.
The big showdown between the Greatcoats, Aline the Heir Apparent, and the evil god and his creator, is epic and written in de Castell's usual style, with tricks and banter and heroic sacrifices and all the good guys rising despite overwhelming and overwritten levels of incredible agony, through sheer force of will, and, well, I saw enough of this in book two.
So, now we have sort of established the metaphysics of this universe, which diverge from the fantasy-lite setting of the first book and have become much closer to a standard AD&D-ish setting.
I wish I could be more enthused, but de Castell is going to have to pull off a grand finale in the last volume to make me interested in reading any more by him. To be clear again, this is an okay book, and if you liked the first two, it's worth continuing on, but I fear de Castell may have blown his creative wad on his debut novel.
Also by Sebastien de Castell: My reviews of Traitor's Blade and Knight's Shadow.
My complete list of book reviews.