Jo Fletcher Books, 2017, 608 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.
The concluding, fourth volume of this series was better than the second and third, but still fell short of the greatness promised in the first book.
Falcio, Kest, and Brasti, the three Greatcoats who have been our protagonists since the beginning, are trying to wrap up the business they've been futilely struggling towards since book one — putting a stable monarch on the throne of Tristia and bringing some semblance of order and peace to the land. Aline, the former king's young teen daughter, has managed to avoid assassination attempts, coups, and evil gods, and inexplicably garnered the grudging support of Tristia's corrupt and power-crazed ducal council. Since the author had a fourth book to write, he finally brings in the northern barbarians who've been briefly mentioned since the first volume. Led by a new warlord who's managed to unite and organize them, they are threatening to overwhelm Tristia with their superior numbers and warlike ways, and of course the Dukes fall to squabbling and self-preservation rather than unity against the foreign threat.
Part of the problem with this book, indeed the entire series, is the difference between a planned, multi-book arc, and a series of episodic novels in which the author ties events from the previous books into the current one but rather obviously is making up a new plot for each volume. The Greatcoats series is a rollicking grand adventure, but I have never been convinced that the author wasn't flying by the seat of his pants since the end of volume one. It's only in the fourth book where we finally see him pick up some of the plot devices he dropped earlier, in this case the dreaded northern barbarians who have apparently invaded Tristia multiple times in the past century.
Falcio, of course, will face the enemy army and have to figure out various clever schemes and stirring speeches to win with the power of heart since a simple military encounter would see the Tristians crushed.
Besides finally fleshing out some setting elements hinted at earlier (all right, I suppose the third book, Saint's Blood, also did this by bringing saints and gods into the story), de Castell also finally shows a willingness to kill off some significant characters.
Then came the ending, in which I thought, "Oh no, you wouldn't," except he would. So, punt.
As I find myself saying after I've finished each book, I did like it, it just wasn't as good as I hoped after the first book. And there were just too many instances, repeated over and over and over again, of stupid fucking Kest and Brasti saying "No Falcio, you can't!" and interrupting him to say "You're an idiot, you don't know what you're talking about!" because the running theme of this entire series has been that Falcio is pretty much the cleverest, smartest, and most reliable Greatcoat ever and yet everyone treats him like shit. His schemes are always the ones that save the day, his actions are the ones that turn the tide, his words are the ones that work, he's the one that figures shit out, and yet he gets blamed for everything. And it's not played for laughs, it's just complete obliviousness even on the part of his closest friends.
This book was better than the preceding ones and brought the series to a decent conclusion.
There were many references to other countries, and the fact that Tristia is just one small nation on this world, one which Falcio has never left. So obviously the author is leaving this setting open for another series, possibly many more books. Based on the four books in the Greatcoats series, I will probably be willing to at least investigate them, but I'm not quite eager to dive into his next series.
Also by Sebastien de Castell: My reviews of Traitor's Blade, Knight's Shadow, and Saint's Blood.
My complete list of book reviews.