Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.
All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…
Thoughts: Sebastien de Castell’s debut novel is marked as one of the most fun books I’ve read so far this year. Granted, we’re only 2 months into the year, but my experience tells me that I’ll probably be saying the very same thing come December. Traitor’s Blade is often called “swashbuckling,” and it’s the kind of book that renews your faith that old-style adventure stories can still be told and told well.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Falcio val Mond, a Greatcoat and servant of the murdered King Paelis, one who has sworn himself to uphold justice and spread the King’s Laws across the land, even after his death. The Dukes of the land hold ultimate and abusive power over their territories, and Falcio and his companions seek to right wrongs, fight injustice, and stay alive in the process. The story alternates between the primary plot and flashbacks to Falcio’s earlier life, interactions with the King, and flashes of memories of events that made him the damaged and driven man he is.
Interesting for a first-person viewpoint, the story is told as though, well, a story is being told. While the focus is seeing events through Falcio’s eyes and being privy to his thoughts and observations, the book also takes a step back every now and again to explain things to the reader, as though Falcio is very much aware that he’s telling the tale to someone and not just living it. I actually don’t see this done very often, but I found that it worked quite well here. My biggest complaint about the first person POV is that it’s nearly always written in ways that people don’t actually thinking, mentally describing details that people take in but don’t dwell on or take time to really notice but are still given for the sake of setting a scene well. Having Falcio address the reader now and again makes the viewpoint, and all the description and detail that goes with it, make perfect sense in context.
But above all else, the dialogue really makes this book shine. The banter between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti was a treat to read, their words flowing easily and well, as they should between years-old friends who know each other and have been through much together. It’s joked that Falcio talks too much, and that’s certainly evident in the way he throws his sharp and sarcastic wit around in tense situations. De Castell has amazing talent when it comes to realistic dialogue, though there was one small exception: Aline. It was very easy to forget that she was only supposed to be 13, since most of the time she talked like an adult. I understand that she was a special case and often flipped between being wise beyond her years and being normal and childish, but much of her dialogue felt like it was coming from someone fully grown and experienced with the world, and it made her character seem less believable.
I can’t even say that the novel’s main weakness was that it was too predictable. Granted, even through the fast-paced and fluid fight scenes, there wasn’t much tension, solely due to the first-person viewpoint. You know that no matter how injured Falcio gets, no matter what seems to happen, Falcio’s going to find a way out because the book’s nowhere near over. This is a flaw with that viewpoint. It can throw a reader right into the thick of things, but it can remove some of the tension of an uncertain future.
(Though I admit, I really thought the author was going to completely turn that assumption on its head during that last couple of chapters, and I couldn’t read fast enough to find out what was going to happen! But if there’s any place to do that, it’s at the end of a novel.)
But in spite of that particular lack of tension, the plot itself was full of twists and turns and unexpected events that made things extremely compelling. You think the story will be largely about one thing, and then something changes to throw the characters into another political plot arc, which leads them to a deeper conspiracy than they originally thought, and so on. Far from being a convoluted mess, it was very coherent, and the more vague aspects were hints at something that’s likely to get revealed in more detail later in, giving readers a hook to keep on going with the Greatcoats series.
The action really doesn’t stop for any major length of time; Falcio and his companions seem to go from one fight to another, and if not, they’re instead going from fighting to fleeing with danger hot on their tails. The witty dialogue coming from well-developed realistic characters will have you forgetting just how much time has passed while you immerse yourself in the world within the book’s pages. If you want a novel that doesn’t let up, doesn’t really slow down or suffer from dull moments, then Traitor’s Blade is a fantasy offering you should be reading. It will pull you in and refuse to let you do, and you can join me in waiting for the inevitable sequel. Sebastien de Castell has a new fan, and I can’t wait to see more of his talent and wit.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)