Series: Greatcoats #1 | Genre: Fantasy | Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books | Published: February 10th, 2014 | Format: ARC | My rating: 4/5
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…
Throwbacks in fantasy are a tricky thing to get right. I’m all for reading books that take you on adventures and celebrate the sheer fun of the thing, but there is a point where you begin to sacrifice plot and character for the sake of it, and it can perhaps be a more delicate balancing act than one might think. I love me a good adventure, but not at the expense of those things.
Thankfully, Traitor’s Blade gets this balancing act right.
Sebastien de Castell does an impressive job of making his central characters, most notably Falcio val Monde, both intriguing and sympathetic. He’s clearly a man with as many personal issues as he has conviction in his duties as a Greatcoat, even if that organisation is in ruins nowadays. That conviction, however, takes a beating throughout the course of this story, and the places that his determination takes him make for quite a grim journey. I couldn’t help feeling compelled to stick with it, though, and by the end the rewards are pretty satisfying.
See, I love a good Musketeers-style tale. I love swords and duels and intrigue and betrayal and all for one. I also love reading stories where the central players in ‘games’ like these are tested to their limits, both in terms of their capabilities and, as I mentioned, their personal convictions. Falcio and his friends go through enough hell to make you wonder why they keep doing what they do – but for all their flaws and their arguments amongst themselves, there’s no question that these men share a bond that’s both rare and unquestionable, both following and during the hard times they’ve got to face.
This is where de Castell gets that throwback quality right, because he balances it all with a more modern flavour. Back in the day of such stories, all the swordfighting and spectacle might have been considered enough. Not today. Readers want things to make sense, they want to relate to and understand a character’s motivations. No two-dimensional Hero Of The Day for us, please. Keep the derring-do, by all means, but you’ve got to make us care about it. That’s what characters are for, and here, that’s what they do.
Well, mostly. I held back from giving this book five stars for a couple of reasons. All of my sheer enjoyment aside, I felt that a little more could have been done to lend weight to the villains in this story. Oh, the bad guys are properly despicable and hiss-worthy, no question – but they were perhaps a little too much so…? See above regarding making us care – I never had a doubt who the bad guys here really were, which is fine, but I’m the kind of reader who likes to be able to question those things. Give me moral grey areas! We’re given this where Falcio and his friends are concerned, which I enjoyed – but a little more balance on the Bad Guy side of the line would have gone such a long way.
That said, and to be fair, de Castell does spring a surprise on the reader at a certain pivotal point that I confess did take me completely by surprise. It was a real forehead-slapping moment for me, but I’ll happily tip my hat to him for pulling it off. Well played, sir.
The other thing that kept that five-star rating juuuuust out of reach for me was the maintenance of tension throughout the book. It starts off strong, at a good clip, and the ending absolutely left me wanting the next book pretty darned badly – but some of the midway-point action felt a little more meandering than it perhaps should have been.
On another positive note, though, what action it was! I’ve rarely enjoyed swordplay and fight scenes in a book as much as I enjoyed these. Definitely a high point!
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I got the action, I got the intrigue, I even got a pretty impressive monster out of the deal (sort of). There’s enough magic to fascinate me – I’d like more of that, I think. That magic ties into an ending that definitely left me asking enough questions to ensure I’ll come back for more.
As debut novels go, Sebastien de Castell’s offering up one that’s most certainly worth your time. There are characters I loved to root for, and misgivings aside, I will admit I happily booed the bad guys as well. It’s exactly the kind of book I can (and did!) tear through in a couple of days, and had Real Life not gotten in my way it would have been read in a matter of hours. I think that speaks for itself.
Join the Greatcoats? Hell yes.