Review: Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

Knight's Shadow

Series: Greatcoats #2
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Publication date: March 5th 2015
This edition: Hardcover
Formats: Hardcover, ebook
Cover artist: Unknown

Notes: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

As this is the second book in the Greatcoats series, the following review may contain some general spoilers.

Synopsis:

Tristia is a nation overcome by intrigue and corruption. The idealistic young King Paelis is dead and the Greatcoats – legendary travelling magistrates who brought justice to the Kingdom – have been branded as traitors. But just before his head was impaled on a spike, the King swore each of his hundred and forty-four Greatcoats to a different mission.

Falcio Val Mond, First Cantor, with the help of fellow Greatcoats Kest and Brasti, has completed his King’s final task: he has found his Charoites – well, one at least, and she was not quite what they expected. Now they must protect the girl from the many who would see her dead, and place her on the throne of a lawless kingdom. That would be simple enough, if it weren’t for the Dashini, an equally legendary band of assassins, getting in their way, not to forget the Dukes who are determined to hold on to their fractured Kingdoms, or the fact that the heir to the throne is only thirteen years old. Oh, and the poison that is slowly killing Falcio.

That’s not even mentioning the Greatcoat’s Lament…

Traitor’s Blade, which was Sebastien de Castell’s debut novel, the first book in this series and one of last year’s standout fantasy novels, left its sequel with quite a lot to live up to – and, as I noted back then, a thing or two to improve on as well. With all of that in mind, Knight’s Shadow was a book I was anticipating quite fiercely.

And I’m happy to report it was thoroughly worth the wait.

Everything that de Castell did well in the first book – the action, the adventure, the high drama, the zinging character interaction and dialogue – is taken to a fresh level here. As with any really good sequel, Knight’s Shadow raises its own bar. That said, what impressed me even more than everything it kept doing right were the aforementioned improvements.

I noted in my review of Traitor’s Blade that the antagonists felt a little less ‘real’ to me than our band of protagonist brothers did; that they were effective but a bit on the overblown side. Now, a good argument might be that when you’re reading a Musketeers-inspired fantasy adventure, ‘overblown’ is never out of the question, and I can accept that. At the time, though, it was something that stuck out to me, and so into the review it went.

Happily, I had absolutely no such nitpicks this time. With the return of Duke Jillard, who I recall mostly as the main source of my nitpickery in the first book, I admit I was a little nervous about the same problem repeating here. But it was not so! Thanks to the inclusion of a meaty (and bloody) little subplot/side adventure/gnarly tangle of whodunitness, the big bad Duke is back in the later half of Knight’s Shadow, and the depth of character that I felt was lacking before is very satisfyingly present and accounted for here. In short, I finally found some sympathy for the power-grabbing maniac I was merely side-eyeing previously. Nicely done.

That said, the turnabout regarding Jillard certainly doesn’t mean that this book lacks despicable villains. Knight’s Shadow was easily twice as long (or close enough to it) as the first book, and not a page of it felt wasted; of course there was despicable villainy, and plenty of it. And oh, how well it was used.

I won’t say much on account of spoilers, but I will say that “the Greatcoat’s Lament” does not exactly involve playful kittens. Yikes.

This story is bigger, darker and full of more violence than its predecessor. Generally speaking, it is not a comfortable read. I swore out loud at it so many times. But my only real annoyance is with the number of times I had to put it down, and by the end… Well. When you get there, I like to think you’ll know how I felt.

So when are we getting Book Three?

 

 

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