Review: Saint’s Blood by Sebastien de Castell

Saint's Blood

Series: The Greatcoats #3
Genre: Epic fantasy
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Release date: April 7th 2016
This edition: Hardcover

Notes: I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. As this is the third book in the Greatcoats series, there will be series spoilers below.

Synopsis:

How do you kill a Saint?

Falcio, Kest and Brasti are about to find out, because even Tristia’s most powerful Saints are turning up dead and the entire country is convinced it’s a sign that the Gods themselves oppose Aline’s ascension to the throne.

Now the Dukes are using the murders as an excuse to weasel out of their agreement to reinstate the Greatcoats, providing a golden opportunity for the Inquisitors – the Church’s own duelling magistrates – to take up the burden of enforcing justice … their own much harsher form of justice.

If he’s going to stop the Inquisitors, Falcio has to find the Saint-killer.

The only clue is the terrifying iron mask encasing the head of the dying Saint of Mercy – but even if it does lead him to the murderer, Falcio will still have to face him in battle.

And this may be one duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can ever hope to win.

Three books into this series, and I have to declare it – I AM SO HOOKED ON THE GREATCOATS.

It’s like The Musketeers with magic. On steroids. But for all of the wild adventuring, peril and spectacle, there is a real heart emerging from beneath it all that also plays its part in making this book – and this series – a much richer reading experience.

Oh, and it gets grim. The dangers to our band of unlikely heroes are bigger and badder than ever, as you might expect from a third series entry. Not one of these characters is safe from the physical or emotional toll that this takes. What I love, though, is that it never became too much for me, the reader, to handle. Oh, I bit my nails and squirmed, for certain – but everything that happens here, happens for a reason. There’s meat to the drama here, and it always serves the characters. Not the other way around. The darker the situation becomes, the more we learn about the people caught in it. And there are some very, very tough times ahead for these people.

Certainly not least, for the women.

Now, here’s where I’m a little conflicted, feelings-wise. I love the women in this book. They have strong voices, and they are given agency – in fact, much of the final act puts the power in Aline’s hands, and without giving away anything more about that, I have to say that she positively shines. At the same time, however, the mid-point dramatic ante is upped (perhaps arguably) at the expense of Valiana’s agency. I won’t go into spoilery detail, but this turn of events, coupled with the persistent references by the male characters to the women in affectionate yet somewhat belittling terms, made me question several times whether or not these women and their agency was being undermined…

That sounds like I’m sticking a sexist warning label on the narrative, but I want to be clear: I’m not. If there was undeniable, overt sexism going on, then yes; I’d slap that label on so fast my hand would hurt. I’m not doing that, because even now I’m not certain that these factors weren’t unnecessary.

This is a fantasy novel set in a world where women ARE undermined, and to an appalling degree. The Greatcoats are forcing change upon that world by putting a young girl on the throne, and fighting to keep her there. One of their best and most deadly fighters is a woman, and Aline’s two most notable confidantes and advisors are women. Ethalia, with whom Falcio fell in love previously, is certainly not without important agency here. This isn’t so much adding subtle subtext about feminism as it is waving placards in your face, which is absolutely fine by me (we need more of it!). None of these women are damsels in distress, but for all that they shout about it (and sometimes they literally do), they also get their chance to knuckle down and show us what they’re made of.

My point is that the general attitudes toward women being in power in this world are perhaps so ingrained that even the Greatcoats don’t realise they’re playing into it when they pat Aline on the head, or when they become overprotective of Valiana. But what saves the story from really falling into that trap is that it’s not left at that. No one is more guilty of this behaviour than Falcio, and he has more lessons to learn than just the ones about how to fight the evil power this time around. These women have to fight to be heard, and yes, sometimes even the Greatcoats protecting them are the ones who have to listen more closely. What saves that aspect of their interactions from being frustrating is that, however long it might take, they do.

You see, it’s not entirely out of the question for old men to come around to new ways of thinking…

But let’s talk a bit about fighting the evil power now, because SWEET MOTHER OF FINE CHINA TEACUPS, THE POWER GETS EVIL. Not a little ironic considering we’re dealing with gods and those who uphold their laws.

HI THERE, CORRUPT RELIGIOUS ORGANISATIONS AND THE DESPOTIC POWERMONGERS WHO BUILD THEM.

It is not subtle. Not in the least. But oh, how I revelled in it.

I honestly don’t know what it is. Every time I open one of these books, I have to make sure I have a clear schedule for at least the rest of that day, because putting the book down again is damn near impossible. Case in point: I got most of the way through Saint’s Blood in one sitting, and if I hadn’t needed to eat and talk to other real human beings (oh, and sleep) I would have finished the whole thing then and there. There’s just something about these stories that yanks me right in and doesn’t let go, and it’s what I never fail to love about a book when it happens. However many problems that story might have, that’s enough to tell me it’s all worth it. I have joined the Greatcoats hook, line and sinker, and I’m going to be more than a little bereft when it’s over – but I’m sure it’ll all be all right in the end, because getting there will be so much damned fun.

 

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