Review to come.
I have fallen in love Sebastien de Castell’s writing.
Traitor’s Blade opens with a classic, old-school prologue about duty, honor, and the inherent righteousness of our heroes. And then it drops us in the middle of a scene of said heroes guarding a boudoir as their employer deploys fantasy-Viagra to fuck a prostitute all night long. And with this juxtaposition, I fell hard.
Falcio val Mond was the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, the head of a legendary band of roving magistrates, protecting citizens high and low and defending the King’s justice. Unfortunately, the King lost his head and the Greatcoats lost everything. They’re reviled, loathed even, and knights are just itching for the chance to murder the lot.
Falcio, clinging to his ideals, sets out on his final geasa from the King, a journey to find the King’s Charoites, or jewels. He’s reluctantly joined by his best friends Kest, the greatest mortal swordsman, and Brasti, an archer beyond compare. Guarding caravan leaders may just be beneath their skills. Unfortunately, finding a bunch of hidden jewels in a world that despises you isn’t as easy as it sounds. The trio end up in the center of the political unrest that has followed the King’s death.
This leads to the largest portion of the book, the “Blood Week” in Rijou. Does that sound bad? The city is described as, “from a distance it gleamed. I don’t mean it shimmered, nor did it shine; it gleamed, the gleam of oily skin on a corpse, or the gleam in the eye of a man who fancies he can kill you without consequences.” Yeah, everything’s going to go great for Falcio in there. There’s a lot of action, particularly during this section, and it’s well written. There’s also a lot of humor and wit, something you rarely find in this genre. Even more interesting is Falcio’s obvious depression, bordering on suicidal, which serves as a counterpoint to Brasti’s easy humor and Kest’s stoic honor.
There are three scenes that concern me and kept me from giving the book a higher score. The first is a flashback to Aline, Falcio’s wife, being fridged. This is an unfortunate trope to start with, but when the woman agrees to let herself be raped to save both their lives and their home, rides the villain like a demon, gives him the best sex ever, (despite being raped,) and is then brutally murdered anyway to set the main character on his quest for revenge and redemption? Problematic at best, fucking-gross-Jesus-fuck-why-would-you-DO-that?!? at worst.
The second is Falcio’s night with Ethalia. The consent is questionable, the motivations are thin, and the conclusion felt rushed and out of nowhere. The spiritual cleansing of your main character shouldn’t read like a last minute, obligatory sex scene requested by the publisher.
And the last is the thrilling conclusion. Again, it felt rushed. Without spoiling too much, the acceptance of a new member of the Musketeers was frankly crazy. They pretty much literally went with “a wizard did it” to wave everything away. I’m left with so many questions: Why didn’t the soft candy work on little Aline, but it did on Falcio? Where did the Duchess get a Saint? How did any single thing the Tailor did actually work? Why was the King’s actual freaking plan, “leave a bunch of bastards around the country for after I die”? And WHY DID I FIGURE THAT OUT A HUNDRED PAGES BEFORE FALCIO?
Traitor’s Blade is a fantastic high fantasy that should appeal to fans of Sanderson or Lynch, which I am and which it does. It does have a bit of a Three Musketeers flavor at points, but it didn’t feel derivative. The twists are engaging and (for the most part) exciting, though somewhat expected. It’s funny and sharp. I was never bored, and I’m extremely excited for the next in the series. I strongly recommend it.