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…
Every so often, a debut novel comes along that knocks your expectations out of the park. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamorra is one of those novels. Peter V. Brett’s The Painted Man is another. Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade needs to be added to that list. I loved this.
I do, however, not really know how to write about the novel, without coming across as a gushing fanboy. I will, therefore, keep this review relatively short.
There are three main characters at the heart of the novel: Falcio, former captain of the Greatcoats, and his two closest companions and comrades, Kest (master swordsman and childhood friend) and Brasti (master archer). After their employer is murdered, for which they are blamed, we follow our heroes on a journey through their world.
“My name is Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, and this was only the first of a great many bad days to come.”
Over the course of the novel, our heroes join a caravan as guards; visit a corrupt and deadly city, saving a young girl in the process; dodge and foil scheming dukes and duchesses; unearth a plot of tremendous scale and consequence; suffer endless animosity; come face-to-face with a true psychopath; and get into a great many brawls and fights. Oh, and there’s a badass, potentially insane old tailor…
Actually, there are four main characters. The fourth, however, only appears in the frequent, well-placed and -timed flashback chapters: the king. Following a tragedy in his youth, Falcio basically kills his way into the throne-room. The new king (very new, in fact) decides to give Falcio’s fury and passion a focus, and through him creates the Greatcoats. Through his discussions with the king, we see a mutual desire to re-shape the politics and society of the times, breaking the feudal system for one more egalitarian. Naturally, the (sadly rather powerful) dukes have something else in mind. Each chapter that looks back at the history of the Greatcoats and the monarchy’s eventual downfall does great things for the story: it fleshes out not only Falcio and the Greatcoats, but also the world and society, without coming across like an info-dump.
Traitor’s Blade is just the first novel in the series, of course, which means a lot of the novel is focused on setting up the larger storyline and establishing the characters and locales. Falcio’s group grows by the end of the novel, and factions are exposed, defeated, emboldened.
De Castell tells his story in fluid, inviting prose that pull the reader in and never let go. There is an excellent blend of the more ‘classic’, fun adventure-style fantasy and the grittier, darker fantasy of George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, and others of that ilk. The author is pretty much a contemporary Dumas, and his characters and story are just great to read. The humour is deployed expertly, and never takes over the more serious or darker aspects of the tale – he doesn’t shy away from displaying the corruption and brutality of the city and its rulers, for example. De Castell has a great, insouciant and snarky wit at times.
“Kest’s father made some of the best swords in the region, and he had learned fighting ways in the wars with Avares, the country to the west that is populated by barbarians who occasionally gang up and make their way across the mountains and try to raid us the way they do their own people. They lose every time because our troops can fight war-style, in units, while theirs just sort of run at you shouting and pissing on themselves as they try to cleave your skull with whatever is handy.”
There are poignant moments interspersed with lighter scenes. And, of course, plenty of brawls and sword-fights. Speaking of, I particularly liked the way a duel could be seen as a conversation (this happens relatively late in the novel, but I had to mention it because it’s quite cool).
I could go on for much longer, detailing all of the major and minor things I loved about this novel. But, I shall close here. Like a master-crafted rapier, Traitor’s Blade is perfectly-balanced, sharp and to the point. Very highly recommended, this is a must read.
Also on CR: Interview with Sebastien de Castell
Traitor’s Blade is due to be published in early March by Jo Fletcher Books (UK) and Penguin (Canada). For more on his novels and writing, be sure to check out Sebastien’s website and follow him on Twitter. You can also read an excerpt, here.