Guest Review: TRAITOR’S BLADE by Sebastien de Castell (Jo Fletcher Books)

deCastellS-GC1-TraitorsBladeAnother perspective on the first Greatcoats novel

The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they’ll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor’s blade.

Reviewed by Ryan Frye

I began reading Sebastien De Castell’s Traitor’s Blade late one night and the next thing I knew, it was even later, and I was already a fair chunk into the book. This is one of those books that grabbed my attention immediately and made it easy for me to submerse myself into this new fantasy world and all its trappings. De Castell does this with quick, action packed pacing and a first person narrative voice that makes the story easy to fall into. From page one, there’s great, witty dialog and a dragon’s horde of action. These two elements were the driving forces that kept me reading of Traitor’s Blade as I found some areas where I struggled with the novel.

The events of Traitor’s Blade are told through Falcio Val Mond, once the leader of the king’s Greatcoats, a group of traveling magistrates who upheld the laws of realm. These men and women were not only well versed in law, and diplomacy, but also martially talented. Simply put, the Greatcoats are the most skilled fighters and duelists in the land; A fact that the reader is shown again and again in a variety of vivid action scenes. However, the Greatcoats were forced to disband five years ago when the Dukes of the realm joined forces and slew the King; An event that (by order of the king) the Greatcoats enabled by standing down and doing nothing, rather than fighting to try and save his life. Since that ill-fated day, the Greatcoats have fallen sharply from grace. Branded as traitors, they are openly hated on by just about every man, woman and child in the realm.

Falcio’s narrative voice is, for the most part, great. There were times when his penchant for smart-mouthed quips grated, but overall, it worked for me. Seeing events through Falcio’s eyes allows for a great introduction to the world of Traitor’s Blade because he has been at or near the center all the key events that shape the political landscape. This limited point of view does not provide the reader with a very nuanced view of the world however as things tend to be rather black and white for Falcio. As the reader learns more about his past, the reason he sees things the way he does becomes increasingly clear and provides one of the more interesting character arcs I’ve seen in a while. The way in which Falcio wears his past is interesting to read as it plays out. He wears that past like he wears his greatcoat; it is very much a part of him. For better or worse, protecting him and allowing him to take the risks that he does. I found this element very interesting, but I did have one issue with it…

The key element in Falcio’s past that provides the spur that sets him on his path, stems from a sexually violent act committed against his wife, and I was quite disappointed to see this used here. Using violence against women as a motivator to spur a male character into action is just not something I want to read. In my opinion, the scene, and the woman involved, was there simply as a plot device, and the usage of such an unnecessary and sexist trope soured my reading experience. It can be argued that without this element, Falcio’s character wouldn’t be nearly as nuanced, but there are many other ways to motivate and give nuance to a character, and I wish De Castell had taken a different angle.

By the time I reached the end of Traitor’s Blade, I found myself with a mixed feeling towards the whole thing. On the one hand, I had an action-packed swashbuckler of a novel that was more often than not, very thrilling to read. On the other hand I had a ‘red flag’ that tainted the mixture. Additionally, I felt that De Castell asked for a lot of blind acceptance from the reader. There were a handful of times where I felt like I had to go along with a character’s decision or accept a plot element or plot development just because. When something like this would happen I’d think, “Oh, that will get sorted out with further character exploration or world building”, and I’d read on expecting to eventually uncover more, but it wouldn’t ever happen… Frustrating to say the least.

In the end, I’m wishing this one had played out differently. There’s a lot of fun within these pages, but it’s merits are weighed down by the flaws. It’s not often that I read a book that polarizes my feelings in such a way. I think most readers will find something to like about Traitor’s Blade but it’s a book that cuts both ways and forces the reader to take the bad with the good.

*

Also on CR: Interview with Sebastien de Castell; Guest Post “Where Writers Get Their Groove”; Stefan’s reviews of Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow

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