Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
Published March 6th 2014 by Penguin
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…
*An ARC was provided by Penguin Canada in exchange for an honest review*
I knew I needed to read Traitor's Blade the moment I read the blurb for it. The Greatcoats and their travelling justice league (with swords!) were already intriguing enough to me before factoring in the loss of their King - by beheading no less and the rampant corruption that has now taken hold and scattered the remaining Greatcoats across the world. I've always been a fan of a good underdog story and with the odds stacked so overwhelmingly against them, the Greatcoats, their quest for justice and their need to fulfil their dead King's dream were just what I needed.
Traitor's Blade grabs your attention from the get-go and only tightens it's grip as the story progresses. The story is told from the perspective of Falcio val Mond, the first Cantor and leader of the Greatcoats....or what's left of them. In truth, Falcio travels with his two best friends and fellow Greatcoats, Kest & Brasti. Their world, all they knew, and all they were taught to fight for has fallen apart around them but still they remain loyal to the King's dying wish, and to each other, unlike many of the other, now disbanded Greatcoats, who have turned to less noble pursuits following the King's death. Whatever shred of hope that Falcio still clings to is what guides him to trying to honor the King's dying wish; and to continue to fight for what is right.
I think that what sets Traitor's Blade apart is the engaging writing style. While the story is told exclusively from Falcio's point-of-view, the narrative alternates from present day to snippets of the past. We are treated to Falcio's happier times with his wife, to his unfortunate meeting with King Paelis and even to how the Greatcoats were actually formed. The switch between present and past was exceedingly well done on every count; never confusing in any way. Sharing these integral parts of the Greatcoat's past with the reader added depth, not just to the characters but to the plot at hand. It allowed the story to grow while creating a nice sense of mystery and intrigue. This book very much reads like a film playing itself out in your mind. The narrative and the dialogue are both lively, the pacing is tight and the plot itself is layered and elaborate, although it seemed to overreach a bit, if only on a select few occasions.
Character-wise, I thought Traitor's Blade was especially interesting. The protagonist, Falcio is a nice mixture of the traditional hero, but he's also extremely flawed. He makes mistakes, he's prone to bouts of madness and he sometimes picks fights for no reason. I found his character to be quite realistic and extremely well-rounded. He's a hero you can root for, but he's also a man who's been through hell and back, and he's been shaped by his experiences. His two closest friends, traveling companions and fellow Greatcoats Kest & Brasti are equally real, both having their own sets of quirks and a unique temperament to match. They joked with each other, fought with one another but they always stood together when it counted. Their friendship reminded me of The Three Musketeers, and the fact that there was sword-fighting and heroics abound definitely helped with that impression... but despite that, this was still a wholly original story and set of characters.
Traitor's Blade is an adult adventure tale with real substance that's dark, gritty, thrilling and humorous all at once. Author Sebastien de Castell seems especially gifted at writing fight/scenes. They're complex without ever becoming weighed-down and you can picture every move clearly, which makes it all the more thrilling! Aside from the slightly over-extended plot, my only other minor issue was with a certain figure of speech that the characters tended to express on occasion. It was a bit off-putting because they tended to be both overly-hyphenated and long. We'd have a character exclaiming to a certain saint responsible for let's say, the ocean and they'd call her 'Saint-Maria-that-watches-over-sailors'. I don't mind made up words and expressions, so long as they aren't distracting. Luckily the style was used less and less as the story went on. It wasn't a big deal or anything, but I could have done without it. The bottom line is that Traitor's Blade is a solid read and a very exciting start to a new series. I can't wait to see where the story goes from here!
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars