Sebastien de Castell’s rollicking adventure, Traitor’s Blade, made its way onto my Kobo ahead of release last month, courtesy of the excellent folks at Jo Fletcher Books. And rather fine it is too – I reviewed it here on Goodreads (full text also appended below for the click-wary).
Being a clever sort of chap, Mr de Castell has given his readers the opportunity to design their own Greatcoat seals in the same way that folks were able to create their own Game of Thrones house sigils (House Chopper really should be a thing).
Naturally, mine (see above) involves an axe. The Kraken hidden in the green depths, meanwhile, symbolizes my great intellect. With a great axe comes great responsibility. Mr de Castell plainly knows me far too well.
But hush – here’s the skinny.
Falcio val Mond was the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, passing the King’s Justice across the land. But the Greatcoats are no more, disbanded by the venal and power-hungry Dukes, their symbolic – and armoured – coats reduced to tatters along with their reputations, and the King himself is dead. And Falcio, along with his friends and fellow Greatcoats Brasti and Kest, have just been framed for murder…
The debut from Sebastien de Castell, as well as the first in the Greatcoats series, Traitor’s Blade sets up a world of betrayed ideals and dreams gone sour quickly, and then proceeds to make Falcio’s life progressively worse. It’d be very easy to say “It’s like Mark Lawrence writes the Musketeers!” – and even though that’d be a brilliant book in itself, Traitor’s Blade is even better than that. This is the fantasy genre channeling Clint Eastwood – in particular, The Gauntlet (as Falcio takes responsibility for an orphaned girl in a city that wants her dead) and A Fistful of Dollars (the armoured coats themselves, as well as the scenes featuring Ugh).
The more familiar fantasy tropes are for the most part taken care of in a fresh style (gloriously OTT bad guys, wannabe Greatcoats who aren’t what they seem, hard-bitten caravan guards won over with derring-do), and thankfully glossed over where they threaten to bog the fast-moving story down, though the overly helpful priestess who gives Falcio his post-torture pick-me-up is just a little too old-school wish-fulfillment for comfort. And the reader does need to ignore the nagging question of exactly how the Tailor can get to where she needs to be so damned fast. The solutions to the mysteries riding on the tails of Trin, Aline and Valiana – the three main female characters pushing and pulling Falcio to the journey’s end – are signposted quite early on, but the characters themselves are fleshed out so well that it doesn’t actually matter. Plus, they have progression – they ain’t just there to look pretty.
And the sword-fights. Yow. It’s not often a writer can get away with putting so much detail into his sword-fights, but de Castell is actually a fight choreographer – and he can make it work on the page as well as in the imagination. Damn good fights. The only fight he doesn’t detail is the climactic one between Kest and a summoned opponent, and that one is best left to the imagination. Speaking of summoning, the use of magic is kept on tight reins, as much as are pistols. Magic isn’t allowed to spoil or overwhelm the story, instead allowing the swords to do their work.
Conclusions? A good start, promising much more, and a delightfully fast and thrilling read. If Goodreads let me give 4.5/5, or 9/10, Traitor’s Blade would get that mark. Because it doesn’t, I’m rounding down, but this is a heck of a debut.
As is my wont, I recommend you buy it from Waterstones, WH Smiths, or your local independent book retailer.