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…
Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade looks to be Jo Fletcher Books’ big spring debut and the campaign promoting this book has been extensive. The first reactions to the book I’ve seen on Twitter have been very enthusiastic, so my expectations were high when I started Traitor’s Blade. From the synopsis I had expected to enjoy the book and taking into account the reactions from those around me, I knew I was in for a treat, but what I hadn’t expected was how much of a treat it would be. Because Traitor’s Blade is a very polished debut with a solid plot, great characters, a lovely world, and most importantly, it exudes a sense of fun that is infectious.
The star of Traitor’s Blade and our narrator is Falcio val Mond, erstwhile head of the King’s Greatcoats. What struck me about Falcio’s voice was how instantly compelling it was and how distinctive. Falcio is a sympathetic character and one that is well-rounded. He’s a good man, but one with a darker side to him that we get to see as well. I loved the sense of brotherhood he had with his fellow Greatcoats, Brasti and Kest; they felt a little like the Three Musketeers before D’Artagnan finds them. They also have a fantastic way of bantering, the sort that’s grown from working closely and surviving together over a large number of years. We also get to know the late King Paelis quite well through flashbacks to Falcio’s memories, which allows De Castell not only to show us why the Greatcoats are so devoted to their late king, but also how they got to the situation they are in when the book starts. I liked the king’s idealistic nature, his desire to leave the world better than he found it, without ever being naive about it.
Some of the more interesting characters in the novel are women. I loved the mysterious Tailor, the maker of the coats that give the Greatcoats their name and I hope we learn more about her magic in the next book. Princess Valiana is also a fascinating character, one that oscillates between spoiled noble brat and the hint of something more. I liked where De Castell took her story and I look forward to seeing more of her development. And of course Falcio’s ultimate nemesis, the Duchess Patriana, is a delicious villain. She’s so evil, it’s almost over the top; but she is a character I loved to hate.
The world De Castell set his book in is interesting. I liked the political set up with the idealistic king and the awful Dukes who exploit their citizenry. It’s an age old phenomenon, though it’s usually the other way around with a tyrannical king and noble dukes. I also like the city of Rijou and the Ganath Kalila, or Blood Week, story line. I found it an interesting concept and I liked how De Castell used it to show us the strength of how the Greatcoats work. He also writes some kick-ass fighting scenes which always is a huge plus in my book.
While the plot was solid and engaging, there was one thing that just made me roll my eyes at the blindness of the characters, especially Falcio. It was at the true identity of one of the characters, which I’d seen coming for over a hundred pages before Falcio finally figured it out. The question is whether it was the intent of the author for the reader to figure it out far before the characters do or whether I’ve just read too much epic fantasy. While it didn’t lessen my overall enjoyment of the story, it did bug me, especially as there are several other identity reveals that took me quite by surprise.
What struck me the most about De Castell’s writing, other than Falcio’s instantly distinctive voice is the fun the book exudes. Not in the sense that it’s a humorous novel, though there is certainly a lot of humour in the dialogues, but in the sense of adventure and derring-do that De Castell seems to gleefully revel in. The narrative has its grimmer moments and isn’t all sunshine and butterflies, but it never loses its joyous sensibility. I found myself reading while grinning like the Cheshire Cat more than once and I was disappointed that I’d finished the book so quickly, because I didn’t want to leave Tristia behind.
Traitor’s Blade has been positioned as one of the big debut releases of this spring and it’s one that makes good on its promise. I have a fantastic time with Traitor’s Blade and it’s certainly my top fantasy debut so far this year, perhaps even my favourite debut overall. Traitor’s Blade is a fun, polished gem of an epic fantasy tale and I can’t wait to find out what is next for Falcio and friends and to read more of De Castell’s writing. Traitor’s Blade comes highly recommended.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.