Sebastien de Castell – Knight’s Shadow

Tristia is a nation overcome by intrigue and corruption. The idealistic young King Paelis is dead and the Greatcoats — legendary travelling magistrates who brought justice to the Kingdom — have been branded traitors. But just before his head was impaled on a spike, the King swore each of his hundred and forty-four Greatcoats to individual missions.

Falcio Val Bond, First Cantor, with the help of fellow Greatcoats Kest and Brasti, has completed his King’s final task: he has found his Charoites — well, one at least, and she was not quite what they expected. Now they must protect the girl from the many who would see her dead, and place her on the throne of a lawless kingdom. That would be simple enough, if it weren’t for the Dashini, an equally legendary band of assassins, getting in their way, not to forget the Dukes, who are determined to hold on to their fractured duchies, or the fact that the heir to the throne is only thirteen years old. Oh, and the poison that is slowly killing Falcio.

That’s not even mentioning the Greatcoat’s Lament…

When Sebastien de Castell’s debut novel Traitor’s Blade came out, I fell in love with both the story and the style. It was a joyous book, yet dealing with serious issues. And who could resist the brotherhood between Falcio, Brasti, and Kest? When I finished the first book, my main complaint was that I couldn’t read the second one immediately. I waited a year and when Knight’s Shadow came out, it fell between the cracks of all the other review copies I had to read. And when the next book, Saint’s Blood came out last year, it suffered the same fate, since now I had to read two huge books to catch up. However, this year saw the publication of the final book in the The Greatcoats series, Tyrant’s Throne and I decided it was time to catch up. In the end, I don’t know whether to kick myself for not reading the books sooner or to be grateful to my past self, since I could now just read all of the story in one go. I’m still undecided on that point… 

Since I had read the first book so long ago, I had to get back into the story a bit, rediscover the characters and recall what exactly happened in that first book. But I quickly got settled back in and the story took off. It was delightful to be back with the trio and learning more about their background and their motivations. Kest’s newfound Sainthood was a great part of the narrative and the character building. I really enjoyed how much his Sainthood revealed not just about Kest, but also about his bond with Falcio. It finally clicked for me in this book that their bromance might be less about the bro-part for Kest. Brasti however firmly keeps the bromance alive, being his usual brash self, bringing the comic note, and letting the reader smile through some very tense and painful scenes. Still, we also learn more about Brasti’s background and his revolutionary aversion to the Knights and the lengths he’ll go to trying to defeat them.

Yet this book wasn’t just about our central trio. In fact, some of the most amazing characters in the narrative are the women. Of course, Aline is there, but we also see Valiana again and the Tailor. The relationships between Falcio and both of the young women are interesting. While Aline is the daughter of his beloved King Paelis, the bond between Aline and Falcio is far more father-daughter than the bond with Valiana, the girl Falcio actually gave his name to and adopted. Falcio seems to have a far harder time giving Valiana the love and support she needs than he has Aline. Meanwhile, Aline and Valiana are very close as Valiana has vowed to protect Aline against all enemies. Though Falcio is the ostensible heart of the novel and many of the relationships are shown through his focus, some of the most interesting interactions and relationships are between the women in this book: Valiana and Aline, Valiana and Darriana, Aline and the Tailor, the Tailor and Darriana. They all take place in the background, but they are clearly present and very powerfully so; they show how women have each other’s backs in very different ways and on different levels.

The antagonists in this book were varied and some were completely unexpected. I don’t want to spoil the reveals so I won’t discuss two specific ones, but I do want to address the Dashini. I adored them as villains, but also as a concept. Because with the arrival of the Dashini — and also the Bardatti — we learn yet more about Tristia’s history and her old orders, which I found fascinating. Their Unblooded are terrifying and the way they will zealously follow (perceived) orders and tradition and will pursue revenge was chilling. And that is not even taking the Greatcoat’s Lament into account, because that was just awful and the section of the book describing Falcio’s ordeal was gripping. De Castell manages to put the Dashini actions in perspective though and even create something of a feeling of sympathy for them or at least for a number of them.

Knight’s Shadow was a cracking follow up to Traitor’s Blade and I absolutely adored it. I was also really, really happy that I could pick up Saint’s Blood straight after, because I couldn’t wait to read what would happen next. So thank you, past me, for saving me having to wait long between books two and three of The Greatcoats. If you enjoy swashbuckling, wisecracks, adventure, and great characters, you’ll love Knight’s Shadow.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.