Traitor's Blade

by Sebastien de Castell

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

All of us tend to see ourselves as the good guy. We like to think our decisions were made with the best of intentions even if others had to get hurt due to a result of said decision. In a world where it is your job to meter out justice and protect those that can't protect themselves, what happens when the entire world judges you a traitor? Continuing to do what is right becomes difficult when everyone around you has already labeled you the evil you were trying to eliminate.

The king has been killed and his army of magistrates, The Greatcoats, have been disbanded and spread throughout the land. At the king's command, they stood down while he was killed and the rest of the land sees them as traitors. The first cantor, Falcio Val Mond, and two of his most loyal Greatcoats are reduced to bodyguard duty. The bodyguard duty will hopefully help the Greatcoats start their long trek back to some semblance of greatness they once had. Unfortunately, the man they are guarding is murdered and they are framed, further soiling their names. We are given an interesting tale and back-story at the get go. The world, its rules and its history are set up smoothly and simply. Though it seems like a historic tale, around 16th or 17th century Europe, there are a few light touches a magic pushing it into the realm of fantasy.

The three fleeing Greatcoats decide to join a caravan to help them hide from the duke's men. Unbeknownst to them, the caravan holds a person that may be able to reunite the kingdom under a new royal blood. The three Greatcoats see both potential and danger in this, but before they can act Falcio pledges his protection to a young girl in Rijou, a city under siege. The city has a yearly ritual called Ganath Kalila, the blood week, similar to the back-story in the movie "The Purge." The girl is set to be killed and Falcio sees his redemption in keeping her alive even if it kills him. However, all those that attack him soon find out that killing Falcio is no simple matter.

Sebastien de Castell comes out swinging with a strong debut novel. It is part swashbuckling musketeer adventure, part city under siege, part treasure hunt, and part search for redemption. The dialogue between our heroes is quick and witty without overdoing it. The action is well described in most cases, in a few the author decided to skip over certain scenes to add impact. It did feel like we were cheated of the missing action though. The history of the land is interesting, or what tidbits we get along the way.

There are a few problems. There are quite a few flashbacks to various times prior to the main story. While this was the vehicle that delivered the history we get, it also interrupted the flow of the narrative. And when the author showed us various points in Falcio's life it gets a bit confusing as to how old he is and how long he has been a Greatcoat. There seems to be several key events that push him into the life. Also there are a few times where his fighting ability are hinted at but not shown. This was especially annoying when his victory over the best swordsman in the world is glossed over twice. This happens again near the end of the novel with another important duel.

The politics of the land add another level or realism but the deceit and deception involved get a bit convoluted as the story progresses. There just seems to be too many strands to the diabolical motivations and the whole thing seems like it would unravel if too many people started to pay attention. Sure, the people are oppressed, but that just gives them more motivation to overthrow those in power. 

There were also some great little nuggets sprinkled throughout. Though they weren't part of the main story, they added another level of immersion: the ninja-like assassins, the Dashini; the fairy tale of the Fey horse and the result of changing one; and the various saints that had names that were basically descriptions of what they could do. 

All in all, The Traitor's Blade is very entertaining and very well written for a first time novelist. It is the first of a series so hopefully we'll get a better look into de Castell's world and learn the ultimate fate of the Greatcoats.