Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell
Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell, the first book of the The Greatcoats series, has a lot in common with one part of its series name, because it is great. And while I have just thrown that characterization at you, I’ll have to at least partly detract it. The book is great for the most part, but makes some decisions that didn’t fit into the otherwise enjoyable reading experience. But let me start with telling you all the things the book does right before going deeper into the plot and its twists.
One of the things working very well in favor of the book are the namesakes of the series name, the so called Greatcoats, a company of Magisters administering the King’s Law in the whole kingdom of Tristia and even against the will of the powerful Dukes. They are a more “modern” take on the Knights of the Round Table and resemble the three Musketeers too, righteous defenders of the weak. At times too righteous, I found. But the order sucks you in. Following characters from such an order is a nice change from all the surly protagonists that believe in nothing. Especially since the protagonist in this book follows his convictions even after his king has been killed and the Dukes do with the King’s Law whatever they want, even introducing Blood Weeks (Ganath Kalila) that are as unpleasant as their name suggests. The Greatcoats are hated by the people too, because they stood aside when the Dukes killed the King, and are called Tatter-Coats, or Trattari. All that opposition, even from his own friends, and the protagonist still stands true to the King’s Law and protects the weak. I like him and I’m impressed with how much he can take. Even wounded and tired he does not back down.
The story follows the already described Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Greatcoats, and his two friends, Brasti, a master with the bow, and Kest, the strongest swordsman in the world. Falcio isn’t too bad either and I wouldn’t like to come too close to him when he’s got his two rapiers out and wreaks havoc.
Most prominent symbol of the Greatcoats are their – did you guess it? – great Coats! Full of hidden gadgets and pockets, they are made from heavy leather with inlaid bone plates that can even stop crossbow bolts from close range. A bit overpowered, but I won’t argue with that. And it’s something different from the many kinds of armor one sees in the fantasy genre, which is always a good thing.
The group is on a geas (a quest) to find the King’s Charoites (some kind of jewel). They have no idea why, where these things are located, and what they are good for, but as it was the last wish of their king, they oblige. At the start of the book, they have already been searching for five years, and tempers are flaring at their fruitless search. That they have this quest is another reason they reminded me so much of the Kings of the Round Table.
One thing done right is the combat. With a wide array of weapons (Swords, Axes, Rapiers; Bows, Pistols) and highly skilled characters the book doesn’t fall into the trap of making its characters all powerful or winning through strange means. The fights in this book are very easy to understand because the protagonist explains his realistic approach to specific fighting situations. As the reader, you will know what happened and how he won, because he doesn’t just use a not-explained “Stance of the Turtle Master” to defeat his enemies. The only thing I could fault the book is that he can fight even after days staying awake, being totally exhausted, and having wounds. Yes, the story tells us he’s exhausted and such, but you can’t really feel that in his actions.
The antagonists are as vile as any I’ve seen and then some more. The Dukes killed the King while the Greatcoats stood aside and now they ran rampant. One of them introduced the already mentioned Blood Week, a horrible tradition that introduces a bloodbath with no consequences to the perpetrators. The prime antagonist of this book is so cruel you can’t believe any human can get away with the things she does. I promise you, you’ll hate the antagonists with a passion! Which is a good thing, because it will make you root for the protagonist even harder. And if the first book has these antagonists, I’d like to know what the author comes up with in the next books to step it up a bit more. That won’t be easy.
What I liked very much is the flow of the book. Reminiscences are introduced at fitting intervals and the rest of the story simply flows in a way you won’t notice. When I read I’d frequently get up after reading for what seemed like only a little while and realize I’d just read a quarter of the book in one sitting.
The story is not a happy-go-lucky story either. It can at times be hard to read because of the things the protagonist had to endure. And of course there are the atrocities the Dukes commit near everywhere. The landscape seems to be crawling with bandits too and there are more than a few killings in this book. Not to mention torture and other inhuman things.
Reads good so far? That’s great, but now I’ll have to speak about some things the book doesn’t do very good.