It takes a lot for a book to make me laugh. It’s probably the reason why I could never quite get into Terry Prachett. It’s not that I’m a humorless guy…at least, I don’t think I am. I can appreciate satire as much as anyone. It just doesn’t make me laugh.
Traitor’s Blade made me laugh. A lot. It was the first book I’ve read in a while now that I would characterize as a FUN read. Traitor’s Blade is FUN. It’s also gripping, tense, even a bit horrific, with careful drops and drabs of dark humor and grimdark fantasy. Sebastien De Castell was really going for a Three Musketeers vibe when he wrote Traitor’s Blade and he succeeded…wildly.
I picked up Traitor’s Blade as a bit of a break from the cycle of pseudo-historical/fantasies I’ve been reading lately. I needed to recharge the batteries and it showed up well recommended on Goodreads.
The book sets off as our hero, Falcio val Mond sits babysitting a pompous merchant prince along with his two companions, Kest and Brasti. The three are Greatcoats, the famed company of the King’s magistrates, now disbanded and disgraced in the eyes of even the lowest serf. When the king they served ran afoul of the Dukes, a sort of oligarchy nobility who constitute the real power in the lands of Tristia, the Greatcoats sworn to protect him and see that the King’s laws were enforced stepped aside and let the king be murdered by his own noble subjects.
Unlike Steven Brust’s Phoenix Guard, another novel that immerses itself in the style and flair of Dumas, Castell chooses to adopt a more contemporary, breezy writing style.
I will admit, early on I began to fear I had stumbled onto a Three Musketeers Meets The Black Company story early on, but the grimdark elements are refreshingly light in Traitor’s Blade. Oh, the villains are ugly, vile things the reader will immediately hate – the shades of gray here are not reserved for the villains in true swashbuckling fashion. But those horrific elements exist to uplift the heroes rather than drag them down into the muck (as in, say, FX’s Bastard Executioner series).
The interaction between the three principle characters is fantastic, with all of the drama and humor one expects from a tale of swashbuckling heroes. Each has his own voice. And while flawed, they aren’t crippled by their shortcomings.
The second act does get a bit lost in the weeds, as the novel takes a sudden turn as Falcio and a child he has sworn to protect dodge assassins and worse on the gritty streets of a city in the midst of its “Blood Week,” seven days when one’s only claim to title or property is what he or she can defend from their murderous neighbors. Sort of a fantasy version of the Purge. It works, and the act is tense and gripping, but it feels like a novella within the novel, giving it a bit of a disjointed structure that robs the whole of some satisfaction. But only slightly. It’s the equivalent of complaining about having to roll down your own windows in an old car.
Naturally, the conclusion of the novel sets the stage for the second book in the series. But enough loose ends are tied up to make it satisfying in and of itself. Trust me when I say that you’ll be reading the next book (or not, as the case may be) because you love the characters, not because you are waiting for some grand resolution to the troubles of Tristia.
So to sum up, fun, exciting, refreshing character-driven fantasy. Five out of five stars. Take a break from whatever else you are doing and read this book. You’ll thank me later.