Tag Archives: Greatcoats

Saint’s Blood, a review

sbloodLast week, I finished Sebastien De Castell’s novel, Saint’s Blood, the third book of the Greatcoats.  Like the previous two, it was a fun (well, okay, mostly fun) rollicking adventure yarn full of wit, humor, and swashbuckling derring do.  As much as I enjoyed the previous two installments, I’ll give Saint’s Blood higher marks in that it keeps the main cast together.  Both Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow have bogged down when Falcio val Mond (our noble protagonist) has gone off on his own.  Really – for me anyway – it is the banter and interrelationships between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti that really make these books sing.  Take one of them out of the picture and the landscape darkens noticeably.

As fun as it was, there were a couple of issues for me.  Castell’s language has always been colorful, but in this installment things just seemed more…explicit.  It just felt a bit out of character.  And the repeated use of “arsehole” just felt a bit silly.  Likewise, rather than his usual pragmatism, Falcio seems far more pessimistic and defeatist in this adventure.  That might make sense given the natural of the adversary (sorry, no spoilers), but again it feels out of character and inorganic, as though Castell decided he needed to recast Falcio’s personality to fit the story rather than the other way around.  But while these detract slightly from the whole, it doesn’t diminish the story, the characters, or the finale.  And what a finale!  I cheered the finale of Knight’s Shadow – if you’ve read it, you know exactly the part I’m talking about – and Saint’s Blood closed with at least as much joy in this reader’s heart.

tthroneThe most bittersweet part of finishing Saint’s Blood is in knowing that the fourth installment, Tyrant’s Throne, is the final book of the Greatcoats.  It feels funny to say that – I am not a fan of endless series or of authors who ride one series into the dirt in their careers.  Yes, that applies to Terry Prachett and Jim Butcher, as much as I love their work, as it does Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, and Robert Jordan (the less said about those the better).  And yes, I know Butcher is working on a fantasy series too but c’mon.  24 Dresden novels?  Really?!  When he gets to #22, someone needs to send ole Jim a copy of Stephen King’s Misery just for laughs.

But yes, it is bittersweet to know the Greatcoats is coming to an end.  Not only because I’ll miss the adventures of Falcio, Kest, and Brasti (and Ethalia, Valiana, and Dariana), but because this is the first series of books that I’ve had this much fun reading in a long time.  The swashbuckling adventure genre isn’t awash with options these days.  So while I wait for the Dallas Public Library to get their hands on Tyrant’s Throne, I’m going to be looking for a new voice that brings me the same thrill.  Wish me luck.

A Parting Gift

An excerpt from the novel.  Don’t worry, it won’t spoil anything. Go ahead and read it:

Udriel is what we call in the business a sanguinist: a fencer whose primary strategy is to go for little cuts—wounds that sting and bleed and distract you, until you start to slow down without even realizing it.  Sanguinists take their time, pulling you apart bit by bit, until they can end the fight with a single, brilliant flourish—they usually go for an artery so that you end up bleeding out spectacularly all over the floor.  It can create quite a stunning tableau for the audience.

I hate sanguinists.

The moment I read this passage, I said to myself, “dammit, 7th Sea needs sanguinists!

Throughout the book, Falcio describes a number of duelist archetypes.  I’ve taken the liberty of compiling all of them into a single file so you can add them to your swashbuckling game of choice.  Flashing Blades, Honor+Intrigue, Witch Hunter, All For One, Savage World of Solomon Kane, it doesn’t matter.  All of these games need sanguinists.  And now they can.

Traitor’s Blade: A Book Review

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.