Saint’s Blood: Another great romp mixing humor and grief

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Saint’s Blood by Sebastien de Castell epic fantasy book reviewsSaint’s Blood
by Sebastien de Castell

Saint’s Blood is the third in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series, and as with the previous two (Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow), it’s both a lot of fun (really, a lot of fun) and deeply emotionally affecting. The series isn’t perfect, but it’s just so enjoyable and engaging that you just don’t mind the few flaws, and that continues with Saint’s Blood, which resolves its major story arc but also points at the very end to a fourth book. And I have no complaints about that at all, happy as I am to spend more time with Falcio, his two constant companions Kest and Brasti, and his wider cadre of idealists: Aline, Ethelia, and others.

The book opens up with Falcio in trouble and facing a difficult fight. You can cue that line up and hit “repeat,” because “Falcio in trouble” is basically the heartbeat of this book, as he moves from the frying pan to the fire to the oven to the microwave to the trash compactor to the… Well, you get the idea. The kingdom is on a teetering edge after the events of the earlier books, with a very tentative and surface-level peace between the nobles and the king’s 14-year-old heir Aline, whose throne is held Regent-style by Valiana until Aline can take her seat. Any hope for stability is quickly put at risk when Saints begin turning up murdered and the Church reforms its ecclesiastical knights and worse, its Inquisitors.

The core strength of this series has always been the first-person voice of Falcio, and that remains true here. As I said in my review of Traitor’s Blade, give me a distinctive and engaging voice and I’ll follow that character through whatever other issues may present themselves, and de Castell has given me no reason to abandon Falcio. But the voice is not simply a repeat of what’s come before because this Falcio is not the same man as we first met. The events of books one and two continue to affect him in all sorts of ways, physically, emotionally, and mentally, impacting his decision-making, his fights, his relationships with his friends, and his relationship with Ethelia, which ideally would be as more than friends. If he’s as quick with a quip, he’s not quite as quick with his swords (not that he’s slow, mind you, just slow-er). He wrestles with the memory of his dead wife, his dead king, and risks losing his faith in his dreams (faith, in fact, is a major theme in Saint’s Blood). He still is an engaging voice, but it’s a more world-weary voice, a more beaten-down voice, and as such comes with more emotional timbre than in the first book.

Meanwhile, his friends have their own issues. Kest especially is struggling with the loss of his Sainthood and of his hand, and with his role if he can no longer be the greatest swordsman (though he’s still damn good with one hand). His torment is as wrenching as Falcio’s, even if it isn’t given quite the same page time and we get it third-hand rather than via first-person narration. Brasti still provides much of the comic relief, but he has what may be the most painful scene in the entire novel. All of these characters, the three main ones, and Aline, Valiana, and Ethelia, are faced with fraught, huge decisions whose stakes are both deeply personal but also political — meaning they affect the thousands who live in Tristia. Just as good as the individual journeys is the way in which de Castell presents the changing relationships among/between these characters. Falcio and Ethelia’s love story, for instance, moves forwards and backwards, never really resting in one spot long enough for the characters, or the reader, to feel wholly assured of where it’s going. de Castell shows an equally deft hand at a variety of other relationships — between companions who love each other like brothers, between parents and children, between allies and enemies. Nearly everyone has to reassess just where they stand in relation to someone else, or a whole bunch of someone elses.

Not everything is an emotional tempest, though. As with books one and two, I laughed aloud many a time and read some passages aloud to my wife. The banter is sparkling and just a joy throughout Saint’s Blood, whether it be one-time back and forths or running jokes, like Brasti’s constant annoyance that nobody ever remembers his name, or disputes over which weapon is best. Despite the darkness and despair and sorrow, these books remain just a lot of fun.

My only quibbles are that the book, more than the other two, felt its length in spots, though not very often and never for long, and that Falcio’s travails can get a bit exhausting, with so many near-death experiences. To be honest, were he not such a wining, engaging voice, I’d probably feel this more strongly, but I’m willing to shrug it away just because I’m enjoying listening to him bemoan his latest impossible situation.

As mentioned, the major plot arc of Saint’s Blood is clearly resolved by the end, though not without some twists and turns. And if Falcio gets to celebrate a little at the end, it’s clearly going to be short-lived, as already, it appears, events are threatening to overtake whatever happiness and leisure these people can find for themselves. I don’t know how far de Castell can take this, but I’m not complaining about the opportunity to follow Falcio and friends through at least one more adventure. Highly recommended, as is the GREATCOATS series as a whole.

Publication date: June 7, 2016. How do you kill a Saint? Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they’ve started with a friend. The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumours are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors – a move that could turn the country into a theocracy. The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he’ll still have to face him in battle. And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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  1. If you’re going to go to the trouble of making these books sound so appealing, I may as well go to the trouble of reading the first one. Thanks, Bill!

  2. margo /

    These books are SO MUCH FUN. I joined the Greatcoats long ago. You, meaning everyone who reads this post,should too.

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