Traitor’s Blade: Full of adventure and derring-do

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTraitor’s Blade by Sebastian de Castell fantasy book reviewsTraitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade is the first installment in Sebastien de Castell’s GREATCOATS series and is an interesting blend of genres — like The Three Musketeers with classic fantasy. At the core it is about a young man whose heart is broken and who has found meaning in defending ideals that are greater than himself.

An oft-used, but nonetheless compelling storyline in fantasy is the abuse of power by the nobility. Whether it’s something as simple as overtaxing and overworking the lower classes or some of the more heinous examples where the Nobles rape, murder and torture with seeming impunity, the concept remains that power unchecked corrupts. Falcio Val Mond has had his fill of exactly this sort of thing. As a young husband his experiences have riven his soul and created in him a desire for justice that drives him beyond his own strengths and forged him into something new.

Serving the King as First Cantor of the Greatcloaks, a paramilitary judicial enforcement organization, Falcio has achieved both childhood aspirations and a measure of sanity as his past suffering is balanced by a means to make a difference. As an arbiter of justice with his own formidable combat skills backing up his royal mandate, Falcio and his fellow Greatcloaks are a check on the abuses of power by the nobility of his nation.

After an uprising that leads to the execution of Falcio’s king followed by the overthrow of the Greatcloaks, Falcio and his closest friends are left to survive by their wits and martial talents as guards for merchants. It is a long, long fall. When his current charge is murdered and Falcio is implicated as the guilty party, his race to exonerate himself and his best friends Brasti and Kest leads down a dangerous path facing off against the power-hungry nobles who remain the bane of his existence.

While the story of Traitor’s Blade is full of adventure and derring-do, I felt a real rift in the writing and story. The author uses a very grown-up vocabulary that is replete with profanity, which is not uncommon in this genre of fantasy, but the story felt like it was written for a younger audience than the language would allow. It’s hard to quantify, but I felt like the story and the characters were meant for my teenager and that would have been wonderful if they didn’t swear so much!

I enjoyed Traitor’s Blade. I liked some of the characters very much, but with some of the important events left largely unexplained(like the way that Falcio is able to survive his journey to become a Greatcoat) the book had… holes that I really wanted filled in. Traitor’s Blade is an interesting story and I will have to decide about the series after book two because the potential is vast.

~John Hulet


Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell fantasy book reviewsIn a recent review, I described how often times an author will win me over from the start with an unusual structure, and how this can make me more lenient toward any flaws I might encounter. The same is true for another aspect of writing — voice. Give me a character with a strong, distinctive, winning voice, and usually (though not always), I’ll happily follow said character through a minefield of potential pitfalls. Well, I fell in love pretty immediately with the voice of one Falcio val Mond, the first-person narrator of Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade, and though the book had a few problems with regard to plot and pace, I cheerily disregarded them, fully won over by Falcio’s character and storytelling persona, which was full of wit and charm and a healthy dollop of heavy emotionality.

Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats, a highly trained, elite group of about 150 men and women magisters whose job it was to travel the countryside of Tristia and bring justice to all. But the idealistic king whose law they interpreted and upheld was deposed (and beheaded) by the powerful Dukes and the Greatcoats were disbanded and scattered, eventually becoming reviled as “tatter-cloaks.” Before his death, though, the king had given each of them a secret mission and as the book opens, Falcio and his two best friends among the Greatcoats have taken a job as bodyguards to a merchant in order to further whatever geas Falcio was given. Unfortunately, the new job goes awry and soon they are on the run, forced to take on another job that leads them into political conspiracies, conflicts with the Dukes, and a slew of duels, skirmishes, and chase scenes, all leading to a big finish and book two in the series. Which I’ll happily pick up.

Falcio is one of the better character creations I’ve come across lately, a compelling mix of wit, obsession, ethics, idealism, and grief. That latter comes about from an event from his past involving his wife, an incredibly moving scene that has long-term ramifications and is a constant factor in Falcio’s ongoing actions. His two compatriots — Kest and Brasti — seem on the surface to be pretty stock — terse-always-serious-best-swordsman-ever (Kest) and joker-lover-best-archer-ever (Brasti) — but over the course of the novel hidden depths/motivations are revealed. But even if that hadn’t been the case, the banter between the three, which had me laughing out loud on several occasions would have more than made up for it. Here, for example, is a moment’s back and forth before the three face off against a typically overwhelming force:

“How would you rate our chances?” I asked him [Kest].

“We’ll win,” he replied, “but I’ll get wounded, probably in the back. You’ll get hit by one of the crossbow bolts and likely die. Brasti will almost certainly be killed by one of the pikeman, once they get past the weak defense he puts up with his sword.”

And then afterward:

“That was a good idea, Falcio, covering Brasti so he could get to his bow. I hadn’t thought of that.”

I leaned my hand on his shoulder, taking some of the weight off my wounded leg. “Kest, next time you think the most optimistic outcome possible is everyone but you dying, try to think harder.”

Other characters that are also strongly written are Falcio’s king, a young girl Falcio takes under his protection, and a strange old woman who shows up at the worst (or best) of times.

The plot is picaresque, with our trio, and then for an extended time just Falcio once he is separated from his friends, getting into one scrape after another, and then of course getting out of it in a variety of ways, some more plausible than others. The ongoing plot is interspersed with short flashback scenes that trace Falcio’s life from a young boy through a happy marriage, to his meeting with the king that would make him a Greatcoat, and finally to that king’s death. The back and forth is skillfully handled and is effective in both filling in some necessary plot details and in expanding our sense of who Falcio is, often in quite moving fashion.

Otherwise, the plot did have some issues. For one, pacing sometimes was a little off, and I’d definitely say de Castell sometimes fell a little too in love with his descriptions of the sword battles. There were a few holes, and maybe some deus ex machina, though it’s possible both those are not flaws per se but just moments to be further explained in later books. Finally, a few characters, mostly the villains, were relatively non-descript.

As I said though, I so thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Falcio that the flaws were pretty inconsequential in terms of their impact on my reading experience. Traitor’s Blade was a lighthearted bit of dashing old-style adventuring (de Castell doesn’t try to hide his love for Dumas’ The Three Musketeers or that book’s influence) peppered with darker, more emotionally powerful scenes. I can’t wait for book two.

~Bill Capossere


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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

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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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2 comments

  1. this one is starting to catch my interest.

  2. Many booktubers that I watched say that this book is amazing and funny. So, I expect this book to be my favourite but unfortunately it’s not. Many people say that this book is funny or humorous but the jokes and humour can only be found in the first part of the book after that there’s barely any. And then there are some awkward conversations where the characters will talk with full exposition to an enemy even. Whenever this happens it always reminded me of scenes in anime where a character will talk about how their skill work and it’s not good. Obviously, no one talks like that. There are also many interruptions in the middle of fighting scenes where Falcion just explain to the reader how his technique works. And if you read the words on the cover, it says that there’ll be jaw-dropping surprises. There’s none. I can guess what would happen and all of them are true. On the subject of the villain, this book is similar to The Lord of The Rings. All of them are bad, so bad that you can’t help but hate them. But at the same time, I’m also mad at the author. I always like and enjoy a villain that I can understand, but the villains in this book are not. They’re just evil, and that’s it. There is also some inconsistent character personality. I also don’t like sex magic in this book, because I see no point of them. Also, some of the chapters can be a bit tedious for me, because I feel like the author is trying to send me messages that the book want to tell by hitting me repeatedly on the head. But I understand why so many people like this book. There’s a great friendship between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti. The fight scenes, if you ignore the interruption, is enjoyable. And the main one is that it’s fast and easy to read. If this book is paced like Robin Hobb books with all of its flaws I doubt that many people will enjoy it.

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