Traitor’s Blade is the sort of novel that has undoubtedly been described by someone, somewhere, as either a ‘rollicking adventure’ or a ‘ripping yarn’. Possibly both, and deservedly so.
This flawed yet impressive debut from Sebastien de Castell introduces Falcio val Mond (formerly First Cantor of the esteemed Greatcoats) as he struggles to uphold justice in the corrupt land that killed his King and censured the Greatcoats. Falcio and his stalwart companions Kest and Brasti spend their days eking out an ignoble living as lowly caravan guards; at least, until until their client is brutally killed, on their watch no less. Framed for his murder, these three
musketeers Greatcoats must first run for their lives before attempting to seek out and bring justice to those responsible. But Tristia’s corruption runs deep, and it seems that this time Falcio may be just a little bit out of his depth.
I had a lot of fun with Traitor’s Blade. The narrator is humorous and likeable, and the banter between Falcio and his companions is (for the most part) witty and gentle, seeming natural rather than forced. The plot is solid; the pacing, fast; and although the main story is peppered with flashbacks, these are (surprisingly) not annoying in the slightest. The flashbacks are always brief and relevant to the immediate events of the story, and in no way intrude upon or detract from the main events. Refreshingly, the tone is relatively light-hearted throughout, although Castell shows he’s not afraid to delve into murkier waters with a few dark scenes which, in addition to being (arguably) unnecessary, make for somewhat difficult reading.
The book is by no means perfect. Beneath its likeable heroes and shiny veneer, Traitor’s Blade is riddled with clichés: we have noble outcasts, scheming Dukes, and evil villains (with at least one scene featuring the latter somewhat ill-advisedly revealing their diabolical plans to the captured hero), not to mention an obligatory torture scene, tragically murdered wife and ongoing quest for vengeance. And although I know it’s ridiculous to cry ‘unbelievable’ at a work of fantasy, there are also a few ‘yeah, right!’ moments: for instance, what are the chances of our heroes just happening to arrive at their destination as the city’s equivalent of The Purge is about to take place? And, lastly, I was a bit disappointed that I managed to correctly figure out three of the four major plot twists relatively early on in the story.
Griping aside, I found Traitor’s Blade to be a highly enjoyable and fast-paced read, with a focused plot and a protagonist I could really get behind. Although there were elements I disliked, there’s no denying that with Traitor’s Blade, de Castell has kicked off the Greatcoats quartet in style.