Traitor's Blade by Sebastien De Castell: A delightfully fun debut.
So Traitor’s Blade from Jo Fletcher (An imprint of Quercus Books, who in the recent past have come up with some very interesting debuts that push the ever-fluctuating boundaries of genre fiction, having given us abundance of talent like Aidan Harte, Tom Pollock, David Hair etc) came to me, courtesy the #GreatCoats competition and a NetGalley request that followed the same. Coming in from such a brilliant stable, I knew Traitor’s Blade wasn’t going to disappoint. And man, was I right!
So Traitor’s Blade marks Sebastien De Castell’s fantasy debut and is fast scorching up the blogosphere. Here read an interview of the author with Civilian Reader to get to know what makes him tick. I count myself lucky to be one among the early birds to get this work and am incredibly proud of myself(smirk!)
Ah – now to the book itself. Termed to be “The Three Musketers meets Game of Thrones”, Traitor’s Blade is definitely the most delightful fun I’ve had in epic fantasy reads and marks the perfect start to a rib-tickling swashbuckling adventure series that would be high up on anyone’s list of 2014 Fantasy books. The book had me actually laughing out loud at several occasions with its dry humor and the light tone that pervades the entire adventure. It’s an old fashioned tale (if I may say so!) but couched in a delightfully funny overtone that forms for an excellent reading experience. Full of relentless action exquisitely detailed (Thanks to the author’s in-depth first- hand experience) and a breathless adventure that starts right from chapter one (Ahem, who wouldn’t be sucked into a book that ends the first chapter with a naked female assassin, huh!)
The Traitor’s Blade is narrated in the dry, humorous first person narrative of Falcio – the First Cantor of the GreatCoats (sort of the Knights of Round Table, travelling magisters who deliver justice by the blade to different duchies within the Kingdom) and features mainly Falcio and his remaining GreatCoats – Kest and Brasti. The story follows the fate of the three GreatCoats who are probably the only surviving members of this group after the King who brought the group together was executed. Now the world is in a miserable state of disarray – with lawlessness and corruption roosting at every corner and the various Dukes out baying for each others’ blood and laying claim to the throne. Falcio, probably the last “valorous man” in the kingdom is a romantic with the heart of gold who still clings desperately to the ideals of the King’s Laws. And as we read further, we rally behind this absolutely lovable character who sets out alone to right things in a world that has gone to rot. Lending color to the proceedings are his best cronies – Kest, the best swordsman in the whole world perhaps and Brasti, a lovable rogue who is the devil himself with his bow. As the story proceeds, we meet the rest of the characters: tumbling straight out of a Fantasy textbook. A young duchess out to claim her inheritance, a young girl (the damsel in distress) the sole survivor of a night of fire and madness, a retired Captain and his flock of caravan guards, a Tailor with a mysterious past. As we soon find out, Falcio’s sense of ethics and moral codes drag him straight into troubles he need not court and makes for pretty much all of the intense quagmires the group gets into.
Skillfully balancing the present narrative with poignant flashbacks from Falcio’s first encounter of his King till his execution, the novel keeps a brutally fast pace. Written in a clear lucid engaging prose, De Castell establishes the central theme for the book with this juxtaposition of this tumultuous present with Falcio’s troubled past. A sense of justice that lives beyond mortal lives and that it takes more than just traitorous tyrants to snuff out the good things in life. In terms of world-building, De Castell takes his time to establish the lawless world the GreatCoats live in but a lot of interesting things like magic, potions, mythical creatures, the natives of East etc are just tidbits that the author just pecks at – to keep us invested. Hopefully he will explore the world further in his next books.
In terms of characters, Falcio forms the perfect foil for this narrative as we witness his pains and his motivations. Despite this, I did sometimes feel that he played things very close to his heart and kept the reader suspended. The narrative flows like Basti’s clean shooting – straight as an arrow till the end – where De Castell surprises us with a couple of massive plot twists. The action as I said before, is unstoppable and every five-ten pages, there explodes a sword fight. So marvelously detailed that it is like taking a fencing lesson yourself. It could have gone a bit heavy-handed – what with Falcio pandering to you about the technicalities of the overhand riposte or the Harlot’s foible that is supposed to rip through your heart and such blah. But no, it’s delightful and just about enough. But between the fights as you take a breather, the jovial jibes and the delightful bantering of the three GreatCoats keep you in splits.
Nobody’s going to fault the author for keeping the tone light. In today’s epic fantasy crowded with the “grim dark” – this book is like a much needed whiff of fresh air. Laden with scents we’ve forgotten that have been a part of this genre from a long time. Romanticism and valor and gallantry. Traitor’s Blade is a thoughtful book that is just super super fun to read. If you are feeling down and out after a hard day of work – read this book. It will cheer you up and rightfully remind you that there are a lot of things in this world worth fighting for. With valor and a heart of gold.