Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1)
By Sebastien de Castell
First published in March, 2014
From Goodreads: Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters.
All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…
Having grown up with the tales of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan in movies and on TV, I decided to pick up Alexandre Dumas’s original story, The Three Musketeers, several years ago and give it a try. ‘It must be a wonderfully fun adventure if there are so many other things based on it,’ I thought. Alas, the characters from the original tale did not live up to my lofty expectations. Where I had expected a band of honorable friends fighting against a corrupt system to bring justice to a benighted France, I found a bunch of jerks who caused a lot of trouble while they went to great lengths to keep a queen’s name from being besmirched.
After that, I decided to stick with TV and the movies. The BBC’s version, The Musketeers, has been a favorite (partly because they don’t say “Three” Musketeers, and then proceed to follow four musketeers around), but I hadn’t pursued the Musketeer trope in book form until I stumbled across Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series. I read the first book, Traitor’s Blade in a couple of days and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the second, The Knight’s Shadow, at Barnes and Noble. I can honestly say that this is the sort of story I was hoping to find when I opened the original The Three Musketeers.
The story opens after King Paelis has been overthrown, and his head been put on a spike by the corrupt Dukes of Tristia. During his too-brief reign Paelis had reestablished the Greatcoats– magisters skilled in the arts of war who traveled the kingdom to teach the King’s Law to the masses and try the cases brought to them in order to bring justice to the people of Tristia. With the king’s death, the Greatcoats have been scattered to the four winds. They are ridiculed by all and hunted by many, particularly the Dukes who want to destroy the Greatcoats’ legends and impose their own, hateful laws.
Falcio was once the leader of the Greatcoats, but now he and his best friends Kest and Brasti are reduced to penniless caravan guards, barely scraping by as they search for meaning in their reduced circumstances and do their best to carry out King Paelis’s final orders: to find his mysterious Charoites so that they can bring justice back to the realm. The problem with that? Falcio and his friends have no idea what these Charoites are, or where they might be hidden. And people keep trying to kill them.
You might think that, in such circumstances, there would be no humor and that Traitor’s Blade would be a fine example of fantasy’s grimdark genre. But that is not the case. From the opening paragraphs de Castell shows that all three of the Greatcoats in this story have a sense of humor, dark and twisty as they might be. Even in their darkest moments, when facing down death, they can find some reason to laugh.
But while there is plenty of levity in the story, it is balanced out by darkness. Tristia is a violent land where the law is barely upheld and corrupt nobles are free to do what they will to the peasants without fear of consequences. This is not a story for the faint-hearted.
It is also not a story for those who don’t like action-filled books, for there is plenty of sword-play. The fight scenes crackle with energy, and its clear that de Castell knows what he is talking about when it comes to weaponry and fighting. There wasn’t a moment where I wondered, ‘Is that really how that would work?’, because I was so caught up in the story. This is something of a rarity in current fantasy novels, where too often an author will have a character do something, and then I stop and think, “but they couldn’t do that with a bow! The construction’s all wrong for it…”. But de Castell knows the weapons and strategies he’s writing about, and if he makes a mistake it’s hard to find it.
The only problem I had with Traitor’s Blade was the odd passage of time in certain spots. I would be reading along and discover that two days had passed in the story, but I hadn’t seen anything depicting that passage of time. Perhaps I overlooked it in my haste to finish the story. But if the denotation of time is not present, it is a minor flaw against the rest of the story. Between these flawed but wonderful heroes, the love-to-hate them villains, the beautifully crafted prose, wit, and brilliant swordplay, the Greatcoats series is one I am looking forward to completing.