Book Review – Traitor’s Blade

Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dear Mr. de Castell,

Where have you been all my life?
How did you know this was the book I wanted?
Did you read my mind and throw in almost everything I liked? Maybe not, or there would be dragons. Any book is instantly better with dragons. Yours is already amazing, so I won’t complain. 

Tell me the truth. You are an alien, aren’t you? How else did you manage to write an entire book consistently filled with swashbuckling action, impossible humour and so many plot twists? I know Falcio is a fictional character only because if he existed, I’d be his most crazed fan and not writing this review. No wait, it’d be more like a One Direction fanatic, since Kest and Brasti are there. I can see their profiles already:

Falcio val Mond –

Likes: Being First Cantor of the Greatcoats, deadpan snarking, people not dying, keeping promises and singing to save his skin.

Dislikes: Thinking about his deceased wife Aline, talking about the King, insults to Greatcoats, arguing with Kest, betraying his principles, the Duke of Rijou and Duchess Patriana.

Is an excellent tactician with fighting skills to match.

Kest –

Likes: Training to be the best swordsman ever, fighting worthy opponents, Falcio, pointing out the obvious, making statements about beating Saints that are not ironic.

Dislikes: Falcio’s ideals, the Dukes in general, dying, not being the best.

Is the eccentric of the three, but also the one that keeps them on track.

Brasti –

Likes: Women, himself, archery, talking about his adventures, making inappropriate jokes, recovering money from defeated opponents.

Dislikes: Dying, being serious, having to fight with a sword, listening to Falcio, the Tailor?

Is probably the best archer anywhere and not modest enough to disguise the fact.

Yep, those are their Facebook pages.

Coming back to Mr. de Castell. If anyone tells you the story is boring or that they’ve seen all this in fantasy fiction a hundred times before, don’t listen to them. It’s true that Traitor’s Blade has plenty of tropes and that a lot of plot can be seen coming. It doesn’t make it any less exciting, because the characters react in such unexpected ways that the book is anything but typical. Besides, where else would you find a book that combines every known plot element and still manages to do it well, with a heap of common sense?

“How would you rate our chances?’ I asked him.
‘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 pikemen, once they get past the weak defence he puts up with his sword.’
‘You’ve been a real joy to work with, Kest, you know that?’ Brasti said, shifting his guard.”


No? What about this then?

“The three of us invented ‘punch-pull-slap’ some time ago. One of the things you discover after you’ve been wounded enough times is that the body really only keeps track of one source of pain at a time. So, for example, if your tooth hurts and someone pokes you in the stomach, your body momentarily forgets about the tooth.
So the way this is supposed to work is like this: Brasti punches me in the face, Kest pulls the arrow out of my leg and then Brasti slaps me so hard my brain never has time to register the bolt and therefore I don’t scream at the top of my lungs.
I screamed at the top of my lungs.”

The strangest part is that this is actually true.

I also have to applaud you, Monsieur, for all the strong female leads you’ve written in. Our main characters may be a guy, but that doesn’t stop anyone from pointing out chauvinism:

“You hit like a girl.’
Kest stopped bandaging my leg and said, ‘Almost a third of King Paelis’ Greatcoats were women. You trained most of them. Didn’t they hit hard enough?’
It was a fair point, but I wasn’t in the mood for semantics. ‘They hit like angry bloody Saints. Brasti hits like a girl,’ I grumbled, holding onto the end of the bandage while Kest padded the wound.”


Oh yes, there are many reasons to love this author. The word building is one very good reason. By revealing tiny details and sneakily inserting explanations throughout the course of the plot, Mr. de Castell manages to keep you hooked to the plot. The story progresses and we get to learn more about Tristia – a 2-in-1 offer! Conspiracies upon conspiracies. And then more conspiracies. Loved the masked assassins, by the way.

“You see, the Dashini, good as they are, have absolutely no notion of a fair fight. That’s why, although they’ll always finish you off with the point of their stiletto blades, they don’t take chances, and, above all, they don’t let pride get in the way of a good murder.

That’s not all. There are frighteningly intelligent Fey horses, a Duchess who plays hacky sack with people’s heads, torture scenes that include itching cream, a mysterious nun with precognitive powers, a city that celebrates a week of killing everything in sight and my favourite, a King who doesn’t give a hoot about leaked intelligence.

“So you want us to just tell them everything when we’re captured?’
‘Well, I’m sure you can offer a bit of token resistance – a sort of, “Secrets? What secrets?” type of thing … but really, why not? At least that way I’ll know that the secret’s out. At least that way there’s a chance I keep my Magister, who might later escape and bring back vital intelligence.’
‘Your Majesty, there’s something you’re not getting here—’
‘I’m sure you’ll enlighten me,’ he said drily.”

Also, plus points to the book for having a clear map and an index of chapters. The concept of wanting to re-read a particular chapter is apparently unheard of to most publishers.

Wait right there. I know what you’re going to say. If I liked your book so much, why not give it a whole 5 stars?

That’s where the dragons come back in. Or the lack of them, actually. Why is there no proper explanation of the magic? Midway through the book, Falcio suddenly discovers a magical amulet GPS and I still have no idea who can do magic or how it works. Also, who are these Saints and Gods? What’s the difference between the two? And why would anyone swear with a Saint’s-name-that’s-so-long-it’s-not-a-curse?

I am a little disappointed, but I’m hoping you’ll explain in the next books. Oh, and keep Brasti alive at all costs.

Did I mention the swordplay? I felt like you must be the screenwriter of The Princess Bride‘s original script. Such clarity, it was like watching the fights in HD. Take this:

“He kept in close so I couldn’t make use of the reach of my rapiers. If you’ve ever seen a sailor really go at someone with knives, you know the idea of parrying is preposterous. The knives are moving too fast and by the time you’ve parried one thrust, you’ve grown four other holes in your belly. You have to thrust into the attack and take a few cuts to the arm. The only problem there is that you can’t do that up close with something as long as a rapier – thrusting becomes impossible. But I’ve been fighting double-rapier since I was eight, and I have a few of my own tricks. If you’ve got limber wrists and you’re willing to grow a couple of scars, you can windmill the blades fast enough to give your opponent twice as many cuts as he gets on you.”

Or this:

“He came at me with a harlot’s foible, a straight-on thrust that turns at the last instant to avoid the parry and returns to strike the same target. I wasn’t sure if he was serious about it so I let it through and stepped by to avoid the point. He did it again and so I circled my sword counter to his, which allowed me to envelop his blade for a moment and push it out of line. I struck side-bladed towards his chest, which would have given him a nasty cut and pushed him off-balance if he had let it through. The side-blade attack was a question, which he answered by ducking and slapping the blade up with the back of his gloved hand. So the answer was no, then.”

Alright. I concede. 5 stars it is.

Quote of the day: “I’m an archer, little girl,’ Brasti said, casually checking his nails. ‘It’s like being a swordsman, only faster.”


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