I don’t usually read books with sword-fights in them. There is always something that annoys me. A clear case of an author using sport-fencing experience to write about longsword fights, for instance. Or making swords do things that they just don’t. It’s especially awful when it’s supposed to be set in a particular historical period. One minor error, and I want to throw the book through a window.
My friend Tracey lent me Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell, and out of respect for her, I risked it.
This is absolutely glorious escapist sword fantasy fiction, perhaps the best I’ve ever read. It’s not historical, so I don’t have to worry about some of the anachronisms (rapier-carrying magistrates fighting armoured knights, for instance), and the action is so perfectly pitched that not one of the dozens of fights over three books has triggered my “no! That wouldn’t work!” reflex. There is magic, but it doesn’t get in the way, and the books are written with a deft touch of humour that reads effortlessly, but is perhaps the most difficult skill for a writer to pull off.
And unlike most action-adventure books, though there are a lot of fights, the plot is entirely character-driven. The people are alive on the page, and the fights are there for good reason, driving the story along (I get so fed up with books that just lurch from battle to battle). Most of the characters you meet in these pages are folk you would want to have dinner with, or at least a pint (being very careful, with some of them, that they don’t slip anything into it first). Other characters? just run like hell if you see them coming.
The story centers around three men, Falcio, Kest, and Brasti, in a sort of three musketeers dynamic, but many of the most important and interesting characters are women; it would pass the Bechdel test, no problem. I won’t go into the story or world-building at all, because you should enjoy this cold. If I recall correctly it took about ten pages to hook me, and then it did what all good books should do: whisked me away into another world, to the abandonment of my work, family, and basic bodily functions.
The story continues across four books. I’ve read the first three. All four are out though, so you’re not going to get trapped in the ‘waiting for Martin’ Game of Thrones problem. Go, read number one. You can thank me later.