The first book in fantasy series.
Publication year: 2014
Page count: 372
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
I picked up this book because reviewers said that it was “Three Musketeers with magic”. I was a bit skeptical because I’ve already read and loved a series like that (Steven Brust’s “The Phoenix Guards” and sequels) and too often the attempts to imitate or even reproduce The Three Musketeers don’t really work, for whatever reason. This is a more successful effort.
Falcio val Mond is the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, the traveling magistrates of the late king Paelis. However, the powerful dukes who killed the king have outlawed the Greatcoats and done their best to sully their names, too. Now, the Greatcoats are called Trattari or the tatter-cloaks by most people. Even when they’re working as mercenaries, people insult them and won’t even eat at the same table with them.
Still, Falcio and his two faithful friends Kest and Brasti have managed to get a job as bodyguards to a Lord Caravaner. They think it likely that the lord is going reinstate the Greatcoats to a degree, as legal caravan guards. Unfortunately, the trio botches the job and the lord is assassinated (while the trio is bantering wittily on the other side of a door) and the trio is framed for it. They manage to evade the city guards and find themselves in a marketplace. There, they manage to get a job as a caravan guards and leave the city with the caravan. But they’re going the wrong way and it’s possible that the leader of the caravan is actually the assassin who killed the lord…
Traitor’s Blade has plenty of action and sword play. There are twist and turns and I couldn’t really figure out where the plot was going (that’s a good thing, by the way). The exception was a certain young girl; her secret was pretty obvious. For the most part, this was an enjoyable ride.
I think that Kest, Brasti, and Falcio are loosely based on the Musketeers: Falcio being Athos, Brasti obviously Aramis, and Kest somewhat like Porthos. Falcio is tortured by his past but we mostly find that out from his thoughts since he’s mostly joking or talking about how the common people have rights, too. Brasti is quick to smile, joke, and flirt, even though he doesn’t have much chance with the ladies during this tale. He’s also a superb bowman and not nearly as good with the sword as the other two. Kest is a quiet, serious man and he’s a superb swordsman, always has been.
The concept of Greatcoats is very interesting. They travel around the country, teaching the common folk their rights, by the King’s Laws, and enforcing them, usually by fighting. They teach the laws as songs because songs people remember, but not speeches so much.
This world has gods and saints. We aren’t told much about the gods since the characters swear by the saints. I found this quite interesting and would have loved to know more about them. Except that there are apparently only two female saints. One is a whore and another is Saint Brigit “with a frigid cunt”. Not cool, dude. The male saints’ sexual habits are not told. There’s some “Sisterhood” of women who are healers but mostly they’re whores. Again, not cool.
However, there are a few things with bother me about the world-building. Falcio was a poor peasant before he became a Greatcoat but he started to learn swordplay since he was eight. Surely in a country like this, controlled by Dukes who murder, rape, and use terror to keep their subjects in line, every peasant wants to learn the sword to defend themselves is nothing else? But only Falcio and his best friend Kest apparently did. Also, usually tyrants like that forbid peasants to even own weapons.
Falcio has a couple of chips on his shoulder. One of them is his dead king and the other is his dead wife Aline. Aline was gang raped and murdered by Falcio’s Duke so that Falcio had the incentive to go nuts and show his skills to his future king. Again, not cool, dude. Tailor is pretty much the only female character who shows some originality. (I loved her, by the way.) But the ending shows some promise on this front.
Also, underneath the witty banter and adventure, the world is grim. All of the people in power are cruel and evil. Most people are willingly following the cruel dukes and their evil lieutenants. Even those powerless people who are victims seem happy to blame the Greatcoats for everything. Even when Falcio and his friends try to help people, they get scorn in return. Frankly, I’m a bit puzzled why the former Greatcoats haven’t left. Clearly, this blighted land isn’t the whole world. They could have gone to somewhere better and served another, more just king. And yes, Falcio apparently has some quest from his dead king to complete but he doesn’t know what or where. This all just underlines the characters’ desperate position.
But otherwise, this was highly entertaining book.