Sunday, January 24, 2016

Book Review: Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

Knight's Shadow

by Sebastien de Castell 

Knight's Shadow is the sequel to the author’s fantasy debut novel Traitor’s Blade in a tetralogy of books about the Greatcoats. Unlike most sequels, I found this story superior in every way to the original. Rather than a long (and rambling) preamble I’ll go straight to the Good and the Bad.

The Good

The King’s Greatcoats are still a cool idea. This book shows us a few more of the old Greatcoats and more of the new Greatcoats. That bodes well for the next two volumes showing us even more Greatcoats. Which is a good thing. According to his web site, Mr de Castell has finished the text and is now editing the third book in his Greatcoat series Saint’s Blood. So fans may not have to wait  long to see what happens next to the characters. And I have to give de Castell props for giving each Greatcoat a unique and flavorful title and a different personality.

The Saints get a lot more attention in the sequel. As I said in my review of the first book in this series, the Saints are a cool idea and I’m glad to see more Saints and more information on what a Saint is and what it means to be a Saint. I was pleased to see the author developing his idea and the title of the next book in the series, Saint's Blood, implies he isn't done yet with the Saints. Yeah!

The murdered monarch, King Paelis, continues to interest and mystify and we learn more about the King by seeing him through other eyes than those of the protagonist Falcio (that’s fal-key-oh) Val Mond. More is revealed, though not all.

The supporting characters remain strong and we get more detail and understanding of some of their thought processes and motivations. Even though I found Falcio more interesting in this volume, it’s good to see the supporting characters remain important and have time on the page.

Mythology of Tristia is a strong feature of this volume. In the first volume the history of the Greatcoats and the mystery of the Saints hinted that that the mythology of Tristia might be a bright spot and de Castell delivers in this second volume.

The action is at least as good as it was in the first volume and the plot continues to move along apace. Refreshingly some of the dramatic contrivances get a better set up and/or explanation in this book and it felt like there were more details this time to keep the reader occupied so that the dramatic contrivance or the protagonist missing a clue was not at all troublesome. Again though, the series is clearly intended to be in the swashbuckling, cape and sword, genre of Dumas’ Musketeer stories. So dramatic contrivance is part of what we should expect. I;'d argue it is part of what you are paying for. In Knight’s Shadow the drama feels more satisfying which provides a better emotional payoff for the contrivance. And you can’t expect more than that from the cape and sword genre.

I thought this volume had even more dramatic lines of dialog throughout. Several of the lines from both Falcio and several of the other characters is emotionally satisfying and memorable. In this volume de Castell comes much closer to achieving lines with the panache of “All for one and one for all!” Well done!

I’m glad I checked out the second volume along with the first volume. I enjoyed the sequel more than the debut and I look forward to the third volume Saint’s Blood.

The Bad

The drama and plot are sometimes contrived. As I said, it's cape and sword. Expect it.

The Neutral

The protagonist is less of a dolt in this volume. And unlike the first book, his cleverness isn’t always undercut by a villain’s Machievellian scheming. And I say “a villain” intentionally. Knight’s Shadow introduces new villains that surpass rather than just replace old villains lost. This volume had more going on that kept me occupied as a reader so I felt there was much less of a wait time for the protagonist to figure out what was going on. And at least once he surprised me with his cleverness. So kudos to Falcio (and de Castell) for that. It also seemed like Falcio was finally able to embody his role of The King’s Heart in this volume with his losses seeming more the result of sacrifice and less the result of being kind of dumb. Much more satisfying for me as a reader. Which moved this from Bad to Neutral.

Tristia is still a crapsack world. And just like the first book seemed to promise fixing the crapsack world as the real question, this book continues that theme and allows the characters some progress in their repairs. But of course they can't live happily ever after because then we wouldn't need two more books would we. ;-)


I give it 3 out of 4 stars.

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