Monday, April 8, 2024

The Trials of Empire by Richard Swan - Book Review

From the publisher: The third novel in Richard Swan's acclaimed epic fantasy trilogy triumphantly concludes the tale of Sir Konrad Vonvalt, an Emperor’s Justice – a detective, judge and executioner all in one. 

The Empire of the Wolf is on its knees, but there's life in the great beast yet.
To save it, Sir Konrad Vonvalt and Helena must look beyond its borders for allies - to the wolfmen of the southern plains, and the pagan clans in the north. But old grievances run deep, and both factions would benefit from the fall of Sova.
Even these allies might not be enough. Their enemy, the zealot Bartholomew Claver, wields infernal powers bestowed on him by a mysterious demonic patron. If Vonvalt and Helena are to stand against him, they will need friends on both sides of the mortal plane—but such allegiances carry a heavy price.
As the battlelines are drawn in both Sova and the afterlife, the final reckoning draws close. Here, at the beating heart of the Empire, the two-headed wolf will be reborn in a blaze of justice . . . or crushed beneath the shadow of tyranny. 

The Trials of Empire by Richard Swan is the conclusion to the Empire of the Wolf trilogy. It is a very good finale, and a fitting end to the series.

Sir Konrad Vonvolt and his friends are desperate to stop Bartholomew Claver from using the knowledge he has gained, and possibly the demon who is possessing him, from taking over the Empire, let alone the world. To this end, they spend a lot of time trying to convince various groups to put aside their differences, and sometimes extreme hatred, to stop Claver and to save the Empire, or at least what is left.

This was an entertaining book, with very well-drawn characters. It is narrated, as are the first two books in the series, by Konrad's young assistant Helena Sedanka. It is also told as a memoir of sorts, so while Helena's survival is never in doubt, there is a sense of finality and terror that comes through. Other supporting characters are fleshed out very well and add to the depth of the story. However, it is Konrad Vonvalt who is the star. He is generally a good man bent on serving justice, but he is willing to do whatever it takes for that justice to be served.

I enjoyed The Trials of Empire by Richard Swan, as I did the whole series. I would recommend it to fans of fantasy mixed with horror (a little too much horror for my tastes). 

I received a preview copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Play of Shadows by Sebastien de Castell - Book Review

From the publisher: Swordplay, magic, intrigue and friendships stronger than iron: the first volume in the new swashbuckling fantasy series set in the universe of THE GREATCOATS.

Damelas Chademantaigne picked a poor night to flee a judicial duel.

He has precious little hope of escaping the wrath of the Vixen, the most feared duellist in the entire city, until he stumbles through the stage doors of the magnificent Operato Belleza and tricks his way into the company of actors. An archaic law provides a temporary respite from his troubles - until one night a ghostly voice in his head causes Damelas to fumble his lines, inadvertently blurting out a dreadful truth: the city's most legendary hero may actually be a traitor and a brutal murderer.

With only the help of his boisterous and lusty friend Bereto, a beautiful assassin whose target may well be Damelas himself, and a company of misfit actors who'd just as soon see him dead, this failed grandson of two Greatcoats must somehow find within himself the courage to dig up long-buried truths before a ruthless band of bravos known as the Iron Orchids come for his head.

Oh, and there's still that matter of the Vixen waiting to duel him . . .

Play of Shadows by Sebastien de Castell is an awesome book! It is the start of a new series, The Court of Shadows, set in the world of his Greatcoats series (I would describe it as Greatcoats adjacent). 

The story stars Damelas Chademantaigne, the grandson of two Greatcoats but who only wants to be an actor. As he tries to escape certain death in a duel with the Vixen, Damelas seeks refuge in the Operato Belleza as part of the Knights of the Curtain, the resident acting troupe. This begins an engaging tale of plays, conspiracies, noble politics and schemes, revenge, and love.

Damelas is a great main character. He is kind, brave, and self-effacing, while managing to be brave and insightful. He is definitely a reluctant hero, but one who grows into the role. As with the Greatcoats series, the supporting cast in Play of Shadows is terrific and varied. The ties to the original series are present, but do not intrude on the story being told. Additionally, the mystery of the conspiracy involved is very engaging and unpredictable.

The Greatcoats series is one of my favorites, so I was looking forward to returning to this world. Play of Shadows was a terrific start to a series that promises to keep the level of storytelling high. I would highly recommend Play of Shadows by Sebastien de Castell.

I received a preview copy of this book from the Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Crucible of Chaos by Sebastien de Castell - Book Review

From the publisher: A mortally wounded magistrate faces his deadliest trial inside an ancient abbey where the monks are going mad and the gods themselves may be to blame!

Estevar Borros, one of the legendary sword-fighting magistrates known as the Greatcoats and the king's personal investigator of the supernatural, is no stranger to tales of ghosts and demons. When the fractious monks of the abbey rumoured to be the birthplace of the gods begin warring over claims of a new pantheon arising, the frantic abbot summons him to settle the dispute.

But Estevar has his own problems: a near-fatal sword wound from his last judicial duel, a sworn knight who claims he has proof the monks are consorting with demons, a diabolical inquisitor with no love for the Greatcoats, and a mysterious young woman claiming to be Estevar's ally but who may well be his deadliest enemy.

Armed only with his famed investigative talents, his faltering skill with a blade and Imperious, his ornery mule, Estevar must root out the source of the madness lurking inside the once-sacred walls of Isola Sombra before its chaos spreads to the country he's sworn to protect.

Investigate alongside Estevar and the most heroic mule ever to appear in print in this thrilling swashbuckling fantasy mystery by Sebastien de Castell, author of the Internationally acclaimed Greatcoats and Spellslinger series!

Crucible of Chaos may be read as a stand-alone fantasy novel and as a prelude to Play of Shadows, the first official novel in the Court of Shadows series!

I was first introduced to Sebastien de Castell through his Greatcoats series. The series, which is tremendous, starts out like an homage to the Three Musketeers but quickly becomes about so much more. De Castell's newest novel, Crucible of Chaos, is set in the same world (although later) as The Greatcoats and stars Estevar Boros, one of the King's Greatcoats.

Boros is known as the King's Crucible and was first introduced to readers through the volume of short stories Tale of The Greatcoats. Boros is known for his fondness for the supernatural/occult and his investigative techniques. Boros is like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Inigo Montoya (from The Princess Bride). 

Estevar Boros is on his rounds as a Greatcoat, or King's Magistrate, when he receives a summons from an old acquaintance to help solve a mystery on Isola Sambra, a mystical island just off the coast where there is an abbey of monks living. Upon his arrival, Boros is greeted by a knight, who warns him not to risk his life on the island, as the monks have gone insane. Boros is intrigued and begins the trip to the island. Once there, he encounters different factions of monks, a young woman, mysterious sigils, and a dead body. And chaos ensues.

This was an entertaining story. Boros is an interesting lead character and de Castell takes his time unraveling the mystery. It's a worthy, but different,  follow-up to the Greatcoats series. It also sets the stage for de Castell's next series in this world, the Court of Shadows. I would recommend it to fans of the Greatcoats. It's also a decent one-off introduction to this world.