De Castell’s Writing Flows Brilliantly
by Sebastien De Castell
by Sebastien De Castell
by Sebastien De Castell
by Sebastien De Castell
I must have encountered the Duke somewhere on the road because I was carrying a sack with me and his head was in it.―
Sebastien De Castell, Traitor's Blade
About The First Book
Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission.
But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn…
Funny that the moment I decided I should become stricter with where I give five-star ratings, I should literally fall upon one that deserved them all for me.
But here we are.
I tend to binge read most of the time, so once again, dear reader or listener, I’m presenting you with a review that encompasses a series as a whole rather that its individual installments. Although, for those wondering whether you might not enjoy the series as much if you don’t read in one go as I did, fear not! Each book’s plot is fairly self-contained within each installment, with small time skips in between each of them, which then connects into the greater whole. So if you wished to read them more spread out, you can certainly do so without too much worry of hanging threads or loose ends.
For a brief moment I considered just copy pasting onto this page several screenshots of my chat with a fellow book nerd, wherein I just reacted over passages from the four books as I was reading them – they would frankly work quite well as a gauge to my enjoyment of this series so I’ll insert some of them at the very end of the review anyway- but they still wouldn’t be enough to do it justice. So, here I am trying to put into words why this series jumped to one of my top five book series ever, and all the reasons why I absolutely loved it! Get comfortable for this might be long, but I’ll try my best not to make *too* long.
Let me start by saying that more often than not, I dislike First POV narration. It is really a hit or miss situation for me for some reason. Whenever I got to the bookstore, that is the first thing I check when considering a new read and, perhaps to my detriment, 8 out of 10 times I will put the book back down when I see it. Unless I am really, really drawn to the plot. Thanks to Covid I didn’t get the chance to have this dilemma, and instead just ordered the books online as soon as I saw that a favorite author posted about moving them up his TBR and another favorite had read them and ranked them highly. Imagine my wariness when these really cool looking books arrived, and I opened them to see First POV. It did not last long at all. Within ten lines I was hooked, and I was enjoying myself so much!! I even ran to Twitter to rave about this, not even sure it was an ok thing to do considering how new I am to the social aspect of reading and book blogging.
Furthermore, as you can see from the tweet, it’s been a while since I read the first book, and I then finished reading the last one, Tyrant’s Throne, by the end of August. The reason I waited as much as I did to write this is because, just like with my previous review, I loved reading these books so much that I wanted to write something more levelheaded than I would if I’d given in to my excitement and feels right away.
“Everyone shush now,’ I said, taking a step towards the guards. ‘I’m about to be impressive.” – Falcio Val Mond in Tyrant’s Throne.
De Castell’s writing flows brilliantly, the narration is impeccable and the world building incredible. Falcio’s voice is one I could connect with swiftly, right from the beginning and as the story progressed and I got a fully rounded view of what built and broke his character, I could only feel for him all the more. The way he narrates, in between self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing quips or sometimes reminiscing of past events, or letting his thoughts wander to side details, as he is reminded of them from something happening at his present time, comes across so naturally and seamless that, at times, I felt like he was literally sat in front of me and telling me his grand tale. Take one of my favorite quotes from book one, Traitor’s Blade, for example: “His voice was thin and wheezy, and to my ears sounded half calm and half crazy, but I was a poor judge, being completely crazy myself at the time.”
Moreover, the relationship dynamics and character development throughout are truly superb! I do not say this lightly at all mind you. The main trio of the story especially, Falcio Kest and Brasti, have some of the best banter and connections I’ve ever read. See another example quote in book two, Knight’s Shadow, “I caught Kest’s eye and then Brasti’s, and both nodded their approval. Saint Olaria-who-carries-the-clouds, the three of us have turned into an old married couple, I thought. We’ll be finishing each other’s sentences before long.”
I am all for found family, of which there is plenty in the series, but give me a long-established friendship/brotherhood, as is the case with those three, and I will fall in completely. The only, let’s call it crack, in the awesomeness of well woven character moments, for me at least, was in the very first book where there is a lightning strike true love kind of deal. Call me a bitter nonbeliever, it’s fine. That is honestly the only qualm I had, BUT even that was resolved throughout the four books in a way that my nitpicky self, found deeply satisfying.
Further testament to the character development I mentioned, is the fact that, as far as I could tell, not a single character remains the same throughout the four books. To elaborate, the villains are not always who they seem, or even if they are, some of them turn into better people because of what they go through. Vice versa for the good guys! Expectations are turned on their head, ideals challenged and/or corrupted, or new ones are found! All this leading to some astounding mouth opening moments for me. I shit you not, I wowed, aaawed (and a great variety of other assorted odd sounds), out loud one time too many, that even my mother, seasoned book nerd herself, raised a questioning eyebrow at me. In short, a character driven story at its absolute finest!
I also think, in general, the very final scene takes the crown for my favorite ending to a series, for now. In fact, I could just list all the synonyms to amazing and satisfying and heart wrenching, but that would just bore you.
Another aspect I quite liked in the Greatcoats’ world was the magic system. In that the characters themselves don’t actually have any magic powers per se, but magic does exist in a different form than usual. Unless you count interminable snark and a knack for getting in over their heads a power, in which case I take it back and the protagonists are all overpowered. Also there are gods and saints who walk among men, and the whole power system of how they are born/made was terribly intriguing. Seeing how some of the protagonists had to navigate this, was yet another way in which the reader connects with them even more. In fact, Falcio’s limited perspective worked incredibly well for it too. Somehow, I think that going through the events of all that happened, without experiencing it all through the eyes and emotions of a single character who was trying to understand them himself, would not have resonated in the same way. Again, filtering everything through him made it all feel more real as I mentioned before, but, most importantly, the rest of the cast didn’t suffer because of it at all either. Wonderfully multifaceted and interestingly written characters all around!
Now, I mentioned snark and banter and oh boy, was there plenty of both, also paired with swashbuckling antics and preposterous heroics! One way I could render the fun of it all would be to say that the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, especially it’s quirkiest/most entertaining, but also the epic pieces, could fit oh so well in the background. So much so, that I was either giggling, chuckling, if not even full on laughing out loud, at almost every other page in these books. Heart wrenching moments, torture scenes and dark instances aside of course. Of which there are several as well because, you know, balance.
This right here is where De Castell absolutely Excelled, I will say. Having a complicated relationship with grimdark is something I have written on before and will do so again in a future, but the fact of the matter here is that the author managed to bring forth all the grit, pain and struggle of his harsh world. But he did so in a way that I *enjoyed*. I still had hope even when then characters themselves didn’t. Poor Falcio is almost broken beyond repair several times and he is not the only one. And yet, I didn’t feel over exposed or tired, nor did I get pushed past the point of caring, and into that empty acceptance of oh well everything is going to be heavy and go wrong. I am pushed to make this comparison even more strongly because in between reading De Castell which I was enjoying so much, I made myself stop halfway in order to finish reading Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy. I simply knew that if I hadn’t made this imposition on myself, I perhaps never would’ve finished reading Abercrombie.
Please do not think I am bashing him though, he is called the king of grimdark for a reason I suppose but at that point in time, that atmosphere was not what I needed. Whereas with De Castell I managed to get back from the brink of another reading slump and it was absolutely wonderful to be able to read several hundred pages in a day without even realizing!!
Unfortunately for me, I am unable to further ramble on all that I loved while reading, without spoiling things, even mildly (trust me I could go on for daaayyyys) – and as always, I am of the opinion that getting to experience these books on your own as you read, is best. Less is more as they say, and I want to leave you with the anticipation of the many surprises that De Castell has written in this incredible series.
So, I’ll just sign off with the previously promised personal commentary, may it give you a good chuckle. I’ve mostly trimmed the passages each message refers to as well, and I guess a pre-emptive apology for all the f bombs is in order. You have to understand I was pretty darn excited/emotional while texting them out.
Until next time,
Original Review Appeared on Eleni’s Own Site – Find it Here
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Eleni is a Greek student who grew up in Italy, and is currently working on getting her BA Honours degree in Literature from a Scottish university! When not typing away for her disseration, she can be found reading all the SFF she can get her hands on, and reviewing it for fun when inspiration strikes and she just needs to share her passion for reading. Alternatively, she will definitely be with a needy Westie in her arms watching series or movies. You can find her writing on her shared blog with her course mate at https://latenightbookscom.