- First published in 2015 by Jo Fletcher Books
- Format: Audiobook
- Narrator: Joe Jameson
- Listening Speed: 1.5x
- Listening Time: 6 bleak days
- Before we go any further, I just want to clarify something. I picked this for the ‘new author to you’ prompt for the Nerd Daily Reading Challenge and, at the time I picked it, Castell was a new author to me. I just happened to read ‘Spellslinger‘ first. This is definitely a much darker offering. The Greatcoats were once great and Falcio was the well-respected first Cantor, trained in the ways of combat and in dispensing justice to the people. Then, his idealistic King was overthrown by corrupt Dukes and the Greatcoats are scattered and universally reviled as traitors or ‘tattercloaks’. Falcio, however, hasn’t lost hope in bringing justice to the kingdom. He has been given one last mission by his king and he will stop at nothing to accomplish it.
- Really good world building. The kingdom is a hopelessly corrupt nation where do-gooding kings get nothing but their head placed on a spike. It’s also extremely fragmented where it seems to be common that cities or regions feel apart from the whole and that their laws transcend those of the nation. Rijou, where most of the book takes place, is probably one of the most extreme examples. We also learn about secretive orders of assassins and…other things…along with glimpses of their religion, which seems to be based around some very creatively named saints. Magic does exist but Falcio considers it a bit of nuisance in his line of work. There are also some magical animals in this, though we don’t see a very good example of one. If the world wasn’t so relentlessly dark, I might be quite interested in it.
- Uncomfortable with the portrayal of women in this book. Though it is mentioned that there are a lot of women in the Greatcoats, we don’t actually see any of them. I think it wouldn’t have affected the story much if one of Falcio’s two sidekicks had been a woman. Making either Brasti or Kest a woman would have been a good twist on the character archetypes. Sadly, the majority of the women in this book are either victims to be rescued, get fridged or are one-dimensional villains. There is one big exception and I liked her a lot. If you’ve read the book, you know which one I’m talking about but I’m not spoiling it here. Unfortunately, there’s also a woman who does some, uh, sexual healing and offers herself up as a reward for all his hard work in what is probably the weirdest and most uncomfortable scene of the book. I think Aline was underutilised too. She and Falcio could have had something close to the relationship between Ellie and Joel from ‘The Last of Us’, where one is less capable than the other but still capable in their own way and is very likeable to boot. As it was, Aline was far too often just a one-dimensional damsel in distress for Falcio to save. The other (predominantly male) characters are pretty well done by comparison, which, if anything, makes more annoyed. Brasti and Kest were great sidekicks and Falcio himself is a decent main character whose main appeal is the creative ways he deals with seemingly unsolvable problems. I definitely like his smarts more than his swordcraft.
- The content in this gets so dark that this might verge into grimdark territory. There’s also a lot of violence so go into this forewarned. Everyone but the main characters is hopelessly corrupt and the enemies simply seem to be evil for the sake of it. In fact, it got so dark that I almost stopped reading it because I didn’t want it to get worse. The king tried to do good and ended up being killed in a coup by the dukes who didn’t want to change their ways. The whole world seems to want Falcio and his friends to turn corrupt too and it’s a long, hard and seemingly hopeless fight to get any kind of victory of them. I liked the new spins on the classic story (e.g. what if the ‘chosen one’ became king but was overthrown before he could live happily ever after) and the more realistic approach to the last wish of a dead king plotline (e.g. most of his followers give up quickly since they can’t make sense of the cryptic order and people on a sacred quest still need to find work or turn to crime just so they can eat). What I didn’t like was how relentlessly dark everything was. I just can’t get invested in a mission if it feels too hopeless or if I don’t want this world to be saved. Which, really, I don’t.
- A good style that’s fairly accessible and keeps the story going at a good pace. It sometimes switches from a storytelling style to a more informal style when it has to explain something like a fighting technique to the reader and, while it can be a nice break, it can sometimes come off as a bit patronising. What I did like was the moments when Falcio says he’s unsure what happened next but that something rather awful happened. It got a laugh out of me more than once but, over the course of the book, it gradually becomes more of a serious sign of Falcio’s dissociative moments. The timeline switches between past and present every chapter or two. Usually, I don’t like that very much but it was done well here. I can’t say the audiobook narration is very good, though. The narrator suits Spellslinger since the main character is a teenager but, in this book, the voice sounds far too young.
- Left emotionally drained by all the ups and downs in the finale but I can’t say I was left as satisfied as I was by the ending of Spellslinger. I think I’ll stick to the Spellslinger series too. I liked Falcio’s quick and creative thinking when presented with difficulties but, other than that, the story and the world didn’t really grab me. Probably because this world was just too dark and hopeless to care about.
Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
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