Series rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Greatcoat’s series, by Sebastien de Castell, consists of four books: Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood and Tyrants Throne. Set in the country of Tristia, the story commences five years after the Dukes and Duchesses of the country overthrew the King and turned the Greatcoat’s into traitors. The story focuses, and is written in the first person viewpoint of, on Falcio val Mond; the First Cantor of the Greatcoats and his friends Kest and Brasti as they attempt to restore order to Tristia.
Before King Paelis was deposed and executed he gave orders to each of the Greatcoats and in Falcio’s case it was to find his “charoites” and this is the focus of book one. Book two deals with what happens next; trying to unite a country behind a new ruler when the country doesn’t really want that to happen. Book three, takes it a step further when someone starts killing gods and saints before book four finally concludes with a threat from another country and problems closer to home.
This review is going to be split into two parts: a non-spoiler-y general review of my feelings towards the books and then a more in depth review which will include major plot points so if you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read that part.
I am going to start by saying that, quite simply, I loved this series. It is pretty much everything I look for in a book. It has action, it has fantastic characters and it has an easy, yet interesting plot. A review on the back of the first book describes the series as a cross between The Three Musketeers and Game of Thrones and I would completely agree. The relationship between Falcio, Kest and Brasti is very reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas’ creations but in a more modern way. They bicker and argue a lot but there is a genuine love between the three characters.
Falcio is the main character and the POV for the series. He likes long speeches and he always manages to find trouble. He’s honourable but prone to seeing red and he would give his life to protect those he loves. He sounds like he could be a bit of a cliché but de Castell is aware enough to not make that happen and his actions are often lampshaded by other characters, Kest and Brasti in particular. Most of the characters could be read as clichéd; Kest is a humourless fighter, Brasti a shameless flirt who rarely comes across as anything but an idiot, but de Castell manages to make all of them sympathetic and interesting characters. Reading Falcio never giving up, even in the face of certain death, simply made me cheer him on more and I spent the books hoping that he would succeed and overcome whatever problem had arisen.
One criticism you could level at the series is that it does have a very formulaic plot. Each book has an interesting plot, don’t get me wrong, but every books starts out with a problem, things get worse, Falcio gets the absolute living daylights beaten out of him; physically, mentally and emotionally before the problem is resolved and the next one crops up. I have to give props to de Castell for being able to make each book interesting in their own right whilst using the same formula in four different ways.
There are characters that you love and characters that you hate. The three main characters are all wonderful, in my opinion. As the books is written in first person there are occasions where the secondary characters don’t feature at all, you can go fifty/a hundred pages without seeing them at all but they are just as interesting. Aline, Valiana, Ethalia and Darriana, in particular, stand out as characters throughout the series. The Duke of Rijou and his son, Tommer, are similarly as interesting. The only character I felt was underused, especially after Traitor’s blade, was Trin but we’ll get into that later.
The character who has the most character development over the course of the series is, undoubtedly, Valiana. You wouldn’t think that from her first appearance as the spoilt daughter of the very nasty Patriana that she would turn out to be the person she did and it is a credit to de Castell that he not only managed to turn initial perceptions on their head but to also create a wonderful, mature and strong female character who grows throughout the course of the series.
All in all, the Greatcoat’s series successfully combines action, humour and emotion into one epic series. The characters made me laugh, especially the interactions between Falcio, Kest and Brasti. Their mocking of Falcio’s love of long speeches, Kest’s lack of humour and Brasti’s shameless flirting often leant wonderful moments of humour when the outlook for the three characters seemed bleak and you genuinely believed they all care deeply for one another. The series offers something new to the fantasy genre, which is amazing given how much fantasy, and how much excellent fantasy, there currently is out there to read. It is adventurous and action packed but never sacrifices plot or character in favour of the other. You fall in love with the protagonists and want them to succeed and that is the greatest strength of the book.
Also, “Shut up, Brasti” might as well be the subtitle for this series because the characters said is so often.
Now onto the spoiler-y part of the review.
As mentioned in the summary, the quest that Falcio was given by Paelis shortly before his death was to find his “charoites”. It is the big mystery of the first book and it turns out that they are his children, whom he sired in order to keep the line of succession going because he knew the Dukes would overthrow him. It is revealed that one of the Duchesses, Patriana of Hervor, has been killing these children since the death of the King and there is only one left alive, a girl named Aline who Falcio et al must protect and eventually see her crowned Queen of Tristia.
This is no easy task because not only are the Dukes against this, Falcio has to deal with Kinghts and Saint killers as well as internal and external threats from people he thought he could trust. The duchies want Aline dead, people believe the Greatcoats to be traitors, knights are trying to assassinate her, someone is going around killing saints so, all in all, it looks like a hopeless task but somehow Falcio, Kest and Brasti manage to save the day and keep Aline alive for another novel. As I said above, interesting and fun but formulaic.
Then something happened that I did not expect.
Tyrant’s Throne is the last book in the series and deals with the biggest problem to date: a rogue Greatcoat has united several warbands from the neighbouring country of Avares, a country which prides itself on its warriors and, of course, it is up to Falcio et al to solve the problem by getting beaten on multiple occasions and with a certain amount of wit. So far, so formulaic.
Then Aline died.
The girl, the almost Queen of Tristia, who Falcio has been trying to protect from the very first novel is accidentally killed, giving her life to save her newly discovered brother from being assassinated by his mother. It was completely in her character, I cannot argue against that, and it certainly moved the plot on. It also gives Falcio an out at the end of the book because there was no way he would ever have retired from the Greatcoats as he does at the end if Aline became Queen. Her death also gives a wonderfully emotional moment near the climax of the book which drives the Tristian army to give their all in the fight against the Avareans.
I just didn’t see it coming. At all. If I had expected it I might have found it sad but I was too busy trying to pick my jaw off the floor saying “WHAT?!” over and over again for a good five minutes so kudos to de Castell for providing a plot point that took my breath away because there aren’t many authors that have managed to do that.
My biggest issue was with Trin. I know she has a point and she plays the part well but I can’t help but feel that she was a completely superfluous character. Her inclusion in the first novel was interesting and she served an important point and in the second book she was a distant yet serious threat. Then she disappears from the third book entirely before popping up in book four in prison in Avares with King Paelis’ son, Filian. The character does what any character needs to do for the plot but, in the end, I can’t help but think that any character could have do what Trin did. She was made out to be an important and dangerous threat in Traitor’s Blade but she never really lived up to that threat/ She doesn’t die, and is instead exiled with her tail between her legs, so I am going to assume she will return in any future books set in that world but she didn’t feel completely right in Tyrant’s Throne. I didn’t miss her in book three and she was not an important enough character in book four and seeing her tossed aside so easily at the end just proves that she wasn’t really needed in Tyrant’s Throne.
On the whole, though, Tyrant’s Throne was a very good end to the series. Loose ends were wrapped up and all the important characters reached a point where they were either happy or at peace. We finally found out how Kest beat the Saint of Swords (hilarious laugh included) and the emotional final meeting between Falcio and Paelis was sad and funny in equal measure, but the series is definitely left open for future books, which I am happy about because I would happily read more about these characters and any future ones.