Saint’s Blood by Sebastien de Castell
(Note: Saint’s Blood is the third book in The Greatcoat’s series. This was the first time I’d heard of this series, and I’d highly recommend you start from the beginning at Traitor’s Blade because these books are worth it. The Greatcoat’s series has gotten a fair share of comparisons to The Three Musketeers. Tristia has a Spanish (Castilian if you want to be technical) feel to it, which sets it apart from the clear Dumas influences that inspired the series initially.)
There’s so much about this book to love. It’s a quality swashbuckler tale, and every time I thought I had this story figured out, it kept going and changing the rules. With less competent narration, this wouldn’t work, but Falcio’s blend of humor, stubbornness, and world-weariness ground this fast-paced story in a depth of human emotions. Falcio, the First Cantor of the Greatcoats, starts the story in a duel. The entire novel revolves around duels, which works well because the fight scenes are all well-paced and authentically fun. That’s another thing about this series that I loved: the humor between the characters (especially the three friends Brasti, Kest, and Falcio) fits with their personalities and helped me get into the story. I love humorous fantasy, but it’s so rare to find quality humor mixed in with gory action scenes and have it work.
The duel transitions to a palace attack, and the fearful attacker is the Saint, Birgid, who’s controlled by powerful magical mask. The main plot launches here, and the Greatcoats have to figure out who is killing the Saints of Tristia before said murderer can kill Ethalia, the newest Saint of Mercy and Falcio’s on-again-off-again-it’s-complicated lover. If you’re new to the series, there’s a lot of back story with the dead King, Falcio’s daughter Valiana, and Falcio’s dead wife Aline that consume the beginning chapters of the story. You can get into the series here, but it’s going to be a bit of a tough go for several chapters until they get to the church and try to save Saint Birgid.
The tension between the various factions drives this story. If you like the political elements of A Song of Ice and Fire, these political intrigue plots are for you. It can be a bit hard to keep track of them, but the general gist of who they support is well-defined. The church and what their end game is won’t be apparent until later in the novel, but the tension between Aline, the future girl queen, and the nobles is clear the entire time. Valiana, in particular, is an interesting character, and her duty to uphold the laws of the crumbling kingdom of Tristia and her personal struggle throughout the story is poignant.
This is one of those reviews where I feel that I can’t say a lot because there are so many plot twists in the story, and the layers of plot build organically upon each other. The God’s Needle cult is terrifying, and every time they appear, their importance is intensified. Their introduction is brilliant, too, and the way the cult and religion are used to try and control the kingdom felt realistic.
The world building blew me away. I kept wondering when the author would run out of plot twists or when something would fall flat, but none of the build up into the finale did. There kept being more, but the narrative is so solid that this doesn’t feel fast or clunky. Maybe, if I’m pressed, I’ll say I didn’t care about the resolution after all of the amazing layering of the plot leading into the final battle. The world building is powerful, and after we meet the real villain (WAY further into the novel than you’ll be expecting), it becomes difficult for the resolution and climax to live up to the phenomenal story that leads up to it. That’s not to say the ending is bad–it’s not–but this isn’t a book you read for the ending but for the thrilling, poignant, and occasionally humorous journey that takes you to it.
- I know a little about fencing, and the fight mechanics during this story always work. There’s no cheap moments during the fight scenes, and if you like a nice mix of realistic fighting with a little sprinkling of fantasy thrown in, this is the book for you. I can’t stress enough how great the actions sequences are.
- Inconceivable—got to get that sweet, sweet Princess Bride shout out.
- Bless fantasy that makes me laugh. I’m serious. There’s not enough of that out there, and it’s one of the main reasons I love heroic fantasy. Bring me joy, damn it, and then SMASH IT. Thanks. 🙂
- “They’re never expecting the Spanish Inquisition.”
- The diversity of weapons used by the Greatcoats is fantastic. It helps define their characters, but in heroic fantasy, that works well.
- I’ve laughed more times in this novel than I do with most. That made the relationships between the character feel real.
- Blood moths. Glad someone tapped into the natural horror that is moths.
Rating: 5 stars
This is a strong entry in an already strong series. If you like swashbuckling fantasy, this is the story for you. There’s a nice blend of humor, action, and world-building that’s underpinned by a unique narrative voice.
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