Author: Sebastien de Castell
Series: Greatcoats #3
Published: April 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
How do you kill a Saint?
Falcio, Kest, and Brasti are about to find out, because someone has figured out a way to do it and they've started with a friend.
The Dukes were already looking for ways out of their agreement to put Aline on the throne, but with the Saints turning up dead, rumours are spreading that the Gods themselves oppose her ascension. Now churches are looking to protect themselves by bringing back the military orders of religious soldiers, assassins, and (especially) Inquisitors - a move that could turn the country into a theocracy. The only way Falcio can put a stop to it is by finding the murderer. He has only one clue: a terrifying iron mask which makes the Saints vulnerable by driving them mad. But even if he can find the killer, he'll still have to face him in battle.
And that may be a duel that no swordsman, no matter how skilled, can hope to win.
This is a creative series has evolved to become so much fun to read as a fantasy genre enthusiast. It's Dumas with magic; it's the Three Musketeers with more fatalism and better one-liners. Each new jaunt into Sebastien de Castell's French-inspired world of Tristia has only improved on the one that came before it. Traitor's Blade was a good if imperfect beginning for Falcio and Co., Knight's Shadow was a dense and cleverly complicated sequel, and Saint's Blood is the best of the series yet, speaking both character-wise and plot-wise. In this planned series of only four books, Castell has so far crafted three well-wrought and carefully developed novels.
The heart of these books has always been the three Greatcoats, the trio of Falcio, Kest, and Brasti. Falcio val Mond is the first-person narrator, but here in the third act his primary cohorts step even more into the fore. The swordsman of the group, Kest has had unique struggles since the first book and his situation is still a tenuous and uncertain one. His personality is still stoic and far less chatty than either of the others, but after three books it's hard not to see his distinct personality and voice among his recitations of stats and protectiveness towards his brothers-in-arms. Brasti, the third leg of this deadly tripod, similarly experiences a lot of growth over the course of three novels. Even moreso than Falcio, Brasti is great for banter and a one-liner. His talents aren't limited to snark, but also showcase his underlying noble, if not moral, nature. Together or apart, they're a fantastic trio and they are never boring.
The three central troubadour-judges aren't the only well-drawn characters to be found in Saint's Blood. This has been a very male-dominated story (think of, besides Falcio and Co: the King, nearly all the male Dukes, the majority of the villains, all the Knights, etc.) but de Castell has definitely integrated more women into all kinds of key roles. Heir-apparent Aline is more active than ever, as is Greatcoat Valiana acting as her regent and protector to prepare her for the throne. Ethalia, once the victim of an unfortunate fantasy genre trope, has also become a well-developed and nuanced character. When they meet up with protagonists, it's a group that compliments one another and they also, at times, challenge one another.
There's a lot of creativity to be found throughout this series, and Saint's Blood is another example of Sebastien de Castell's unique brand of fantasy. His approach to the genre is fresh and layered; his plots are intricate and unpredictable. His characters aren't stereotypes and evolve over the course of each book. And, happily for me, his worldbuilding has started to fill in the existing gaps and provide some solid answers. Now that we are three books in, with magic and religion becoming ever more prevalent in the characters' lives, there's more information provided about how Tristia functions as a country and as a religious people.
Closely following the events in the two books before it, Saint's Blood does not miss a step or waste any time and momentum. Sebastien de Castell's newest offering is also his best. It's an involved and intricate story but one that is hard to put down. New antagonists enter the scene for Kest, Falcio, Brasti, and everyone to contend with, but also help contribute the overall threat waiting in the wings with series big bad Trin. With only one book left in the Greatcoats' arc, it will be a hard wait to see how Aline's play for her father's throne ends with the forthcoming Tyrant's Throne.