Knight’s Shadow by Sebastian De Castell — Book Review
Series: Greatcoats (#2)
Published by: Jo Fletcher Books.
Genre: Epic fantasy, grimdark, low magic(-ish?).
Length: 20 hrs and 6 minutes, or 606 pages on hardcover.
Purchased Copy from Audible in a 2-for-1 Sale.
You can read my review for the first book in the series here.
I enjoyed Traitor’s Blade well enough when I listened to it last year, but I had some small issues with its tone, and thought its worldbuilding left something to desire. Knight’s Shadow embraces the darkness its predecessor flirted with, and the result is a phenomenal work bordering between grimdark and epic fantasy.
Castell‘s humour and skill in imbuing his sword-buckling action with life both continue to impress; what’s more, despite having to sustain a far larger novel than his debut, the author does so with no apparent effort. The sharp dialogue between our core characters (Brasty, Kest, and Falcio, joined by noblewoman-turned-Greatcoat Valiana and girl-who-enjoys-the-murder-of-nobles Dariana) could’ve kept me glued to my headphones for another forty hours…which is certain to happen, as I’ve purchased the other two books in the series, and eagerly await the opportunity to listen to them.
I can’t touch on the quality of humour here, so I will fall back on anecdotal evidence and hope it’ll be persuasive enough. While listening to Brasti set up and then land a particularly elaborate joke, the punchline of which was usually Falcio, I cry-laughed while strolling through the streets of Malmö. More than once. Combine Brasti with Kest’s matter-of-fact observations and acceptance as fact of all the bowman comes up with, and Falcio’s..Falcioness, and you’ve got the ingredients for Castell’s repeated strokes of brilliance. Tell the man lightning doesn’t strike twice and look at him laugh, then pull out a dozen bolts of lightning in a jar.
Then, there were the times I teared up from the sheer emotional weight of it all. Falcio didn’t have an easy time in Traitor’s Blade but compared to what he goes through in this one… save to say, it’s intense. Chapters such as The Greatcoat’s Lament (which was the original title of the book, the more you know!) are decimating. Cathartic experiences such as this are not easy to come by, and I salute the mastery Castell exhibits in the aforementioned chapter as well as in the final climactic sequence of this novel.
Knight’s Shadow kept surprising me – revelations clicked in the same moment as they did for Falcio; characters’ motivations fell into place before my eyes (or ears? I did listen to the audiobook, after all), and I took the very greatest pleasure in seeing Castell pull one persuasive card trick after another. There’s plenty here that brings the world to life far outside the confines of protagonist Falcio’s point of view, and each character—central, side or antagonist—has a believable motivation. The foundations of the villains, in particular, are used to such gratifying effect, I was left grudgingly admiring more than one of the dukes so loathed by our Greatcoat protagonists. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to throw in my lot with the First Cantor*, but there’s a certain appeal to well-developed power-hungry nobles.
Only on a few occasions was I annoyed at Falcio for being blind to what the reader could immediately perceive as a twist – a decrease by no small magnitude, compared with Traitor’s Blade, which for all its wonderful conceits came across in its dramatic turns as rather a choreographed affair.
Knight’s Shadow is what every sequel should be – an improvement on the original formula, which makes excellent use of the building blocks Castell established in Traitor’s Blade. Some series stumble and fall on this, their second step; The Greatcoats soars higher than it has before.
*Falcio’s title as leader of the Greatcoats, for those coming into this review without any experience with Castell’s world.