Volume Two in the Greatcoats series picks up not long after Traitor’s Blade left off, with Falcio, Kest and Brasti attempting to figure out how exactly to go about putting a thirteen-year-old girl on the throne while they are hunted by psychotic knights and unstoppable assassins, all the while the entire nation teeters on the brink of all-out civil war.
Traitor’s Blade largely featured its central trio wandering across the countryside with little clue about what they were supposed to be doing and frequently doing little more than reacting to situations, but in Knight’s Shadow the story is far more streamlined (despite being a considerably longer book), delving deeper into the workings of the crap-sack world the characters inhabit and providing some explanation of exactly how such a hopelessly corrupt nation remains functioning.
After being afflicted by a slow-acting but deadly poison, Falcio has changed slightly from the beacon of valour he was previously, his inexorable death seeming to have slightly dampened his perpetual optimism. He’s increasingly sarcastic, quicker to kill without consideration, and his righteous speeches have become tinged with more than a little anger. While he and his compatriots might bicker about the finer points of any given course of action, for the most part they generally agree on courses of action with little argument, and so to counter this is new character Darriana. A five-foot ball of perpetual fury, her cynicism, quick temper, foul mouth and violent nature act as a foil to their idealism, and she is more than happy to point out when their decisions wilfully fly in the face of logic. An interesting introduction of someone who is effectively a new character is the deceased king. Despite being killed five years prior to the beginning of Traitor’s Blade, his personality is gradually revealed in numerous flashbacks as Falcio recalls interactions with him that seemed to have prophetic relevance to the current situation. Post-mortem character development is unusual, but when done right it can be incredibly effective, and the gradual revelation of the true depths of the king’s scheming makes you question just how different he actually was from the rest of the nobility.
For all their elevated presence, the motivations of the villainous dukes and knights still don’t go much beyond the complacent arrogance that comes from being in a position of power and the genuine belief that such a status gives their lives greater worth. Instead of instilling fear, their actions and attitudes merely provoke contempt, and if all it takes to put people like that in their place is a situation highlighting their gormless hypocrisy, it makes you wonder how it’s taken so long for such an event to occur.
Despite lingering flaws, Knight’s Shadow is a notable improvement on its predecessor and ends on a satisfying conclusion that nevertheless leaves room for the story to continue in Tyrant’s Throne.
KNIGHT’S SHADOW (THE GREATCOATS) / AUTHOR: SEBASTIEN DE CASTELL / PUBLISHER: JO FLETCHER BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (HARDBACK), APRIL 7TH (PAPERBACK)