Editor’s note: I started out trying to make this review spoiler free, but then I got to ranting and gave up. So proceed with caution if you are wary of spoilers (meta-spoiler: you don’t really want to read this book, so it probably won’t be a problem).
I picked up Traitor’s Blade while killing a bit of time at a Barnes & Noble and read the first 20 or so pages while lazily sipping a coffee. My initial impression was pretty solid – the writing style wasn’t super sophisticated, but something about the enthusiasm of the narrative reminded me a bit of the early Dresden Files; maybe not super polished, but entertaining and chuckle-worthy. I particularly enjoyed the early banter between the three main characters – Falcio, Kest, and Brasti.
I decided Traitor’s Blade wasn’t necessarily worth the price of a hardback, but it seemed worth purchasing on Kindle, so I did so. Aaaand then things went downhill. As the book progressed it started feeling like Another Fantasy Author Who Decided To Novelize His D&D Campaign. Nearly every single plot event hinged on weird serendipity or unbelievable coincidence – the right people just happened to be in the right place at the right time, even though it was totally baffling or geographically infeasible for them to be there. There are certainly instances in which the author could have gotten away with that (for example, if he had left The Tailor as an unexplained, strangely mystical character who happened to know where to be and when, rather than resolving her in the way he did, which was far too mundane to explain the happenstance). Add to this a magic system that had whiffs of being cool and interesting, but mostly was just referenced via vague hand waving, and I was well on my way to soured on the book.
Early in the story I thought that Sebastien de Castell might be setting himself up to be a feminist ally in the fantasy novel space; something that is sorely needed given how frequently fantasy authors fall into tropes that minimize women. There was an exchange early on where the main character says something to the tune of “You’re doing that like a girl,” to which the response is “Well that’s a really stupid thing to say, what does that even mean?” My feminist ears perked up at that, and I got my hopes up.
And then. And then. As women were introduced to the novel, they one by one fell victim to those classic minimizing tropes. The one who was raped and killed as a motivation for the main character to be a berserker. The one who is a spoiled clueless bitch. The one who could have been above it all as a godly benefactor, but instead her character boiled down to maternal instincts. Oh, and then my favorite: the mystical, magical courtesan who literally tries to rape the main character into loving her. As in, Falcio says “no, stop, please don’t” multiple times, and then she still has sex with him and because she is a beautiful woman (while he is a base and feral man) it all is ok. Oh, and afterwards she cries because her glorious sexing couldn’t heal him and convince him to stay around – evidently her fulfilling, independent, mystical life could no longer be the same without him. Oh, and then Falcio misses her a bunch and feels bad for leaving his rapist. What is this, I don’t even.
Anyway, do yourself a favor and skip this one. I nearly put it down after 100 pages, but decided to give it a second chance. After a certain point I felt like I was just continuing to slog through it to give myself ammo (me? Ammo for ranting about a book? That doesn’t sound plausible). This is not a shining addition to the current fantasy new releases.