Fantasy / Sci-Fi Book Review
I love most of Duncan Hamilton’s books. I’ve reviewed a number of them here before. His new series, the Blood of Kings, takes place in the same world as all of the rest that Hamilton has created with his other series, the Wolf of the North, the Dragonslayer, and the Society of the Sword. The world is not too far off from our own which adds the believability of any good myth. He has a knack for creating cultures and putting the reader on the left shoulder of the characters as he tortures them in the various, delicious ways.
In the first installment of the series, The Squire, we are introduced to the main character Conrad. As a child, Conrad is a victim of a demon attack that kills his parents. He is rescued by a motley group of sell swords from a range of different cultures and fighting styles. There’s not enough angst in the group to make a nineties grunge band jealous but there is enough conflict to make them interesting. The band is loosely led by a banneret of the grey by the name of Nicolo. He runs a democratic outfit which is already outside the norm for this type of company but it fits the personality and cultures of the group. Left with very little options, they take Conrad under their wing and make him a squire for their small company. Along the way, they teach him the basics which runs the risk of formulaic fantasy. Thankfully, it doesn’t turn into one. Hamilton twists it into a mystery where he invites the reader to uncover who’s behind the demon threat for the crown.
The Banneret picks up eight years later. Conrad is fresh out of the Academy and he now holds a Banneret title of his own. In Hamilton’s world, this means you have earned the right to wear a sword in the bigger city and amongst gentlemen. It’s like being certified a badass. Hamilton doesn’t waste much time in the set up, doing us all a favor by throwing us back into the mystery.
Conrad’s nemesis from the first book (1st book spoiler incoming), a duplicitous little prat with the well fitting name of Manfred, is down on his luck after Conrad exposes his father at the end of the first book. Manfred and his family lose everything except for a small chest of seemingly useless junk, some papers and an amulet. Manfred is smart enough to establish himself as a get shit done in the shadiest way possible character with some elements of the criminal underworld. It doesn’t take long for him to discover that the amulet is the key to the communication with these demons that gave his father a serious edge in all his negotiations. Manfred quickly discovers this same power and starts carving out a small empire of his own.
In the eight years between books, the demon activity has sputtered out, leaving the crown to minimize its importance and quit dedicating resources to the problem. In actuality, the demons have been upping their game behind the scenes. When they do make their second book debut it’s with a lot more chutzpah.
They uncover a bit more about what the demons want and what they need to do to stop them from getting it. At the end of the book, Conrad gets a bit of an upgrade which gives him a real chance of standing up to these powerful foes. It’s a good story.
The thing that stood out is the undercurrent of loss throughout the books. Conrad is heavily defined by the people he loses. One of my complaints is that the losses appear to be painfully random, the result of crappy luck. I think this is the author’s intent but when I’m reading epic fantasy I have this little kid side of me that wants there to be more meaning behind each loss. But there isn’t. Fantasy imitating life I suppose. It leaves you feeling a little empty.
My other complaint is that there is a pretty small cast of characters and while they have been well developed, you don’t build a ton of sympathy towards any of them except the protaganist. Again, I think this is the author’s intent. Since his new life since losing his parents is defined by loss, his relationship with others is a bit standoffish. This is a more mature theme than some of Hamilton’s other books. Or, maybe I’m just reading too far into it.
Either way, I look forward to the conclusion of this trilogy.