Holy crapping crapsnacks.
Ok, that’s not all. I LOVED Traitor’s Blade an incredible amount – it was tight, entertaining, well-written, funny, and exciting. Not twisting words – it was gods-damned great. I was told that Knight’s Shadow took things up a notch from that book, and I believed it – however, I did not really think it could be THAT much of an improvement.
Whoops, misjudged that one.
In a way, Knight’s Shadow really continued off from where Traitor’s Blade left us – without spoilery details, that means deep in some very intricate plots, but largely also in “traveling group” fantasy mode. Which is great – it was refreshing to find a book that had some of that old-school simplicity to it, the feel of the road-weary party of folks dealing with problems and tribulations. However, it was never that simple with this story, and could never be. This plot had too many pieces, too much going on behind the scenes that was hinted at, slowly revealed, and very deftly handled. Always so much more to discover with this story, so much more to love.
The story rolls on as I’ve become accustomed to in the previous volume – our three heroes, their party of misfits, chasing their quests, following their destinies…and then it all crumbles. All of the seemingly obvious pieces fall apart, all of the paths that it seemed so obvious they were following suddenly became nonexistent, and turned them around. The complication of the various stories happening here are so brilliantly handled by de Castell that I often forgot about these individual pieces, about the bits he foreshadowed, about the details of his worldbuilding that seemed inconsequential but ended up being such major pieces.
And despite all of that, nothing, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING THING, prepared me for what was coming in the final 1/4 of this book. Nothing. There aren’t words to describe what happens, and I will say that in all my time of reading, of all the hundreds of fantasy books and books of all genres I’ve read, NOTHING has hit me in the feels harder than the ending of this book. NOTHING. Falcio has already established himself as one of the pinnacles of protagonists for me, especially first-person protagonists, but nothing had me ready for what he endured in this book, nothing gave me warning of the true breakdown, of what torture could be. This is not the physical abuse that Sand dan Glokta dished out in The First Law – this is something so much deeper, so much more debilitating, and de Castell ruined my life with it. He crushed me.
I don’t think much more needs to be said. I’ve never had to push through a portion of a book I loved, never had to endure this much abuse. But it wasn’t gratuitous, it wasn’t overdone, it wasn’t a vulgar self-indulgence. It was just, simply, the hardest thing I’ve had to read in a piece of fiction, happening to a character I’ve come to know and love. And I wanted to cry at the end, and hug Sebastien, for being so brilliant.
But yet, after all that’s over, there’s still more twists, more things that made me say “NO DAMN WAY!” outloud, while sitting in public reading (at a bar, of course, because I needed alcohol to cope with this kind of drama). As I said, I’m very, very rarely moved by books, very rarely surprised, very rarely shocked. Yet, Sebastien did it again and again at the end of this novel, twisting me left and right and left and right. And then, at the end, I got a satisfying, if slightly cheesy, feel-good ending, as if that would be more than a bandaid to fix the emptiness in my soul that was left behind after the previous portions.
This book is so much more than it seems, this story is SO much more than it seems. It is brilliance; it’s subtle, it’s heartwrenching, and it’s wonderful. It takes you to the highest highs and the lowest lows, it hits grimdark and it hits epic and it hits romance and it hits low fantasy politics. It takes the best pieces of so many of my favorite works and puts them into one brilliant piece of book.
I can’t say any more than this – it’s fucking phenomenal.