SAINT’S BLOOD by Sebastien de Castell

“This is what you do, you know,” Brasti called out.

“What’s that?”

“When you’re tired. when you’re scared. You throw yourself into fights you have no real chance of winning.”

I searched around for a clever reply, but the truth was, Brasti had made a surprisingly insightful observation.

“You’re right,” I said.

“Then why keep doing it?”

I stepped into the crowd. “Because it’s the only thing I know how to do that ever works.”

Last year, KNIGHT’S SHADOW was the best book I read. This year, SAINT’S BLOOD seems destined to take that title.

Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoats series centers around three men — Falcio, Kest and Brasti — who were once part of the king’s elite judicial swordsmen, bringing law and justice to a fragile kingdom. But their king is long dead and the Greatcoats have long since been scattered to the wind, each assigned a personal mission from the king.

But in the previous two books, Falcio and his friends have found the king’s daughter, Aline, and taken steps toward placing her on the throne and returning justice to their kingdom. In addition to Aline, they have found several other young women who, while they each bring different personalities and skills to the table, match Falcio, Kest and Brasti in their determination and belief in a brighter future for their kingdom. By this point in the series, the women are often the drivers of the plot, standing side by side with the three heroes we have followed throughout the series.

All three books are anchored by Falcio’s heart-on-his-sleeve point of view, providing a voice that reminds me in some ways of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. In one moment, he can be trading barbs with Kest and Brasti, and in the same page de Castell turns the screws and suddenly creates an unexpectedly emotional moment. Somehow, de Castell has captured the humor of Scott Lynch and the poignancy of Robin Hobb. It’s an awe-inspiring combination.

de Castell’s dialogue crackles throughout, from the familiar banter of Falcio, Kest and Brasti, to the face-offs between the trio and their often overpowering enemies. Each character has their own voice, from Kest’s unerring pragmatism and calculation to Brasti’s irreverance and refusal to take anything seriously.

All three books have a touch of noir in them, especially SAINT’S BLOOD, as Falcio seeks to figure out who has begun killing saints and why they are doing it. Like the best noir heroes, Falcio spends almost the entire book injured in one form or another, never gaining enough time to fully recover before moving on to the next emergency, then next battle, the next crisis that could cost him everything he loves.

These seemingly never-ending challenges have taken their toll on Falcio over the course of the series, making him an even more interesting character. In SAINT’S BLOOD, he still carries guilt after he was forced to cut off Kest’s hand in KNIGHT’S SHADOW, but even that guilt is overshadowed by the emotional aftereffects of the torture he suffered in that same book. de Castell writes that fear in an incredibly visceral manner, making you feel Falcio’s terror as he relives the worst moments of his life.

This doubt and pain and fear make Falcio’s determination all the more inspiring, and make his victories — however short-lived they may be — all the more enjoyable.