Title: The Justice of Kings
Author: Richard Swan
Publication date: February 22, 2022
One Sentence Summary: Sir Konrad, one of the Emperor’s Justices, and his two companions are in Galen’s Vale to solve a murder, but unrest within the empire is about to catch up with him.
The Justice of Kings is something of a fantasy legal thriller. There’s a murder mystery that needs to be solved and trial to be done, but there’s also unrest in the empire that Sir Konrad and his companions are only now hearing of. There’s a chain of events and decisions that contribute to a lot of blood and death as well as some interesting magic I wouldn’t want to witness. Told many years after the events recounted in this book by Sir Konrad’s clerk, I found myself feeling removed from the story as it had a passive feel to me, but I did enjoyed the adventures and trials of the characters found themselves in and I’m curious to see how the rest of the trilogy will play out.
Sir Konrad Vonvalt is one of the Emperor’s Justices, someone trained in law and in eldritch powers to be judge, jury, and executioner. With his companions, Dubine Bressinger and Helena Sedanka, he travels the outer reaches of the empire, serving to settle all disputes and deliver justice for all crimes. During their recent travels, though, they temporarily picked up a man called Patria Bartholomew Claver, a member of a religious order who believes they are the rightful users of the powers the Justices use. Fortunately, a disagreement separates him from the other three, but it will not be the last they see of the man.
Upon entering Galen’s Vale, Sir Konrad and his companions are faced with the murder of a lady, which leads them into various parts of the city and deep into the economics both within and without Galen’s Vale. With their arrival, though, comes a warning from a fellow Justice that all is not well in the Empire, and Sir Konrad will be faced with difficult choices.
The Justice of Kings is something of a fantasy legal thriller. It’s dark and bloody and doesn’t appear to hold anything back. It was a bit of a brutal read to me. It’s centered around a murder case, but couched within a medieval-style European-inspired fantasy world. I liked how the justice system was familiar, but also took some liberties. I also liked that it felt very much like a fantasy, and opens the door for the rest of the trilogy to really bring the fantasy to the forefront.
The Justice of Kings is told from the perspective of Helena, Sir Konrad’s clerk. It’s also told very much in the past tense as Helena is writing the story as an old woman and injecting some of her reflections while also hinting at things to come. I found it a little curious that she was the narrator, but I’m quite glad as Bressinger was the brute strength and not much else and Sir Konrad’s mind felt too crazy from Helena’s perspective for me to want to be dropped into it. Helena’s job is also to do all the writing and recording, so who better to tell the story? I thought it was interesting, but, to me, was the weakest part of the story.
Helena herself was an interesting character. As a nineteen-year-old young woman, she’s naive and has a strong survival streak and can be rash, but she has a good head on her shoulders. I liked her quite a bit and enjoyed how gutsy and fearful she could be in turns. She felt quite real. But Helena as the older woman telling the story tempered it more than I would have liked. It was interesting to get her reflections and hints of what was to come, but it also took me out of the story at times. The reflections felt too pensive and the hints took away a lot of the tension. By having an idea of what to worry about and what to relax about, it was just more of a pleasant day in the park kind of read despite all the battle, blood and gore, and death.
The Justice of Kings is very much a brutal book, at least for me. There’s quite a bit of death, gore, and battle, and it’s quite blunt. It was also a bit repetitive with the manner of death, but I also appreciated it as it made it easy to skip over. I’m not one for violence in books and I went into this one knowing there would be more than I would like, but I still enjoyed the story. Most of it was really the solving of the murder, unrest in the empire, and legal proceedings. It could have been dull, but I found it to be fascinating. And then the fantasy with all the blood and death came in and it really shouted fantasy to me.
Still, I enjoyed the book. I adored Bressinger even it he came off as abrasive for much of the book. He and Helena have a fascinating relationship, and I really did enjoy reading about him. He’s the brute strength, but also so much more. I do hope to find out more about him and his history as the series goes on. Then there’s Sir Konrad who felt quite unflappable except when he was. At times he did feel all over the place, but overall felt more dark and moody, especially as the story went on. I admired his conviction and his strength of faith in his duty, but, from what Helena as an older woman had to say, it also felt agonizing. Overall, though, I’m quite glad the story isn’t told from his perspective.
One thing I really loved about The Justice of Kings was that it’s mostly set in Galen’s Vale. I’ve come to adore fantasies that are more confined to one or two geographical areas, and this one is definitely that. There’s some travel, but I really enjoyed the time spent in Galen’s Vale, getting to know how it operated and the people within it. It’s very much a typical medieval European town, but the people really brought it to life. There were all sorts, and they were all fun in their own ways. But I also liked that there’s history to the world as a whole. It really helped color much of the story a certain way and in turn colored the way some of the characters thought. It did feel like too short of a history, but I appreciated the depth, nonetheless. I also liked that it appeared to be Germanic-inspired, so it helped place certain things in my mind in certain ways that helped me figure out the world a little better.
The Justice of Kings isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I am very intrigued about where the story is going. I really liked that the trilogy opened with a murder mystery as it helped to flesh out Sir Konrad and his companions and what they do, as well as hint at the unrest in the empire that’s a loud roar by the end of the book. I didn’t enjoy all the blood and death, but can certainly understand a lot of it was necessary. I did feel a little removed, which impacted my enjoyment, but I think the story itself is interesting enough and I’m curious to know what will happen next.
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Thank you to Angela Man at Orbit for a physical review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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