This was a review request and the author was nice enough to send me the audiobook! Thank you!!! I always accept audiobook reviews, I’ve got much more time for audiobooks than I do physical reading.
This is a fairly straight forward story that reads quickly. It’s an old school low magic/low fantasy murder mystery revolving around a prince.
The main character, Belasko, has been the King’s Champion for years, probably decades. He’s 37, and although that’s not terrible old, it does mean he’s one of the oldest duelists around. It’s not specifically said, or maybe I missed it, but it feels like anyone has the right to challenge Belasko to a duel to the death if they feel like it, so long as he’s not retired. It does lead to a lot of duels… and things are not looking great for Belasko. Once upon a time, he was the greatest swordsman anyone has seen. But, he’s starting to suffer from foot/arthritis problems, and he’s not as quick as he once was. Instead of relying on strength, speed, and stamina… he’s now relying on his cunning and experience when in the ring. He wants to find a replacement for himselfbut there’s just no one he’s met that he would trust with the lives of the royal family. That is, until he’s framed for the murder of the prince — which he absolutely did not do since he loved the Prince like a brother and is as loyal as they come. The prince was poisoned and Belasko as been framed, now he has to prove his innocence or hang for a crime he didn’t commit.
This is a small cast, smaller kind of setting taking place in once city, and the pacing moves quick for a murder mystery. The book is only around 225 pages so there’s not a lot of “filler” that wastes the readers time. The clues are there from the start, but I didn’t totally pick up on them, and although I may not have been thrilled about what the twist was — I can say that I did not see it coming which is essential for the impact of a reveal in a murder mystery.
The small cast let us get to know the main character very well, and there were flashback scenes that gave us a little more insight into him as a person. I would have liked a little more, to be honest. I have to say though, even on the last few pages we get to see a different angle of his life that we didn’t know before, so he continues to develop up until the very end, it’s just a short book without a ton of page time to commit to character development in a way a sprawling epic does. I liked Belasko as a person, it’s sort of hard not to. He’s a good person, loyal to the end, caring, and he’s aware of his strengths and his weaknesses giving him a well rounded and down to Earth appeal.
The prose was good, and definitely sped the story along even faster since the prose read “breezy and light” for lack of a better term. There were a few instances where characters summarized in dialogue what the reader already knows and that’s always irksome for me, but it didn’t happen too often.
I also would have liked more World Building — I’m aware of another culture that they’re not friendly with and have warred with in the past… but I really have no idea what their government looks like outside of the royal trio we were introduced to. I’m not so sure what religion they follow, or what kinds of folklore, myths, or things along those lines. I would have liked a lot more meat from the world building than what I got, but that’s okay. It was a short, plot based book without a ton of room for that kind of thing. I don’t recall there being any magic at all, but some more fanciful beasts were mentioned in the abstract. This could really read more as a historical fiction/low fantasy.
It does have a wrapped up ending despite being book 1 in a series, so if you want something that could read as a stand alone and finish within a day for light engaging reading, this could be for you.
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 8/15
- Writing: 11/15
- Pacing: 12/15
- Originality: 10/15
- Enjoyment: 7/10
Final score: 72/100