LOL someone is binging T. Kingfisher books. It’s me! I’m the someone. I’ve got Nettle and Bone lined up after this one 😀 I haven’t even looked at the blurb, I just saw the author and clicked, “buy now”.
Okay, so this whole Saint of Steel series follows paladins who have lost their god. They are all stand alone novels but I’d still recommend starting at the first, although I wouldn’t say it’s required. The Paladins of the Saint of Steel have a “gift” called the Black Tide. It’s as if they fall into a trance and just start killing like madmen. Their Saint of Steel used to reign them in and bring them back to reality so they could follow their oath of protecting the innocent… but now without their god they have to try and do that themselves with varying levels of success.
The last two books followed Stephen and then Istvhan, and now we’re following a paladin named Galen. He’s a bit more surly as he’s taken the death of his god worse than the others. Istvhan and Stephen have both found love, but Galen continues on with his one night stands etc.
Well, that is until he meets Piper. Piper is kind of a mortician, he’s called a lich doctor and they more or less do autopsies to determine cause of death. It’s a newer but still respected profession, with lich doctor’s findings/results holding a lot of weight in court. Now, Piper is also a minor wonder-worker, and he can see the last moments of a life if he touches a dead body, (which also lends him to be more accurate as a lich doctor).
So, a body is found in a river, it’s very odd because the wounds don’t match any known kind of weapon or animal. So, Piper is called out to examine the body to look for clues, naturally he touches the body and gets a real clue, but doesn’t feel comfortable discussing it. Wonder-workers are sometimes met with hostility, and the more extreme religions, like the order of the Hanged Mother (I think it’s Hanged Mother) will burn him at the stake for what they consider heresy.
One thing leads to another and during their investigation to find out why these bodies are being found, they get trapped in an obstacle course designed by the Ancients. So, the Ancients have this weird technology that’s been lost to time, but current society still digs up old tech and that’s usually not a good thing. In other books set in this world there are clocktaur monsters made of ivory that are almost impossible to kill. Well, it turns out the Ancients also have ivory testing chambers (which reminded me a LOT of the video game Portal). These testing chambers are like death traps you have to get through, you’ve got 30 minutes to clear a room or something. There are sharp blades, projectiles, scorpion creatures, poisonous gas etc. So in some other ways this reminded me a lot of Andrew Rowe’s Sufficiently Advanced Magic series. I really love both Portal and Sufficiently Advanced Magic, just by the by.
So, the three people (two humans and a gnoll) end up investigating the murders find themselves trapped in an Ancients obstacle course for a good third of the book. This is a much more fast paced action packed book than the last two since it was one room after another of death traps. I was worried that’s all this book was going to be, and it almost is, but there is another subplot involving gnolls and the internal politics of the city guard that I enjoyed in the back half of the book.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned the gnolls yet in my reviews for this series, but I’ve gotta say I love these guys. They’ve got a lot of common sense, their society is interesting, and the way they perceive humans as big toddlers is fairly entertaining. Ear Stripe is absolutely the fucking best. His opinion is that humans can’t smell right, and we make no sense. Can’t really argue with that logic. I love that the gnolls genuinely look at us like “giant toddlers” and are bemused with us more often than not. I loved having gnolls in Swordheart and was excited to get another large side character who’s a gnoll in this one. I believe Brindle was the one in Swordheart? Goodness, me and names.
I honestly got a touch bored with this book because I felt like these characters and their romance problems were a rehash of the first two installments. We have a third broken paladin who’s trying to find love when all he’s known is various one night stands. This is Istvhan’s story rehashed again. Clara and Piper are sufficiently different love interests on the surface, but they also share characteristics like that they’ve never had a long term partner and are scared of getting hurt. It’s possible that binging this series was also the wrong way to go, if I had a little settle time between Istvhan and Galen maybe I would have been less bored. But, going over the same old, “am I so broken that I can’t love again?” issue kind of dragged this down for me. As a result I wasn’t very interested in their relationship. I don’t think it was them, or this book that turned me off. I think whichever of these three books I finished with, I would feel this same way. So like, if these two had come first in the series, with Grace and Stephen being last, I’d likely feel this way about Grace and Stephen instead.
Since there are seven paladins I’m thinking maybe perhaps we might get seven of these books? If so, I really hope the next book has a very different kind of paladin as the main character so I can feel like it’s a new romance/book. I think Marcus already has a wife that thinks he’s dead, maybe let’s try for a romance that’s a bit different in context, problems, and personality? If the next book has a paladin that thinks they’re too broken for love I’ll unfortunately set it down.
The other issue I had was the less developed antagonist. In the last book the creator of the smooth men I actually found to be very sympathetic, there was a reason he was doing what he was doing, and it was a bit more developed than this guy. Thomas felt kind of mustache-twirly and didn’t serve a big purpose. And also, like did these caverns/test chambers have any affect on this world? Was it just to like… put some action into the book? I’d like to see in the next installment if these newly discovered things have any impact on the larger world as a whole.
That said, the world expands here and there’s quite a bit of action which sets this apart from the frist two. The first there wasn’t a ton of action, the second there was some with a lot bunched up at the end. This is a solid action packed rigamaroll almost from the start and then slows down just a bit at the end.
This was not focused so much on scents and all that, which i was let down a little there since that really helps me, but there’s not a lot to smell in these ivory death trap rooms lol. This a much faster paced book than her typical. Once again there’s some UST, but it gets resolved sooner rather than later, which sets it apart from the last one where I was screeching at the characters to fuck already. This was actually almost too fast. I’m learning that I’m sort of impossible to please.
Man. So, I four starred this and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I couldn’t knock it for writing or pacing, it’s the same quality of prose that you always get from this author. I did knock it for plot, characters, and originality pretty hard. It is what it is, I’m hoping I’ll enjoy Nettle and Bone, or if there’s another Saint of Steel, maybe we see an already developed romance, or a very different kind of romance with very different kinds of issues? I don’t know. I adore this world and this author but this book was a swing and a miss. However, this could very well end up being your favorite.
- Plot: 10/15
- Characters: 10/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 12/15
- Pacing: 13/15
- Originality: 10/15
- Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 75/100