Timy reviews The Justice of Kings, Richard Swan‘s debut Fantasy novel, the first book in the Empire of the Wolf series, published by Orbit on February 22nd, 2022.
A physical ARC was received by the publisher in exchange of an honest review. Thank you to Nazia from Orbit for arranging it!
|Series: Empire of the Wolf #1||Genre: Fantasy, Mystery|
|Date of Publishing: February 22, 2022||Trigger Warnings: violence, death|
|Page count: 432||Publisher: Orbit|
From a major new debut author in epic fantasy comes the first book in a trilogy where action, intrigue, and magic collide. The Justice of Kings introduces an unforgettable protagonist destined to become a fantasy icon: Sir Konrad Vonvalt, an Emperor’s Justice, who is a detective, judge, and executioner all in one. But these are dangerous times to be a Justice….
“A fantastic debut.” – Peter McLean, author of Priest of Bones
The Empire of the Wolf simmers with unrest. Rebels, heretics, and powerful patricians all challenge the power of the Imperial throne.
Only the Order of Justices stands in the way of chaos. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is the most feared Justice of all, upholding the law by way of his sharp mind, arcane powers, and skill as a swordsman. At his side stands Helena Sedanka, his talented protégé, orphaned by the wars that forged the Empire.
When the pair investigates the murder of a provincial aristocrat, they unearth a conspiracy that stretches to the very top of Imperial society. As the stakes rise and become ever more personal, Vonvalt and Helena must make a choice: Will they abandon the laws they’ve sworn to uphold, in order to protect the Empire?
“It is impossible to impress upon a man the severity of a situation until the point of its remedy is long past. ‘Tis something to do with the nature of a human being, that ingrained idiocy. The gods must shake their heads at us in disbelief.”
Justice Sophia Juras
One of the easiest choices ever. The moment I started thinking about what song to pick, Rev Theory‘s Justice came to mind instantly. I mean, it fits.
I want justice I want you overthrown
I want courage
I want to stand alone
I want your arrogance and I want your pain
I want your everything and I want your head
Apparently, it took me a bit more than 3 weeks to read The Justice of Kings and if that’s not a testament to how much my reading slowed down recently, I don’t know what is. And I can’t even blame the book (or its length), because when I did read it, it was a page-turner. But alas, a new job and my newfound addiction to Downton Abbey got in the way of finishing Richard Swan‘s debut novel in a timely manner.
I mainly picked The Justice of Kings up because I knew it was partly inspired by CJ Sansom‘s Shardlake series for which I have great affection. And yes, I’m easy to please. It also didn’t hurt that authors whose works I admire and who tend to have similar tastes to mine were talking about this debut novel with high regard. Maybe because of all this I already had high expectations unknowingly, or maybe it was just the timing, but I didn’t love this book as much as others seem to. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it, but I left slightly underwhelmed at the end.
What is the book about? Sir Konrad Vonvalt is a Justice – something like a judge, a prosecutor, and an executioner rolled into one person – who travels around the empire with his companions, Helena (his apprentice and scribe) and Dubine (his task man) to bring the law to everywhere equally. He also has powers only Justices have – the Voice of the Emperor which they can use to compel people to tell the truth and one that’s somewhat unique to every Justice, which in Vonvalt’s case is necromancy. He is fair but firm, and rarely loses his cool, but once someone crosses a line he deems uncrossable, he knows no bounds to bring that person to justice. As events progress, we start to see a change in him as the world he knows crumbles into nothingness around him.
Encountering a village that never really converted to the official religion – Nema’s Creed – and kept practicing Draedism, sets off events none of them seen coming. But as it turns out, this was just the spark that needed to set off the barrel full of gunpowder they’ve been sitting on for a long time. Although now that I think on it, gunpowder is not something they’ve known in this book… Anyway. Religion and politics go hand in hand and things escalate quickly. What a surprise.
The Justice of Kings is a first in a series, which also means it has a lot of setting up to do. It took me a while to wrap my head around the names and the different factions in the power struggle behind the scenes. In the beginning, I was not sure why it was necessary to introduce us to this fairly early on, which resulted in pushing the murder mystery plotline into the backseat. In hindsight, I understand the decision as this was necessary to build up for the later books. And I have to admit, this was done pretty well. But my underwhelmed feeling comes from the fact that I expected the murder mystery to be more of the heart of this book, rather than a convenient backdrop for the said buildup. Which, for me, also resulted in not really getting to know any of the characters, let alone building a connection with them. It also didn’t help that the main MC was not the narrator of the events, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it didn’t strengthen the feeling of distance. Also, I think I wanted the mystery to be more of a mystery than it really was.
Look, I know that so far I didn’t make The Justice of Kings sound promising, but hear me out. This book is good, even though I’m not 100% sure yet if it’s my kind of good. Whenever I got around to sit down and read I got sucked in. I wanted to know what happened next. I kept turning the pages like I’ve never read a book before. I might not warmed up to Vonvalt or Helena (the first-person narrator) but I still could appreciate the scope of the story, the easy-to-read (and understand!) prose of Swan, and the amount of detail he worked into the book. It’s pretty clear he has a great understanding of how justice systems work and has a passion for it to boot. An interesting aspect of the book is that Helena writes down this story as an old woman, but it actually features her younger self, so we get this double perspective on Vonvalt and everything that transpired. This gives us an insight into how Helena and Vonvalt’s pretty rocky relationship works and how this formed Helena herself in later life. Will she learn from Vonvalt’s mistakes? Time will tell.
The Justice of Kings is part mystery, part political drama, and part epic fantasy. Swan smartly navigates between the three parts, as events build up to bring us confrontations on a much higher level in the next book. I, for one, am curious where the road takes Vonvalt and company next.