The 19th Swordsman, A Review

Kaell was a master swordsman bonded to the god of battle. One with daddy issues about his lord, Vraymorg, who ruled the castle with the same name. His task was simple, to kill as many ghouls as possible in service to his god and kingdom. A task that hardly befitting of such a beautiful youth.

Lord Vraymorg, whose real name was Val Arquez, has issues of his own of living as a father figure. The emotionally unavailable lord was one whose words cut as sharp as any swords. He cared for Kaell as much as a blacksmith would care for the swords he made.

They were the first two you will meet among the diverse, interesting, and living characters that make the world of Telor felt so alive with strife, mystery, and twisted plots.

We received the Advanced Reader Copy through NetGalley for this story in exchange for an honest review, and we were pleasantly surprised about the rich and complex nuances that permeate the medieval settings.

As we said earlier, there was a plethora of characters in addition to the first two. All of them were complex and deep, with motivations and ambitions of their own. These characters and the supporting casts were your primary way to understand what goes on in the story. Unlike most fantasy series, however, there’s no clear line between good and bad. There were only ambitions and actions taken to further their efforts.

They also serve a higher purpose than mere plot drivers. They were living embodiments of the stereotypes that other characters have of them. When one man said that a character came from a culture that celebrates flamboyance, came the character, being flamboyantly dressed, and attracted jests about his immaculate look among the rugged warriors. It is through these people that you get to experience the variety of cultures of Telor.

The story was dense, in such a way that it requires you to take time to digest and understand what is happening. Every chapter was like a scene in a stage play where the dialogues serve to move the plot forward. Every mentions of a character revealed another layer of said character.

The multi-person perspective made it rather hard for you to keep track about the important things, but luckily the writer was kind enough to keep the storyline mostly linear. Where one character left off, another character took the baton and drove the story.

The world-building was such that despite the lack of geographical distance between the places of importance, we didn’t feel it in any way necessary. The storytelling made every city and every place a stage where a scene of importance happened. There was some form of magic practiced by select few, but it’s just as mysterious as the rules that the gods decreed.

To say that the story reminded us of A Song of Ice and Fire would be somewhat fitting. The density, the reliance on an ensemble of characters to paint the stage with blood and glory, the political machinations, the rich scent of ambition and schemes, they all reminded us of said series.

What set it different was how the characters were more honest, in a way that politicians could be. They didn’t mask their ambitions, every other players in the great game (or at least the next person in the plotline) knew about their motivations and ambitions. It was a great way to keep readers engaged in the dynamic twists and turns of the plot.

The action scene was sadly lacking. The swordsmanship of these acclaimed warriors and heroes of the realm wasn’t well highlighted in the story. We wondered if it’s because they were so deadly that their attacks and strikes would quickly disable their foes, or if action wasn’t the focus of the story.

Regardless of how fun the book was, we wouldn’t recommend this series for an average reader. The book didn’t start off easy, and the learning curve was steep. It was meant for people accustomed to dense and heavy reads. So much that sometimes it felt like we missed something a couple pages (even chapters) back, when a character revealed something. However, if you feel like you have a lot of time to read slowly and carefully, you would enjoy the story.

For a first book of the series, the story has a lot of potential, and probably someday it would be taken to a TV series. We would only hope that the pace of the next books would be more relaxed, the complexity more approachable, and the world building more detailed, as most of the setup has been laid in this dense volume.