BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Disgraced champion duelists, Kacha and Vocho, seeking to regain their honor, or at least a bit of glory, try their hands as highwaymen. Everything is going well, until they steal a mysterious locked chest from a crazed blood magician.
PROS: Imaginative world filled with clockwork gods and dueling swords; witty dialogue; fast-paced action
CONS: Heavy-handed characterization; predictable plot
BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable story filled with death defying action, witty banter, and unique worldbuillding that is only spoiled a little by cliché characters.
Swords and Scoundrels, book one in Julia Knight’s The Duelist’s Trilogy, is part clockwork inspired fantasy, and part sword and sorcery mayhem. The story follows through the eyes of brother and sister champion duelists, Vocho and Kacha, after their ousting from the illustrious Duelist’s Guild.
Vocho, the ever impulsive, self-aggrandizing rogue with a sword, is almost the sort of bantery fool (with just enough chops) that you can root for. His high-strung, I-have-numerous-daddy-issues-and-therefore-must-always-be-perfect sister, Kacha, is competent to a fault, but still mostly loveable. The main problem with these two characters is that they are terribly cliché.
Now, on the whole I am fairly forgiving of character archtypes, assuming the author finds ways to make them unique, or at minimum, entertaining. The problem with Vocho and Kacha is that, whenever they aren’t actively engaged in witty banter with one another, they are lost monologuing annoying thoughts.
Take Kacha for example. She’s been told her whole life how she is perfect, first by her father, and then by the Guild Master who takes her under her wing. She latches onto this praise and internalizes the message so much so that throughout the story she says things to herself along the lines of, “I need to be perfect. They need me to be perfect.” Which is fine and dandy, except it keeps coming up over and over. By the twelfth time she thinks it about herself, it’s already been pointed out forty-eight times (give or take) by a supporting character, and we, as the reader, absolutely get the point.
Unfortunately, this heavy-handed characterization is the norm for the rest of the cast as well.
My other big gripe, besides the characterization, is the general lack of understanding the people in this world have for the technology around them. Case in point: The city spins around, reorienting itself every few days thanks to some enormous cogs underneath the city.
How’s it work?
Good question. Hre’s the answer: Literally nobody knows.
No, not only doesn’t anybody know, nobody has even a clue. Everybody on the whole seems okay with this fact.
Now, Swords and Scoundrels is similar in this way (as well as many others) to The Lies of Locke Lamora. Both stories have hand-me-down technologies from past ancient peoples (who may, or may not, be gods). Neither story really understands how any of it works. The difference between the two stories, however, is the fact that nobody in Swords and Scoundrels is interested enough in actually going under the city to check out these cogs and figure out what in the ever-loving-weekly-spinning-city is going on down there.
Disclaimer: Swords and Scoundrels is the first book in the series, so it is very likely Knight will address this issue in later volumes. /end gripe
Ignoring the irksome characterization and the intentionally mysterious worldbuilding, Swords and Scoundrels actually has a lot going for it: Told from multiple points-of-view, both past and present, Knight does some interesting narrative gymnastics to weave a compelling, fast-paced tale from beginning to end; Vocho and Kacha have good chemistry which makes for great dialogue; multiple moving parts and sub-plots add a gratifying layer of depth.
All things considered, Swords and Scoundrels is a pretty fun tale. Julia Knight has created an enjoyable story filled with death defying action, witty banter, and unique worldbuilding that is only occasionally spoiled by cliché characters.