Publisher: Orbit/Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 22 February 2022)
Series: Empire of the Wolf – Book One
Length: 13 hours and 45 minutes
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
Richard Swan makes his highly acclaimed fantasy debut with the much loved The Justice of Kings, a slick and compelling novel that combines a murder mystery with epic fantasy and political thriller elements in some very impressive ways.
Few authors have gained the respect of the fantasy community as quickly as Richard Swan did this year as he made the jump from science fiction to fantasy in a very big way. The Justice of Kings is an intriguing and awesome novel that serves as the author’s first entry in his new Empire of the Wolf series. Following a magical lawman as he investigates a terrible murder while also attempting to keep the political peace in the realm, The Justice of Kings has a lot of great parts to it and it received a lot of kudos as a result. I read it several months ago and neglected to write a review for it, which I making up for now. I had a great time getting through The Justice of Kings and it lives up to a lot of the hype surrounding it.
NO MAN IS ABOVE THE LAW
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. In this he is aided by Helena Sedanka, his clerk and protege, orphaned by the wars that forged the empire.
When the pair investigate 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 must make a choice: will he abandon the laws he’s sworn to uphold in order to protect the empire?
Introducing an unforgettable protagonist destined to become a fantasy icon, The Justice of Kings is an unmissable debut where action, intrigue and magic collide.
The Justice of Kings is an excellent book which manages to bring together a lot of different genres for an excellent story. Told from the perspective of Helena Sedanka, the Justice’s protégé and clerk, the book follows Sir Konrad Vonvalt, a Justice of the Empire who acts as a travelling judge, lawyer, investigator and executioner. Able to wield unique magic, Vonvalt and his staff arrive in a small provincial city to investigate the murder of a local noblewoman. As they dive into the case, the Justice and his team discover that this is no simple murder, instead the victim was killed as part of an elaborate conspiracy infecting the town, forcing them to dive into a dark web of blackmail, bribery, religious corruption and assassination to find the killers. At the same time, Vonvalt finds himself going up against some deadly politics of the realm as a group of religious zealots with an ambitious and ruthless leader attempt to make a play for power in the Empire, specifically choosing to target the Order of Justices. These two separate concerns come together as the story unfolds, and the characters find themselves in an intense battle to save themselves.
Swan came up with a particularly strong narrative for The Justice of Kings, and I deeply enjoyed the interplay of the different elements. Not only does it perfectly introduce an outstanding and impressive fantasy series and realm, but it also presents the reader with a complex story of politics, intrigue, war and religious turmoil, overlaying an intense murder investigation. Swan starts the story off strong, introducing the protagonists, as well as the deliciously evil series antagonist, and the reader is soon quickly enveloped in the main mystery, finding out who is behind the brutal murder. The investigation embarks at a rapid pace, and it was fascinating to see how the magical protagonist and his cohorts attempt to solve the murder. At the same time, the protagonists get involved in some of the more urgent politics of the realm as they attempt to bring a group of religious zealots to justice. Things really intensify in the second half of the book, as the narrator is dragged into a disastrous undercover operation and the culprits of the murder are uncovered, resulting in a cool court trial sequence which gives the book an additional legal thriller edge. However, solving the case brings everyone further misery as the culprits are connected to the wider antagonists who arrive, seeking their own version of justice. This leads to a major and brutal confrontation, which really amped up the intensity and ensured you really could not put the book down. I had a brilliant time getting through this captivating narrative, and Swan really ensures you will come back for the next read, especially following some epic character developments and major confrontations. I cannot emphasise how amazing this story was, and Swan did a brilliant job of bringing so many different elements together into one exciting story.
I was pretty impressed with the detailed and compelling new fantasy universe that Swan created for this series. The divided, multi-nation Empire of the Wolf provided rich ground for the many conspiracies and plots that were uncovered in this book and readers are going to have a lot of fun exploring it. I also really loved the interesting magic elements of the book, especially as it revolves around the Justices. The idea of magical roaming lawmen bringing justice to the outer reaches of a massive empire is exceedingly cool, and Swan introduces it extremely well in this book. I also enjoyed the fantastic magical abilities that Swan featured in The Justice of Kings, although they are subtle compared to other fantasy books. Magic in this universe lies primarily with the Justices and each of them can wield one or two abilities at a time. Since there are only two Justices featured in this book you only really see a few of these abilities in action, although they are impressive in their own way. The main ability is The Emperor’s Voice, which is a bit of low-level magical mind control, forcing unsuspecting and weak-minded suspects to the tell the truth and admit their crimes. This ability is used to great effect throughout the book, and I loved the idea of a magical lawman’s primary power being the ability to force out a truthful confession. The other major ability was a bit of necromancy that Vonvalt can do which allows him to talk to recently deceased people to gain extra information from them. The scenes that feature Vonvalt talking to the dead are terrifying and they hint at some darker forces in the universe, which are no doubt going to be featured later in the series. I felt that these magical abilities and the wider world were perfectly introduced in The Justice of Kings and you really get an idea of how impressive the Justices are, as well as how unstable the Empire is. I look forward to some more worldbuilding in the future, which will hopefully feature some deep examinations of the Justices, perhaps in a magical school setting. No matter what, though, Swan really showed off his aptitude for fantasy fiction here and I very much enjoyed his magical inventiveness.
I will admit that I had a bit of a mixed reaction when it came to the characters in The Justice of Kings, which really did impact my overall enjoyment of the story. This mixed reaction was mainly down to the main character of Helena Sedanka, the book’s narrator and point of view character. While Helena was an interesting character and her unique perspective on the events as the Justice’s clerk moved the story along, I personally did not connect with her as a character. No matter how hard I tried, I found a lot of her actions to be annoying and I was constantly groaning at her dialogue and narration. While I realise that many of her actions were done to highlight the character’s youth and inexperience, I had a hard time enjoying the story when events where focused on her, and my dislike never abated. Considering that she was the only voice of the book, this naturally affected my overall experience of The Justice of Kings and it was the major hurdle in my enjoyment of the novel. I am really hoping that Swan will tone down the characteristics of Helena I disliked in the future books, and perhaps I will have a much better time with the next book in the series.
Luckily, the other major character in The Justice of Kings were pretty damn awesome, and I felt that they did a great job offsetting my dislike for Helena. This character was the Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt, who serves as the complex and intense protagonist of the story. Vonvalt is pretty damn epic from the very start of the book, and even before it (he looks very cool on the cover above). A tough but fair Justice, Vonvalt is one of the few honest men left in the Empire and his primary concern is his duty and the administration of the law to anyone, no matter their station. You honestly can’t help but like Vonvalt throughout this book, as his straight forward and honest approach to the situations, as well as his general kindness and deeper fury at injustice, really struck a chord with me. Unfortunately, after getting you to like him, Swan ensures that Vonvalt goes through a lot of pain, which slowly start to change him, especially when his own naivety about the state of the Empire and his own order comes back to bite him in a big way. This really wounds Vonvalt, and you really see him change, especially towards the end of the book, where he becomes harsh, bordering on cruel, in his search for justice and revenge. All of this is extremely hard to watch for the reader, and you have to both hate and love Swan for making Vonvalt such a great character that these events also hurt you. This change in character is obviously going to be a major part of Vonvalt’s character arc in the future, and I can’t wait to see the more vengeful version of this once noble night.
I grabbed The Justice of Kings on audiobook, which was a fantastic and fun way of enjoying this intriguing read. Coming in with a run time of a little under 14 hours, The Justice of Kings audiobook has a descent length to it, although dedicated listeners can easily power through it quickly. I felt that this format did a great job of enhancing the complex story contained within this book, and you really appreciate some of the compelling details of the new universe when they are read out to you. I also quite enjoyed the narration of Lucy Paterson, who brings the story to life with her excellent voice. Paterson gives some amazing voices to all the key figures in the book, especially Helena, and I appreciated her take on all the characters. As such, this was a pretty awesome format to enjoy The Justice of Kings on and I will definitely be grabbing the next book on audiobook when it comes out.
Overall, The Justice of Kings was a particularly cool and enjoyable book that has rightfully put Richard Swan on the fantasy fiction map. Swan was deeply impressive with his fantasy debut here and it is hard not to love the amazing blend of mystery, magic, politics and the search for justice that were contained within. While I did have some dislikes when it came to The Justice of Kings, I felt that this was a wonderful book and I plan to come back to the series in the new year, especially as there is an awesome, potential laden sequel out very soon.