Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan. This book has received a ton of praise already and has quite a lot of hype surrounding it. I’m always nervous about such books because the hype doesn’t always end up being warranted (in my opinion, obviously), but in this case, I agree with it all.
The Justice of Kings, the first in a new epic fantasy trilogy, follows the tale of Sir Konrad Vonvalt, an Emperor’s Justice – a detective, judge and executioner all in one. As he unravels a web of secrets and lies, Vonvalt discovers a plot that might destroy his order once and for all – and bring down the entire Empire.
As an Emperor’s Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt always has the last word. His duty is to uphold the law of the empire using whatever tools he has at his disposal: whether it’s his blade, the arcane secrets passed down from Justice to Justice, or his wealth of knowledge of the laws of the empire. But usually his reputation as one of the most revered—and hated—Justices is enough to get most any job done.
When Vonvalt investigates the murder of a noblewoman, he finds his authority being challenged like never before. As the simple case becomes more complex and convoluted, he begins to pull at the threads that unravel a conspiracy that could see an end to all Justices, and a beginning to lawless chaos across the empire.
***Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit Books for a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I loved this book! From the moment I opened it, I didn’t want to put it down. The writing was fantastic, and the pace was steady throughout. I was surprised, at first, to find that the book was narrated in first person by a character other than Vonvalt, the Justice, but I really, really liked this choice. It allowed the reader to have a somewhat inexperienced window into the story and kept Vonvalt more mysterious and aloof than other forms of narration might have allowed. The plot was great, and I enjoyed the murder mystery that dovetailed into a giant empire-shaking conspiracy.
The world-building was interesting. I had some difficulty understanding the structure of the empire, especially toward the beginning of the story, but it didn’t really impact my enjoyment or immersion in the immediate plot. By the end, it all made sense, and the empire Swan created was quite complex. Swan’s excellent writing brought the environments to life and evoked the sense I was there with the characters. The magic was fascinating, and the author struck what I would consider to be the perfect balance in explaining just enough about it while leaving the door open to learn so much more in future books.
The characters were well-developed, and it was interesting seeing them all through the recollections of Helena. She struggled to figure out her place in the world throughout this story, and I thought it was quite sad how the direction of her life was largely decided by external factors outside of her control. However, I did get the sense that these struggles helped her grow into a more independent, capable person, and I’m curious to see the rest of her journey to becoming the woman narrating the story. Vonvalt was mysterious, scary, noble, and a bit crazy, which made for an interesting combination. His story was truly epic in the sense that it impacted so much of the political maneuvering within the empire. It also highlighted the dangers of giving one person too much power, even if they seem capable of using it fairly. His slow descent from doling out justice to vengeance was disturbing to read, but I couldn’t help but be on his side despite the moral corruption of his character. He was just all around a well-developed, three-dimensional character, as were many of the other characters who populated this story.
The themes of this book were very heavy, but it never felt like too much. The story posed questions about justice, the judicial system, the corrupting influence of power, the separation of church and state, and the scheme of insurance, among others. It definitely made me think but never in a way that took me out of the story, if that makes sense. I liked how it emphasized that the rule of law, and faith in it, is the only thing that keeps everything from descending into madness while also highlighting how important it is that the law be written and dispensed in a way that is fair to all. It showed the dangers of one group going around the law, which can ultimately lead to others following suit out of desperation until all the principles of civilized society get washed away in blood. There’s so much to talk about regarding the themes of this book I could write an entire essay, but I won’t. lol. The court room scene alone could probably inspire an entire essay of analysis.
Overall, this book was fantastic and is one of my favorites of the year so far. I can foresee it being on my, and many others’, best of 2022 lists at the end of the year. I’m sure I’ll be mulling it over for some time to come. If you enjoy fantasy, please don’t miss out on it.