Book Review

The Justice Of Kings

The Justice of Kings

  • Author: Richard Swan
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: February 22, 2022
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Series: Empire of the Wolf #1

Thank you to Orbit and Angela Man for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: violence, murder, gore, blood

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. 

This is an exciting start to a new series, and while I’m a bit late to the party, you know what they say, right? Better late than never! It’s always the books that I really enjoyed the most that I find it hardest to write reviews for, but I’ve been sitting with this for a couple of days and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any easier, so I’m going to try here.

The story is told, intriguingly, not through the eyes of the major character, Vonvalt. Instead, it’s told through the eyes of his clerk, Helena, who is actually a major player in the story, and a really interesting character on her own. Vonvalt is an Emperor’s Justice, and he travels throughout a major empire to ensure that justice is being upheld in the territories. And on their travels, they come across rumors of a witch practicing an outlawed religion in a small, out-of-the-way town. As they manage this situation, they cross paths with an overzealous priest of the state-sanctioned Neman religion.

This leads to one of the major conflicts in the story, between the empire and a sect of religious leaders. But that isn’t the only conflict, since there’s political maneuvering going on behind the scenes, and a potential upheaval of the Empire itself that is brewing. As all of this is going on, Helena’s worldview is upended:

“It was as though for my entire life I had been looking at the world through a thin veil, and now it had been pulled away. It is amazing how fragile even great institutions of state can be; how quickly the world order can descend into chaos.”

She’s a character I really liked, and seeing the world through her eyes was so interesting. Although she’s the clerk to a Justice, and is technically apprenticing, she’s not completely committed to this path in life. She’s risen far from her own start in life, growing up in a territory that was torn apart by violence, orphaned young and reliant on charity and whatever she could scrounge based on her street smarts and brains. But crossing paths with Vonvalt changed everything for her:

“I wasn’t the urchin from Moldau that he had known, the rough orphan girl, the daughter and niece and sister all rolled into one. I was a woman, and a powerful, intelligent one at that. I think he felt threatened by me.”

The story is a dark and gritty one, and the setting reflects that. Much of the story takes place in an overcast, stormy, and snowy setting, and the story is full of action, surprising plot twists, and danger around every shadowy corner. There’s a lot of foreshadowing, and it felt like there were so many situations where I couldn’t see how they’d get out of the corner they were painted in, but then something would happen and it would change everything. 

In this story, the author did a fantastic job with world-building and the magic system. Not only do the Justices have training in swordsmanship, languages, and the law, they also have magical powers that they train to use. Each of them has something called the Emperor’s Voice, which compels the listener to tell the truth; a very helpful talent to have when investigating crimes. However, this isn’t their only talent. Each Justice also has at least one more talent, based on their own affinities. For example, Vonvalt is able to speak to the dead, provided they meet certain criteria. Others can commune with animals, and there are other powers as well, although some are more arcane, and less utilized. 

I flew through this reading, and I’m already excited to start the next book. I loved the characters and how they interact with each other—the connection between Vonvalt and Helena is similar to a father/daughter relationship, with its ups and downs, and it felt realistic with how much they’re together and how they spar verbally, whether they’re having an actual fight or just kidding around. This is one of those series that pulled me in immediately, and it’s a prime example of a great fantasy novel, especially one that starts a series. Perhaps my favorite part is that it doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger, wrapping up all the threads of this story, and leaving the overarching points to be addressed in future books, making me even more excited to start book 2.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 13

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