the Little Red Reviewer

The Cardinal’s Blades, by Pierre Pevel

Posted on: April 22, 2011

The Cardinal’s Blades, by Pierre Pevel

Published in 2010

Where I got it: library

Why I read it: I like historical fantasy, and how can you say no to that beautiful cover art?

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Over the last few days, Pierre Pevel’s The Cardinal’s Blades has proven very difficult to review.  I think I will make my life a lot easier if I divide The Cardinal’s Blades in half:  beginning, and end.  To be succinct, the beginning was a mess that suffered from severe putdownability and lack of focus. And the end? well, the end more than made up for the problem-addled start to the point where I am actually quite excited to read Pevel’s recently released The Alchemist in the Shadows  which I’m assuming is the 2nd book in this series.

The premise of the story is as other reviewers have been saying:  Three Musketeers (swashbuckling, duels, blackmail, intrigue, secret societies, and more duels and blackmail) plus dragons (humanoid dragons, half breeds and their not as bright cousins used as pets and messengers)  More alt history than historical fantasy, I wish Pevel had done more with the dragon aspects, and I hope he does in future books.

Paris, 1633 and Cardinal Richelieu has called back his favorite dirty jobber – Captain LaFargue, the leader of an elite group of swordsmen (and women!) known as  The Cardinal’s Blades. A man of unshakeable honor, LaFargue will do any task to protect the French crown, even those unsavory kinds of tasks that caused The Blades to be dishonorably disbanded five years ago. Tasked with “getting the band back together”, so to speak, LaFargue must find his Blades, and convince them by force, if necessary, to join him in doing Richelieu’s bidding once more.  He may be a man of honor, but his blades are a different story. They have their own demons and debts to pay.

The first half or so of the book, as I mentioned, was a hot mess.  What Pevel was going for, I think, was to show us that much of the action was happening at the same time.  His method for accomplishing this was countless very (very!) short chapters from nearly too many points of view.   The ultra short chapters made it very difficult for me to focus and stay interested. I also had trouble keeping track of all the characters, figuring out who was in what faction, and who were major or minor characters. I’m hoping that was all due to personal failings of mine, and that it won’t be a challenge for other readers.

It was really too bad, because the style of the writing, the prose itself, was really quite lovely.     More on the literary side than my recent reads, fans of historical fiction who aren’t so sure about fantasy elements will feel right at home.  Pevel’s descriptions of 17th century Paris and the surrounding areas go from bustling and filthy to pastoral and peaceful.  This is a guy who knows how to show me what’s going on and where we are, instead of tell me, which was greatly appreciated.

So much of the book feels like nothing more than set up, and it’s just past the half way point that LaFargue finally gets his blades in the same place at the same time and explains what Richelieu wants them to do. And this is where the book starts to vastly improve.

Unfocused beginning with way too many people to keep track of, uneven characterization, slow start.  Why in the world should you read The Cardinal’s Blades?  Simply put, for the ending.  Pevel brings  everything together in a conclusion that made all my troubles with the beginning more than worth it. Once Pevel has all his characters introduced (and once I was able to get used to the jumping all over the place chapter breaks), he goes to town on characterization and exposing everyone’s darker sides, along with a conspiracy that could change the future as we know it.

 This is why I am so interested in to continue this series, because these honorable, above reproach Blades?   Covered in secrets and dressed in a fluid sense of morality, there’s a reason Richelieu only calls on them for his dirty work. I am compelled to put up with Pevel’s odd chaptering habit because I simply and suddenly need to know more about these people.  

Wait, this is a series?  that was another minor annoyance, I got spoiled with gorgeous cover art, but nary a hint anywhere if this is a series, or stand alone novels that take place in the same world and feature cross over characters.  I’m gonna guess series.

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4 Responses to "The Cardinal’s Blades, by Pierre Pevel"

I love the cover art too. Sounds like a worthwhile read. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Great post!

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I just reviewed this book on my own site and I quite agree with you. I likened it to an origins story for a super hero movie. Pevel spends a lot of time introducing the large cast of characters as set up for future volumes. It is indeed a series. Pyr is usually pretty good about putting series and number on their covers but they failed here.

You’re not alone in being confused by all the characters and their factions – this is a common complaint in most of the reviews I’ve read. The chapter jumping didn’t help either. Like you, I found the prose enough reason to keep going and am glad I did. I’ve got The Alchemist in the Shadows on my pile and am looking forward to it!

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Dave, I just read your review, we’re in total agreement!

I figured my confusion was mostly me, I tend to not do so well with large ensemble stories. I wasn’t even planning on reading this, except that PYR sent me a review copy of Alchemist in the Shadows, and I lucked out that my local library had a copy of the first one.

Have you started the 2nd book yet? I look forward to your review!

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I was going to start on it right away, I got a review copy from Pyr as well, but I just had to pick up Zoo City after all the reviews and the interview we had. I’m really hoping that book 2 will be more organized now that we’ve been introduced to the crew. I want to read your review too – it’ll be interesting to see if we’re still on the same page after the second book.

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