The Cardinal’s Blades, by Pierre Pevel
Posted April 22, 2011on:
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?
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.