The Jusstice of Kings by Richard Swan

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.

Richard Swan’s The Justice of Kings is the first book in his Empire of the Wolf Series. It focusses on the story of Justice Sir Konrad Vonvalt, a detective and prosecutor in the Sovan Empire’s Imperial Magesterium.

The story is told through the eyes of his now aged clerk, Helena, as she recounts events that occurred as she struggles with her role as clerk. From the outset you realise that this is an ominous tale of an Empire imploding as Helena begins the retelling of her story with

It is a strange thing to think that the end of the Empire of the Wolf, and all the death and destruction that came with it, traced its long roots back to the tiny and insignificant village of Rill”

Her account begins with the Justice dealing with a remote village who extensively practice a pagan religion instead of the edicts set down by the Sovan Empire. However, instead of dealing with the matter as one of his companions, Patria Bartholomew Claver, a zealous priest in the religious order of the Empire, believes that he should. Mainly burning the inhabitants of Rill and razing the village to the ground as an example, Vonvalt uses his experience to deem that the only recompense should be that the inhabitants of Rill should be fined if they denounce their faith and follow the statutes set down in Sovan Law.

This seemingly innocuous event has far greater consequences than is first imagined.

We then follow the Magister and his retinue, which includes Vanvalt’s right hand man, Bressinger and Helena, as they travel the land. Meting out the Emperors Justice. When they reach the town of Galen’s Vale, they are then asked the murder of a noblewoman.

Armed with his resolve and the powers of a Justice, the Emperor’s voice (which can command people to tell the truth) and the power of Necromancy (in which the Justice can talk to the newly dead), Vanvalt investigates the murder which leads the group into a tale of intrigue, both politically and criminally.

Now, I have to say that I found this book to be a grower. I cannot say that I was immediately enamoured from the first page and it took me a while for the story to sink its teeth into me.

There are a number of plots and subplots occurring throughout the book, which Richard Swan carefully introduces throughout this slow burn, and it is not until you are about a quarter of the way through the book that you realise the ramifications of the initial lines in the tale as not only do the team face a web of conspiracy in the murder, there are some really serious political complexities happening in the sidelines.

The characters themselves are well written and again I found that they grew on me rather than me becoming immediately invested.

Vonvalt himself is a character that you would think that I would immediately drawn to, as the story seemingly revolves around the stoic magister. He reminds me of a combination of Umberto Eco’s William of Baskerville in his cold analytical method of dealing with every situation. However, at times, he can display rashness of character when his emotions come to the fore and he will kill perpetrators of a crime immediatley, sometimes bloodily.

Helena herself is a character that lives in the shadow of the Magister and what she is to become. As the story is told from her point of view, sometime in the future, there are two representations of her. One as an inexperienced clerk, learning how to be a justice, dealing with her insecurities as she fits into this role and whether she actually wants to be in this role. In her other aspect, we get inklings that she may be a justice or that she may even be something else entirely.

The book is peppered with interesting side characters, such as Bressinger, who whilst being present in the book, is on the sidelines of the main relationship between Vonvalt and Helena, and will mediate between the two.

Patria Claver is another interesting character, and when we meet him initially, we see him as the toothless zealot, but as the layers of the story are peeled away, we begin to see the threat that he poses and what impact his actions have on the downfall of the Empire.

The tale itself is set in a world that is equally dark and steeped in mystery. It appears to be something resembling The Black Forest of Bavaria and incorporates many german/saxon vernaculars. I always find this kind of setting to be quite oppressive and there is this menacing feeling to the environment which permeates through the story.

The Justice of Kings is a slow burn of a story, that slowly eases its claws into you as the tale grows into something quite different from the one that you first expect, full of twists and turns that keeps you turning the pages until the end.



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