ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art illustrated by: Martina Fackova
Cover designed by: Lauren Panepinto
The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Empire of the Wolf (Book #1 of 3)
Pages: 432 pages (UK paperback edition)
Published: 22nd February 2022 & 24th February 2022 by Orbit
The Justice of Kings was totally addictive. A truly riveting tale about law, war, morality, and justice.
“Empires are built and maintained with words. Swords are a mere precedent to the quill.”
Pitched as Judge Dredd meet The Witcher, The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan went into my TBR pile after Orbit Books sent a limited ARC to me. Judging from the premise, I had a feeling that I would be reminded of reading War for the Rose Throne series by Peter McLean, and I’m not mistaken on this. Empire of the Wolf isn’t a gangster fantasy series, but there’s still a lot of things to love here if you loved War for the Rose Throne. Honestly speaking, though, although I’ve been interested in reading The Justice of Kings for a while, it didn’t jump to the top of my TBR pile until I saw the stunning cover art done by Martina Fackova. I pre-ordered the novel immediately after I heard Martina Fackova will be doing the cover art, and I’m not disappointed. Both the artist and designer—Lauren Panepinto—did a wonderful job on the cover art, but can the book live up to it? Yes, it can.
“The Autun makes no distinction between a man and a woman in legal matters. ‘All may be judged by the law, so all may uphold it.’”
No man is above the law. This is one of the main themes of the novel, and the story follows Sir Konrad Vonvalt, the most feared Justice from the Order of Justices who stands in the way of chaos in The Empire of the Wolf. Rebellion, heretics, and powerful patricians challenge the power of the imperial throne, and Konrad Vonvalt determines to uphold the law by way of his sharp mind, arcane powers, and skill as a swordsman. But he’s not alone on his missions. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is accompanied by Helena Sedanka—an orphan, his clerk, and protégé. When the pair investigate the murder of a provincial aristocrat, they unearth a conspiracy that stretches to the very top of Imperial society. As the stakes rise and become ever more personal, Vonvalt must make a choice: will he abandon the laws he’s sworn to uphold in order to protect the empire?
“You cannot kill another human being and fail to be affected by it, even if they are an enemy.”
The official premise may lead you into thinking that this is Justice Konrad Vonvalt’s story, and in a way, it is true. However, Vonvalt is not the main POV character; he doesn’t even have any POV chapter. The entire story in The Justice of Kings is told through the first-person perspective of Helena Sedanka. We’re reading Helena’s writing and recount of the past. This storytelling style is akin to reading Fitz’s narration in The Farseer trilogy mixed with Akil’s narration in The Bloodsounder’s Arc trilogy by Jeff Salyards; more similar to the latter. In The Bloodsounder’s Arc, we follow the tale of Akil as he writes his journey as he follows Braylar Killcoin. In The Justice of Kings, we’re reading Helena Sedanka’s intertwining lives with Konrad Vonvalt and many other individuals. The murder mystery element in a fantasy world filled with great character development, plus the thought-provoking discussions regarding law—whether it’s better to absolutely uphold the law or neglect it—and the decline in morality made The Justice of Kings a compelling read.
“Few things in life can be guaranteed with greater certainty than the incredible contrivances men will go to generate money from nothing at all.”—PHILOSOPHER AND JURIST FRANCIS GERECHT
Konrad Vonvalt’s intimidating presence and actions will likely stay with readers. But I have to give the praises towards using Helena Sedanka as the main narrator. I was slightly worried about this initially. All the premises and advertisements for The Justice of Kings so far pointed towards Vonvalt, and I wasn’t sure Helena could win my expectations of wanting the story to be told from Vonvalt’s POV chapters; I won’t lie, I even feel tricked. However, it all worked out for the better. After reading The Justice of Kings, I’m quite confident that having Helena as the main narrator actually formed a superior narrative, and now I’m not so sure the novel would be as strong if it’s told through Vonvalt’s narration. Also, I’ve mentioned Vonvalt and Helena constantly in this review so far, but there’s another important character: Bressinger Dubine. The trio and dynamic between Vonvalt, Helena, and Bressinger were simply colorful and engaging. I never felt bored reading their interactions with each other; we get to gradually witness the background and personality of the trio. And once again, the three of them gave a lot of food for thoughts regarding justice and laws; I loved it.
“I was a soldier in the Reichskrieg, Helena… I have seen what the world is like without the rules.”
It’s worth noting that the world-building in The Justice of Kings aren’t full of magic or fantastical creatures. The world in The Empire of the Wolf felt similar to our own, and Vonvalt does have two magickal abilities on his arsenal, but that’s about it. A few other magical abilities were displayed, but they’re not focused upon, at least for this book, anyway; the sequels might have more magical usage. But I do think the two soft-magic frequently exhibited in this novel was enough to give variety to the way the plot plays out. First, there’s The Emperor’s Voice, which is more or less the ability to command people to tell you the truth; a bit similar Lelouch’s Geass from Code Geass if you’re familiar with the anime. The second one is the power of necromancy; this isn’t resurrection per se, but Vonvalt and other Justices could use this power to speak with the dead. Seeing how Swan utilized these two powers in Helena and Vonvalt’s investigations was intriguing to me, and I really loved how it’s emphasized that these powers can’t be used carelessly. Most of the time, it is shown that being smart tends to be more helpful and safe than using Justice’s magical powers.
“’The wise man arms himself with knowledge before a sword.’”
As you can probably guess, having access to these types of special powers blurs the line between good and bad with ease. No matter the intention, no matter how good a person is, owning too much power will transform a person completely. I loved reading how Swan combined all the elements in his book to continuously discuss this topic and theme, both subtly and explicitly. Books that inflict “one more chapter syndrome” on me are books I enjoy reading; The Justice of Kings achieved that relatively fast. It did take me about a quarter of the book to feel fully immersed in, but everything after that felt like I flew through the book with haste. I am also a fan of epigraphs in fantasy novels; authors can use this space for multiple purposes such as creating mysteries, giving revelations, world-building exploration, or maybe putting philosophical passages. And the latter one is dominant in The Justice of Kings; here’s a few more of my favorites:
“Power does things to a man’s mind. It unlocks his baser instincts which the process of civilization has before occluded. Powerful men are closer in mind to wild beasts than they are to their supposed human inferiors.”—SIR WILLIAM THE HONEST
“Even the eyes of the owl do not catch everything.”—OLD SOVAN PROVERB
“It is impossible to impress upon a man the severity of a situation until the point of its remedy is long past. ‘Tis something to do with the nature of a human being, that ingrained idiocy. The gods must shake their heads at us in disbelief.”—JUSTICE SOPHIA JURAS
In comparison, I don’t think I’ve read many fantasy novels where the persons of authority are the main characters; usually, it’s the other way around, especially in stories revolving around rebellion. Should the law be upheld completely, Or should it be abolished? What kind of rules should be set upon for society to truly work together? Is that even possible? Battle scenes are indeed rare in The Justice of Kings, but the grey morality and Vonvalt’s magickal applications were sufficient to make sure that the narrative remains captivating to read. This novel is still three months away from being published, 2022 isn’t even here yet, and The Justice of Kings has become one of my favorite reads of the year. Life has been super busy for me the past few weeks, and finding the time to read has been a challenge on its own. The Justice of Kings, however, felt effortless to read, an exhilarating first book of a series, and I definitely look forward to reading the sequel. Once again, and as expected, Orbit Books has landed another gem in both the cover art and story department.
“Justice is not vengeance, and vengeance is not justice. But the two often overlap. The state is as capable of vengeance as any individual, for what is the state if not the people that comprise us?”—SIR RANDALL KORMONDOLT
Official release date: 22nd February 2022 (US) & 24th February 2022 (UK)
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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