Please note in an exchange for an honest review, I received an advance reader copy (ARC) from NetGalley.
The description of the book is what caught my eye. It was the start of a new trilogy and I was hoping that I would like this book enough that I'd want to keep going--the cover looked great and the description sounded interesting enough.
First off, from the description, I was under the impression that the book would be told in Konrad's point of view. I was wrong. The book is told from the Justice's 19 year old Clerk, Helena. At first I was bit annoyed since Konrad obviously seemed like the most interesting character but I ended up really appreciating it at the end. Seeing the work of a Justice from her point of view really put it into perspective how terrifying his powers (The Emperor's Voice, Necromancy) is to a regular person. Not only that but it gave a believable reason as to why the reader would need to be explained certain things whereas with a veteran like Konrad, it would be unbelievable.
Admittedly, the book felt like a slow burn. Not too far into the beginning you are thrusted into a murder mystery sort of deal, while interesting, didn't seem too "empire" shattering to me. Of course I was wrong and the stakes grew high as the book progressed on but because of this murder mystery, we spent a lot of time in the Galen's Vale which I honestly appreciated. You get the world-building of this book (economy, politics, religion) in a more intimate setting and you can easily imagine that the Galen's Vale is just a better off town compare to others in the country.
What The Justice of Kings excelled at is the law. Throughout various times you are explained the law of the world and its philosophies. Why things are good and why some laws seemed contrived but actually matter. You can easily apply this to the real world and it was explained in a very digestible manner that not once did I feel bored or like I was reading some textbook. It even made me realize why some of our laws in real society exist or at least how they come to have develop overtime. I was so curious as to whether the author did a lot of research that I looked him up and realized that Richard Swan has a background in law. Totally makes sense!
I can definitely see a few things that might turn off people. I initially disliked Helena since she seemed a bit ungrateful but she eventually did grow on me and I think it's because she eventually realizes that herself. Also the book not only is being in Helena's point of view but as if she's recounting the events many years later so sometimes there's even minor spoilers in itself and you can already tell what will/won't happen. One thing for sure is the "instant love" trope that this book employed with her. I'm not a fan of that trope at all since it always breaks my immersion but because the book didn't completely center on it, I actually didn't mind it.
Throughout the book, I found myself remembering the Dragon Age series, especially the third one. I can easily imagine the Justice's being Inquisitors (mage ones at that) and the church being, well, very extreme Templars. The conflicts are different (with Dragon Age's Templars not wanting Mage's) but it boils down to a church vs state problem.
Richard Swan wrote a wonderful grim dark political fantasy that made it very difficult to put the book down. Honestly if it wasn't for my recent hectic work schedule, I certainly would have stayed up finishing this book in a day or two!
Do I recommend it? Yes! I look forward to the future installments of the Empire of the Wolf series and can't wait to find out what repercussions arise due to the actions of this book!
Admittedly, if you find yourself reading a book about politics and law a chore (though I do think it was presented in a very digestible way), I would recommend skipping this book. There is some sprinkled action (and much more towards the end) but you might give up before then.
Warning! Spoilers ahead!
A quick little section:
- Konrad's "fall from grace" after Justice August death was heartbreaking but so bad ass. When he sentenced the lord to death by hanging instead of the "lords death" he was entitled to by law. I get it, I'm suppose to see it as a "Oh shit he's gone" moment but I just thought he was badass.
- Matas and Justice August deaths made me cry.