I have tried to read this series off and on for over a decade. Before this, I had read 2 but not this one. I was far too young to be reading this kind of book, but I tried anyway. With Mr. Duncan having a new book coming out (not in this series) I thought I’d test the waters again and am very glad I did.
Title: The Gilded Chain
Series: Tales of the King’s Blades; Book 1
Author: Dave Duncan
ROTS Setting: AU, Medieval, No Higher Magic (sort of)
Synopsis: The grim school of Ironhall takes in unwanted, rebellious boys and five years later sends forth the finest swordsmen in the world, the King of Chivial‘s Blades. Bound to absolute loyalty by a magical sword-stroke through their hearts, they stand ready to defend the King or whomever else he designates against all perils, whether human or sorcerous. Each book in this trilogy stands alone, but together they make a larger story. The Gilded Chain tells of the greatest swordsman Ironhall has produced in its long history, Sir Durendal. When King Ambrose needs a Blade to accompany his agent on a dangerous mission to the far ends of the Earth, he naturally chooses young Durendal. Alas, even the plans of kings can go sadly awry . .
Recommendation: This book is intended for Adults. I highly recommend it.
There are two main weaknesses with this book. First being the time jumps. The book spans something close to 50 years, so there had to be some sort of time jump. Personally so of the jumps were a bit jarring and one in particular I wanted what happened. A blessing and a curse. The second weakness was some of the word choices. With this one I freely admit that maybe my vocabulary isn’t as big as I sometimes think it is. However, there were a few times that felt too modern because of the words chosen but over all it wasn’t too noticeable.
And I’m done nitpicking.
The story was well planned with enough twists to keep it interesting but also building up really well. Seeing it play out over such a long period of time and getting to see all the pivotal moments was amazing. I might gripe about some of the rough point but this was masterfully put together.
Roland Durendal is the main character, we follow his POV through various times and through several events. Normal I am adverse to main characters but an a wholehearted fan of this one. He is exquisitely detailed and shockingly real. He really as good as his legend, but there were countless weaknesses that the outside world rarely saw. He may be one of the most real characters I’ve ever read.
King Ambrose might not be the main character but he was an extremely real one. If you read this book, pay attention to him and follow him throughout the events. He is masterfully done and we never get his POV.
When it comes to world setting, it wasn’t very original. It’s clearly a re-imagined medieval Europe but there was enough nuance that it wasn’t too painfully obvious. The magic system was interesting though. Eight spiritual elements placed in an octogram with the elemental opposites paired together on opposite sides. Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Death, Love, Chance and Time. By invoking or revoking certain spiritual elements you can create a specific effect. There were plenty of limitation and many details weren’t included because they weren’t important. However, this magic, conjuration, plays a crucial role in the book.
Blades are elite warrior bound, with magic, to protect their wards. In exchange for many additional strengths they are compelled to protect their charge even from themselves occasionally. When the person they are bound to dies, they can go an a rampage. This relationship is central to the story and absolutely fascinates me. The magic is simple but introduce the human element and you get some very complex relationships which are amazing to dive into.
In summary, it’s a wild ride that takes decades to unravel all the while having an amazing look into the lives of some profound men.