The Justice of Kings (Empire of the Wolf#1) by Richard Swan

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Very impressive start to series


I was very pleasantly surprised by The Justice of Kings.  I was in two minds about requesting this one, mainly because I’m trying to be more reasonable (not always with success) about my book requests but also because I wasn’t sure about whether my mood was in the right place for this particular story.  As it happens I’m glad I threw my slight reservations out the window because moody or not this story compelled me to keep turning the pages.  I loved the choice of narrator, the world is developed with (more than likely) deceptive ease, the murder mystery is intriguing and more complex than first meets the eye and, well, put simply, it just won me over so easily and quickly.

By way of a quick synopsis – this is the story of Justice Konrad Vonvalt.  Vonvalt is an Emperor’s Justice, which basically means he travels the country, investigating crimes and delivering swift justice.  Effectively, Justices are complicated roles that curtail the need for judge, jury or executioner – their remit encompasses all three and on top of extensive knowledge of the law they are wielders of arcane knowledge that gives them uncommon powers.  They are respected and feared in equal measure.

Firstly, this story is not narrated, quite surprisingly, by Vonvalt himself but by his clerk, Helena Sedanka.  Helena, now an older woman, is recounting Vonvalt’s story.  I really enjoyed this choice of narrator. Helena has a refreshingly honest way of narrating the story.  She isn’t afraid to share her emotions or tell things the way they actually happened, no embellishments or over exaggerations.  She isn’t always enamoured with the lifestyle or her travelling companions and the complexity of the relationships adds an extra level to the story.  Obviously this style results in a certain amount of foreshadowing – for a start, we know that Helena is recounting this story as a much older woman – so that removes a certain level of threat when she finds herself in dangerous situations.  She also sometimes makes remarks (not verbatim) such as ‘we later found out our mistake’ or ‘this didn’t work out as well as we hoped’, etc.  Personally, I love this style of narrating and find these little tidbits add to my enjoyment somehow because they portend future doom and gloom.

Secondly, I love that this story really gives you food for thought because on top of the murder mystery/conspiracy plot line there is the underlying struggle for power.  The Justices are powerful people and as is frequently the case, where there is power there are those that covet it which brings into focus the wrestle for power between justice and religion.  On top of this, the underlying mantra of the Justices is that no person is above the law – this does beg the question of who keeps the Justices in check though doesn’t it – it also makes them solely responsible for deciding upon guilt and, as is displayed by Vonvalt himself, this can sometimes be with varying degrees of severity.  Imagine the blood letting if you wake up with a sore head courtesy of a skinful the night before!

Thirdly, I really enjoyed the characters.  Vonvalt is a character who believes adamantly in the law and the work of the Justices.  He has unshaking faith in the system in place to maintain law and order and trusts implicitly in the power he is granted to keep things in check.  There’s a certain naivety in his demeanour that belies the life he has led and that feeds into the story.  Helena herself is troubled by doubts.  She is starting to harbour doubts that the roaming lifestyle will ultimately work for her.  She’s torn because although the life can provide wealth and a certain level of comfort it prevents the ability to put down roots or create meaningful relationships.  The other character who travels with Vonvalt and Helena is a man called Bressinger.  This character wasn’t quite as well developed as the other two and although we do learn a little of his backstory he felt more like a reasonable addition to the group, almost a chaperone, an extra pair of hands and some brute strength to throw into the mix whenever needed.  I liked Bressinger but would like more involvement from him in future instalments.

I loved the fantasy aspects to this which mainly come in the form of the arcane abilities wielded by the Justice.  The ‘Voice’ is one such element.  Think of a person who can compel you, not so much by the persuasion or reasonableness of their argument but by the use of a power so strong that when they employ it, it breaks down any mental barriers.   Justices also use necromancy and can talk with the dead – this is a very creepy power and quite dangerous.  What really won me over with all these abilities (and there are more than I’ve mentioned here) is that they all come with a price.  The user is mentally and physically exhausted, there is also the possibility of people being forewarned and more mentally prepared in terms of the ‘voice’.  It places restrictions on their use and means that ensures there is no quick fix when things turn dire.

On top of this I really enjoyed the style of writing.  The places are easily imagined and there’s enough detail to capture the time, place and people without unnecessary embellishments.  It is immediately apparent that the empire is still relatively new, many people still worship the old Gods and the struggle for power between the ruler, the church and the peacekeepers is very apparent.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have any to be honest.  As I mentioned above I was initially surprised that Vonvalt was not telling the story himself and I had a quick blip of resentment thinking that I might have enjoyed this more if there was perhaps a dual perspective.  But, a dual perspective doesn’t work with this style and not only did I quickly form an attachment to Helena and her way with words but I felt it give us an outside perspective on Vonvalt himself.  Also, I wouldn’t particularly say that this is a story that moves with indecent haste – and yet in spite of this it didn’t feel like a slow read for me – go figure.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait to see what happens next.  Certainly this resolves in such a way to promise much more intrigue in the next instalment (not a cliffhanger, to be clear).

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars.


6 Responses to “The Justice of Kings (Empire of the Wolf#1) by Richard Swan”

  1. Tammy

    I think I already mentioned I’m kicking myself for not requesting this! And I love the idea of a side character doing the narration. Lovely review, Lynn😁

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I was curious about this book but, like you, I had to curtail my requests to avoid being swamped by review books. Still I kept it on my radar for future reference, and now your review confirmed that my “book vibes” were spot on with this one 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Susy's Cozy World

    I am really eager to start this book, and after reading your review I am even more eager!! And I am really glad to know that we won’t have a cliffhanger! Yay!! And thanks for sharing!

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I really enjoyed this too – loved the world building and the story, but I think my favorite part of the book and what made it special for me was the mentor/parent and apprentice/daughter relationship.

  5. Lexlingua

    That’s a pretty good review, and even though I don’t really like the Game of Throne look-alike in the cover/ title, the plot seems very striking.

  6. Rebecca

    Excellent review! This is definitely going to be one of my top reads of the year, even though it’s only February. I can’t wait to see where the next book goes and I’m hoping for some more expansion on the magic and the gods/spirits that were only briefly mentioned!

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