The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan: Review

This new fantasy book isn’t out yet but is it any good? Well, it would be criminal to read it and not review it so here we are! Read more below to see my thoughts on this thought provoking fantasy story.

Some information about this book:

  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release date: February 22nd 2022
  • Page count: 432
  • Series: Empire of the Wolf (#1)

The Blurb:

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.


Book Cover

I was lucky enough to get this ARC (advanced reader copy/review copy) from Orbit books through Netgalley and I requested it because I had heard a lot of hype from other select reviewers I follow about it. I didn’t know what to expect from it but like Mike Shackle (author of We Are The Dead/A Fool’s Hope by Gollancz), I kind of thought I’d get a Judge Dredd story but with swords instead of guns. How wrong I was. This is an intelligent story that is about the law, doggedness, finding out the turth and unsurprisingly, dishing out justice.

“No one is above the law.”

The first thing I should tell you about this book is that it is a retelling of the events through the eyes of another person. You see while we ‘follow’ Sir Konrad Vonvalt, we are listening to the words of Helena Sedanka, Konrad’s clerk-in-training. This is a unique way of telling the story but something that I really liked and wished more books would do. It makes this a first person retelling but a third person focus since the story is focusing primarily on Konrad and his fight against the unjust.

“One cannot uphold the law if one does not follow it. He who comes before the bench must do so with clean hands.”

The role of Sir Konrad Vonvalt is that of Justice. He is the prosecutor, the policeman and in most cases the judge, when dealing with those who have sought to break the law. He is second only to the Emperor of the land and for that reason carries a high level of authority with him. The problem is the world is changing and his authority is being challenged by anyone who thinks they can win. He is dogged and sometimes inhuman as he lets nothing stand in his way of getting to the truth but his personality is most definitely human as bursts of irritability, frustration or anger slip through. From the way Richard has written him you can almost feel the annoyance when things don’t go his way because most of the time he is trying to make the world a better place and you would want the same thing if you were there.

“The story of Sir Konrad Vonvalt, after all, is the story of the rise and fall of the Sovan Empire.”

His clerk, Helena Sedanka, has come from a poor background, herself trying to steal from him when she was younger but instead of finding herself punished, she was employed in his service. She is travelling with Sir Konrad, effectively training to be a Justice like him but whether she wants to become one is a question yet answered.

“The wise man arms himself with knowledge before a sword.”

Helena couldn’t be more opposite from her liege. As the protégé of the Justice you might think she would share the same viewpoints but she is very much her own unique person, displaying opinions that challenge the Justice and she occasionally breaks social norms to satisfy her own curiosity whether for personal or professional gain. She is a compliment to the Justice though and without her I doubt that he would have been so interesting to follow (There are some other characters that are involved in this story but I don’t want to reveal them here, leaving you more people to look forward to.)

“Power does things to a man’s mind. It unlocks his baser instincts which the process of civilisation has before occluded.”

Now, the worldbuilding in this book is limited and by that I mean that we don’t see sprawling cities or underground caverns. This is very much a story told in a world not so unlike ours a few hundred years ago however, it does enough to set the scene for the story. In fact, if this has moved away from the one town it focuses on I think the story would have lost its continuity and the high stakes would have falled a little. Do not fear though, the worldbuilding that is provided is more than enough to give you a visual for the events as they unfold and the fact that this is an Orbit published fantasy trilogy means that books two and three should feed the hunger of those of you out there who love LOTR style giant worlds as Sir Konrad continues in his mission.

“All may be judged by the law, so all may uphold it; but all those who uphold the law may not judge it.”

There is magic in this book but it isn’t the normal kind of magic you might think of when you think fantasy. There aren’t wands or hands controlling ice and this actually adds to the grounded realism that this is a story about the law but set in a different world, not too dissimilar to ours. It is a special kind of magic, akin to magical skills more than magical spells. Sir Konrad has two magical abilities that we are made aware of. The first is called the Emperor’s Voice and allows him to compel a person to speak the truth by commanding them. Think of it like a verbal version of Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth. The second is the power of necromancy. This is not raising skeletons from the dead as if you’re playing Diablo II but a more tactful use of the power. For example, Sir Konrad might come across a newly murdered man and has the ability to use his power to talk to the recently deceased man to find out who his killer was. It’s an interesting take on the magical abilities because Richard has taken a verbal power and the necromancy one and turned them into tools of the law. I really liked them and thought the uses of both of these in the story were well placed, providing exciting moments to see what truth could be gained from various people. There are some other powers that we see but again I don’t want to reveal them in this review.

“The law is the law; the day we abandon it for the sake of bloodshed is the day we abandon ourselves.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve read a story about lawkeepers as Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn era 2 features them however this is definitely the first time the law has been at the front of the story in this way and for that it is very unique. It’s a really cool concept and has been delivered extremely well. I expect that Richard’s experience as a solicitor helped tremendously in the forming of this book and I’d love to know how this influenced his work.

“Bad tidings and wise counsel are as easily ignored as one another.”

Rating 4.5/5 The Justice of Kings is an excellent fantasy story that takes something so ingrained in our own society and brings it the front of the story, carried by fantastic characters who feel real, finding their way in a sometimes lawless world. This is an interesting and thought provoking read providing page-turning situations, pacey events and a mystery that unravels itself as quickly as you can turn the pages. I am already excited for the second book in this series and I highly recommend you get on this trilogy as soon as you can as I expect this trilogy to be well loved by all who read it.

You can pre-order/buy this book from The Broken Binding here and if you use code BLURB5 you can save some money. (Do it 10 times to get enough savings for a free book!)

One thought on “The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan: Review

  1. Pingback: MY TOP TEN SFF READS OF 2021! | The Oasis

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