If Sebastien de Castell were a character in his Greatcoats series of fantasy books, he’d be Saint Sebastien Who Pisses Off Other Writers. The saints in his tales are those who are so good at what they do that they transcend being human and become something else entirely – call it divine if you will, but it’s a little more complex than that in de Castell’s universe.
In fact, everything is more complex in de Castell’s tales of travelling magistrates trying to restore order to the failing society of Tristia and the even more failing realm of the gods and saints and all the others that have forsaken the people of the world.
At its heart, this is a series of action books driven by strong plots with plenty of swordplay, witty banter, and more than a few cliffhangers as Greatcoats leader Falcio von Mond and a couple of comrades move through the troubled land trying to restore order but generally causing more chaos in the process. Falcio and company are as compelling as they are entertaining, but every character in the book is multilayered and full of surprises. Nobody is quite what they appear in Tristia, including the lovable narrator Falcio.
The books have their share of winks and nods at Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and Roger Zelazny’s Amber books in their literary style, roguish characters and their textual playfulness (complexity?), although de Castell is clearly striking his own path. They are so skillfully crafted and, well, fun that they feel lighter than they actually are. For every moment of lightness, though, there is a moment of darkness. While the Greatcoats series in some ways pushes back against the grimdark trend in contemporary fantasy, at other times it is more dark than the darkest of grimdark books – not in terms of blood and gore but where the books go psychologically. There is no place darker than the depths of human soul, and de Castell doesn’t hesitate to descend into its depths and strike a match.
As if that’s not enough to satisfy a reader, de Castell layers the books with more intrigue than an Umberto Eco murder mystery set in a papal conclave. Everybody in Tristia has an agenda – the Greatcoats, the knights they so despise, the religious zealots, the gods, even the dead. Just when Falcio thinks he has everything figured out, someone always proves him wrong. And being wrong in de Castell’s world usually leaves our fallen heroes trapped in a dungeon or somewhere even less hospitable. It’s a delight to read because you can never see the next twist coming, even though you know it most definitely is coming.
If action, adventure and intrigue are the lifeblood pumping through the veins of this series, then philosophy is its heart. At the centre of the Greatcoats books is what it means to be good and honourable and just. It’s this interrogation of the soul that makes the book so relevant to modern readers and not just another throwaway tale of some fantasy world or another. It’s a credit to de Castell that he doesn’t provide any easy answers.
Did I say de Castell? I meant Saint Sebastien Who Makes Other Writers Look Like Drunken Peasants. May the gods grant us a fraction of his skill and an even greater fraction of his fortune.
It wasn’t a hard sell.
The official description is it’s a card game where you build monstrous bears who eat horrible babies, which is more or less accurate.
I could tell you that you can build many different types of monsters, not just bears, who must do battle with various baby armies – land, sea, sky.
I could tell you that you win by defeating babies worth the most points – because just like life, not all babies are born equal.
I could tell you that you can mess with your fellow players by forcing them into fights against baby armies when their monsters are not ready, dismembering their carefully crafted monsters with devilish tools, or even switching their monster heads with your own. (In the game, not in real life. Although there don’t appear to be any rules preventing you using your real-life head.)
But all I really need to tell you is that in my first game I created a jabberwocky made of meat and pain who sucks at dancing and I saw myself reflected in this game.
Buy it now, before the baby armies attack.
I’ll go along with any review of my book that says “in the tradition of writers such as Neil Gaiman.” Thanks, Vancouver Sun!
Nice end to a long week: Came home to find my contributor copy of The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly waiting in the mail. Reading time!
Peter Darbyshire’s short story collection Has the World Ended Yet? was my third cover for the Buckrider imprint. I was given a PDF of the manuscript, and my art direction from publisher Noelle Allen was “Paul had the idea of the cover being influenced by Weird Tales and having that fun, pulp feel.” (Paul being Senior Editor Paul Vermeersch).
With evocative story titles like “The Calling of Cthulhu,” “The Deity Salesmen Always Ring Twice,” and “You Shall Know Us by Our Vengeance,” as well as the eponymous “Has the World Ended Yet?,” I felt confident in putting together an appropriate apocalyptic pulpy cover.
“Manifestations of discarded, mythological histories that have risen up, unbidden and unwanted, to wreak havoc on characters already caught up in more everyday struggles.” – Quill & Quire review of my new book, Has the World Ended Yet?
(Photo is from the Paris Catacombs, when I was much younger and thinner.)
“Darbyshire (The Warhol Gang) delights in mashing pop-culture genres together, exposing profound truths beneath classic tropes in ways at once hilarious, weird, and heart-breaking.”
(Image via Pixabay)
Just in time for the dead to rise, I talk to Open Book about my new collection, Has the World Ended Yet?, and other festive topics.
I had a great time at the Vancouver Writers Festival this year – it’s always such a treat to meet smart, creative readers and talk writing and books with gifted people like Lydia Kwa and Sean Cranbury.
I’m not sure what I’m saying in this screen grab – I think maybe: “The road to salvation is that way, not with this tawdry, earthly book down here.”