The Blades are back! Once again acclaimed fantasist Dave Duncan leads us past the imposing gates of Ironhall -- training ground for elite warrior swordsmen unequaled in any time or realm -- to witness the astonishing ascendance of three most unlikely heroes.
Deposed by a foul usurper, the Grand Duke Rubin is on the run and in desperate need of protection. While the King has decreed that new Blades will be magically bound to the guard, not one of the rough youths being readied at Ironhall yet possesses the seasoning and maturity to accept such an assignment. Left with no choice, the Grand Master approaches two with an offer of early bonding and probable death: Ranter, strong but arrogant, dense, and rude, and Ringwood, eager and impetuous, who might make a fine Blade -- someday. Since they will need much help -- and luck -- to survive what better, more skilled Blades have not, a third is enlisted into their threadbare ranks: the candidate Bellman, who, though barred from the Blades by injury, may have some small talent for espionage.
Joining the Duke’s entourage along with a courageous and prescient White Sister named True, the trio of would-be champions begins an astonishing journey filled with trials and horrors, intending to restore a rightful ruler to the throne or die in the process. But before them waits an army of the dead -- a dark fraternity of shadowmen, savage and unstoppable, who slaughter in the service of a despicable fiend driven by greed and the blackest of hearts. And the Duke, whom the Blades must protect to the last drop of their lifeblood, is not the liege they imagined -- but rather the guardian of strange and twisted secrets ... and a hidden identity that threatens to plunge their noble enterprise into total confusion and even graver peril.
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Dave Duncan is an award-winning author whose fantasy trilogy, The Seventh Sword, is considered a sword-and-sorcery classic. His numerous novels include three Tales of the King's Blades -- The Gilded Chain, Lord of the Fire Lands, and Sky of Swords; Paragon Lost, a previous Chronicle of the King’s Blades; Strings, Hero; the popular tetralogies A Man of His Word and A Handful of Men; and the remarkable, critically acclaimed fantasy trilogy The Great Game.From Publishers Weekly:
Canadian author Duncan explores the perils and pitfalls of dynastic politics in this swashbuckling fantasy, the fifth entry in his popular King's Blades series (after 2002's Paragon Lost). When Grand Duke Rubin of Krupina asks King Athelgar of Chivial for help in regaining his duchy, he's promised two of the King's Blades, peerless swordsmen mystically bonded to their wards. Given the shortage of trained Blades, though, Rubin will have to make do with Ranter and Ringwood, two senior boys. They, meanwhile, have to make do with Rubin, a deposed noble of uncertain prospects to whom they will be pledged for life, and his companion, Baron von Fader, an acerbic old man. Getting Rubin back to the throne of Krupina involves fending off shadowmen, preserving secret identities, uncovering traitors and penetrating impregnable fortresses. The author makes an admirable attempt to introduce a mature ambiguity in the book, enhancing the sense of mystery surrounding Rubin. However, the differing perspectives on the characters can get confusing, and two long digressions to establish background slow the action to a crawl. The novel is a thinking reader's Prisoner of Zenda, which may be missing the point.
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