The Justice of Kings (Empire of the Wolf #1) by Richard Swan
Publication Date: February 22nd, 2022
Hardcover. 432 pages.
About The Justice of Kings:
"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."
The Justice of Kings was an unexpected fantasy treat that felt both classic and completely new, and I loved every minute of it. If you like your fantasy to explore things like morality, justice, and the law, as well as feature an intelligent, well-spoken narrator, then I think The Justice of Kings is going to need to be on your radar if it isn't already.
The story centers around the Emperor’s Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt, as he travels around and executes the emperor’s law throughout the law, where his say is final as the voice of the emperor in any ruling. This is a world filled with knights, horses, religion, fortresses, and a wide variety of colorful characters that can vary quite vastly in their trustworthiness and duplicity. Our story begins when Vonvalt is requested to investigate the murder of a noblewoman and, upon beginning his inquest, finds that there are far more things going on in the background than he realized–things that could vastly impact his own life and career. I liked this setup of a the main plot point in the forefront: the in your face-the murder in Gale Haven, but the slow realization that there’s some much, much bigger going on that will slowly spill over into all corners of the rest of the story.
The Justice of Kings follows three characters, including Helena, our narrator and clerk to Vonvalt; Vonvalt himself, the Emperor's Justice who is really the one running the show; and Bressinger, Konrad's taskman and who acts as his essential right hand man. Although Helena is our narrator, it is Konrad who is really the star of this book and whose journey we seem to be following most closely. I found this to be a particularly interesting and compelling narrative choice and I think it added a lot to the story in positive ways. I appreciated Helena's consistent manner of conveying her story and events, as I think it fit the story well and also matched what I would expect from someone acting as a clerk for a lawman. I'm not sure if it was just me, but I did notice that as the story went on, her narrative voice seemed to lose a small bit of her formality and became ever so much more emotional as things continued to become more and more unpredictable. Her writing was never poorly written or not clear and concise, but I felt as though we got to see just a bit more emotion and intrigue from Helena than before, and I appreciated how well this matched the story as things slowly began to unravel in unexpected ways.
Sir Konrad himself has all the makings of a great classic fantasy figure. He's charismatic in a very specific way–not that he's the most friendly person who can just befriend anyone, but in a way that is imposing and almost demands respect while also showcasing his own respect for others. He is, by all rights, a very just and honest man who is not taken by bribes or other distractions. He's very serious and no-nonsense, and he's also inexplicably likable and captivating. Bressinger is similar to Konrad in the sense that he also has a rather imposing presence that demands respect, but he's a bit more complex and emotional than Konrad seems to be. At first, Bressinger appeared to be a bit of a jokester character (my favorites), but as the novel progressed I began to see more sides of him and noticed that his jokes seemed almost more of a front for his rather serious nature that oftentimes leans toward the darker side. He is also fiercely loyal to Konrad and is not afraid to put anyone–even Helena–in their place for showing the slightest hint of disrespect or negative talk about him or his choices.
I loved how unhurried the narrative felt, where I felt compelled to keep reading and was actively interested in the story, but also didn’t feel as though anything was being rushed or hurried through. The writing is very mature and has a more classic or traditional tone to it that let me really sit back and sink into this story and world. This is a story that is hard to put down, but also demands you slow down a bit and carefully follow the events, and I think the rather concise writing helped with that. The world-building is also carefully set up in this book, and although I don’t think it was quite as expansive as it could be, I have a strong feeling that the sequel will delve even more into this world and any desires for more world-building will occur.
Overall, I've given The Justice of Kings five stars!
*I received a copy of The Justice of Kings courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*