The King's Sword by C.J. Brightley

eoghann's review against another edition

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At the end of a recent book review I made a comment to the effect that I was getting rather weary of 'grimdark' fantasy. Well The King's Sword is about as far from 'grimdark' as you can get. In fact the central characters are so consistently good and honorable in their world view the author does run the risk of her story being dismissed as naïve. But, you know, there's really nothing wrong with a story that exemplifies good behavior rather than bad.

The story is told entirely from the viewpoint of Kemen Sendoa, a retired solider, who rescues a teenage boy lost and out in the countryside in deep winter. The boy turns out to be the son of the, now dead, King of Erdemen and thus heir presumptive.

Wait, Don't Tell Me, I've Heard This One Before

It's true that this isn't a particularly original concept for a storyline. A prince on the run from a usurper and helped by a grizzled veteran. But the quality of stories should be judged by their execution not the originality of a one line synopsis, so let's not rush to conclusions here.

Kemen seems to be a particularly honorable soldier with a strong love for his country despite his country failing to show that love back and also very firm beliefs on how a country should be ruled. This is admittedly a rather modern take on nationality but it also serves to explain his actions given that early on the Prince Hakan is a bit snivelly and spoilt. To be fair, given the circumstances the Prince really doesn't behave that badly, and I'd be pretty sulky myself.

Kemen does take Hakan under his wing, in a gruff and barely tolerating him sort of way and proceeds to give him life lessons. This part of the book does come across as a little heavy handed in places. We get a lot of very detailed scenes of Kemen training Hakan in sword fighting or unarmed combat, discussions about various people and places in this world and also an internal monologue from Kemen about the importance of honor.

I think the pacing here is unfortunate because while there are a lot of important things happening in terms of world and character building, it does feel very slow and I found myself wondering when things were going to start happening. That's almost never a good thing for the reader to be thinking.

On the more positive side this methodical and detailed build up gives us a lot of time in Kemen's head and the result is a very rounded character.

Let Me Tell You About This World

The word infodump is bandied about in a derogatory fashion pretty frequently I've noticed. Not always accurately. There's a legitimate issue hidden behind that word though. Sometimes the author needs to get a lot of information in the readers head quickly and the most efficient, if not most elegant, way is simply to tell them. Sometimes, however, it's more that the author really wants to share extra information with the reader.

The world this story is set in is notionally a fantasy world in that while there is no magic and there don't seem to be any monsters, it is set in a broadly medieval time period and it's clearly not our world. It's also a fairly well realized world with elements of language, multiple cultures and other details in place.

I imagine that C. J. Brightley spent a good amount of time building all that as background for the story, so it's hardly surprising if she wants to share as much as she can with the reader. The problem is that sometimes it doesn't feel like it has much to do with the plot. Discussions about various geographic locations or cultures seem to exist mainly to share that information. This added to my impatience with the first half of the book. It might have been better to hold some of that back for when they became relevant in future stories.

Overthrowing The Usurper

Fortunately all of the backstory and world building and character moments are leading somewhere. Kemen finally decides to stop traipsing around the countryside and make a stand of sorts. From this point on, things happen and a lot of the elements set up earlier on do pay off.

Hakan starts to show a rather more Kingly (or at least Princely) side to his character and Kemen's lectures on how to rule well are put to some good use.

If there's a problem at all with this section of the book it's that maybe Kemen and Hakan have it a little too easy. Well, Kemen actually gets beaten up a fair bit so that's probably not the right phrasing. But at no point did I ever doubt how things were going to end. Kemen is just a bit too good and no one really challenges him either physically or morally. It would have been nice to see a character with a different viewpoint stand up to him a little.

Kemen also, and this does seem to be in character for him, is very morally certain and confident which I think dampens the feeling of jeopardy in the situations they face.

Good People Trying To Do The Right Thing

In short, what we have here is a tale of two good people trying to do the right thing both for themselves and for their country. That's not a bad starting point for a story. And Kemen is generally a likeable and appealing protagonist.

While the first part of the book did seem slow to me, it wasn't a slog to read by any means and I was enjoying it quite a bit once the pace picked up. I do wonder if having a single viewpoint protagonist may have worked against the story at little bit by making Kemen's world view overwhelmingly dominant and also making the political and military threats seem very distant most of the time.

This is the first of a series of three books and there's certainly room to explore the characters and world further particularly if it involves moving into areas where Kemen is less self-confident.

It is nice to be able to come away from a book without feeling that every character you've read about, including the protagonists, are horrible, deceitful and probably deserve to be pushed off a bridge.

justasking27's review

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This is probably my favorite type of fantasy book. A mentor and his student journey (slowly) towards an inevitable conflict, but along the way they learn much about themselves and what makes a good leader. The main characters seem almost too good to be true, but have enough flaws to keep them realistic. I feel that this is the type of book the author likes reading, so I look forward to others written by her.

kristamccracken's review against another edition

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A solid epic fantasy novel. The narrator, Kemen is very well developed. His inner voice has regrets, flaws, and intelligence. He is both likable and relatable. The story is very character and plot driven with little information provided about the landscape. If anything I would have liked to see the inclusion of more details about the world C.J. Brightley has developed.

starlitswords's review against another edition

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I'm not going to lie. This book took a while for me to really get into. As someone who has read stories meant to be analyzed to the bone with intricate vocabulary in which I have picked up on myself, the simple vocabulary was hard for me to brush off, as well as the way things are described, just enough for the reader to get their feet wet in the sense of imagery. The beginning is very fast, and it made me curious as to why. I almost put the book down, but I am always the one to give several chances. So, after persevering, I finally came to like, and eventually love become obsessed with the story.
The use of first person narration let's the reader become familiar with a character. With a narration like third person, like how I write, it's a little bit harder to get into the mind of a character and you have to rely more on dialogue and the way a character acts through the eyes of an omnipotent voice. Kemen Sendoa, as a retired soldier and despite his age is very wise and the friendship between him and Hakan Ithel may be deemed as brotherly or even fatherly. It is easy to piece together his personality through his metorship and the way he considers feelings and situations. His tone is always very leveled, as he is a level-headed man.
I made this comment once to my creative writing teacher on a reading log day that I liked how Kemen isn't a stereotypical cold and stoic military man and Hakan isn't this stereotypical spoiled brat. The characterization is superb. The way both of them act and think and feel conjure such uncontainable emotions for them. It's hard for me not to love them.
As I said beforehand, the storyline is rather quick to begin and it's hard to understand what's going on, as if something is left out. It left me wishing for more context, a bigger exposition. Nonetheless, as the story rolls on, by chapter 3, the story has finally settled to be evenly paced and details and dialogue are clearer. (I will put this in now and say that there are times when you really need to be paying attention to who is speaking). With that aside, I love the concept of the story, the subtle coming of age theme. I like to connect songs with ideas of this book...stronger, faster, braver, heart of courage, never back down... It's easier for me that way because I feel that an overall theme is something more than coming of age, but the seeking of something deeper, more personal, as Kemen and Hakan find together. With that said, I love that this is a fantasy without any aspect of magic or inhuman qualities. And this is from someone who is all for magic and...inhuman-ness... Also, the title is very clever, because you're not quite sure what the title implies until the end. Very clever indeed...

Overall, I'd read this again and again (given my stack of books to read was smaller, which it's not). I would shove this book into the faces of my friends if they were willing. I'd pair this with a quaint playlist I've personally used as inspiration when doodling the boys in my sketchbook of "Nightwood", "Downstream", "Battle At Hoback", Gore's Theme", and "Never Back Down" by Two Steps from Hell. I'm glad my mother said yes to me getting this book at a little craft show at a high school in October earlier this year...

minsies's review against another edition

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If you are looking for some sort of Bildungsroman thing that is pretty much wall-to-wall dudes (and some really strange attitudes about women from Kemen that just keep trundling on - those women are totally bizarre, right? But beautiful, right? And so difficult to understand!), then, hey, go to town.

It's OK for that - there are no surprises at all, if you're at all familiar with fantasy tropes. It moves fairly quickly. There are some fights. There are also a lot of descriptions of sleeping outside. And cooking outside. And doing a lot of wandering, you know. outside.

Enh. It's fine, I guess. Not really my kind of thing.

draconicrose's review against another edition

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I liked the King's Sword. It is a nice story, packed with character growth and plot that progresses nicely. The only bad thing I have to say about it is that it could use some more filler. Yes, you read that right.

The story has been distilled to its bare minimum without losing soul or character progressions, but I feel that a few more scenes here and there would have been nice to further establish the characters and their emotions.

Overall, looking forward to reading the sequel.

wardenred's review

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adventurous reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? It's complicated
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


A boy must be protected, even from himself. A man has the right to risk death for his beliefs, and a king has the right to fight for his people.

This was a pleasant, snow-paced fantasy story focused on journeying and self-growth. I'd call it a bildungsroman, but from a mentor's perspective. The plot is pretty simple and straightforward: a retired soldier finds a boy in the snow. The boy is a sheltered prince, the son of a recently deceased king and a victim of a planned coup. The soldier takes him under his wing and helps him develop the skills and qualities the boy is lacking to reclaim his rightful place on the throne and become a good ruler.

Despite the slow pace, it was quite a quick read. The prose flowed smoothly. I haven't noticed anything particularly inventive or gripping about the worldbuilding, but it was vivid enough, with nice descriptions of nature, towns, and food in particular. I found the two main characters nicely fleshed out and compelling enough, but I can't say the same about the other people they met. The plot held no real surprises; I could envision the ending well before I reached the middle, and I wasn't wrong about it. Still, sometimes predictable books like that work really well as comfort reads. Besides, I imagine someone less genre-savvy could find the entire adventure far more exciting. I've been reading fantasy since my mid-teens, as well as playing a lot of fantasy games, writing my own stories, and otherwise partaking in the genre. It's no wonder that it's harder to surprise me!

I feel I also should explain the "It's complicated" response I chose in the "Would you say the cast of characters is diverse?" field above. On one hand, there's definitely diversity here. The main character is a dark-skinned man in a country where it isn't usual, and the way people react to his skin color is shown and discussed in detail. There are other points where the plot tackles the questions of racism in what I felt was a pretty decent way. Also, the main character is severely dyslexic and the impact that has on his life is discussed, as well. That was actually my favorite part of the book; I usually see dyslexia rep in books set in modern times, more or less. It was somehow refreshing to see this subject discussed in a medieval-ish low fantasy setting and to see how it may impact a soldier's career in the army.

On the other hand, there was a striking absence of female characters that I found quite jarring. There were very few female characters who had more than a couple of lines, and they never really impacted the plot. You can argue that's period-specific, but we're not talking about a historical novel, and even in actual history, women have often played far more prominent parts than mainstream history readily shows. LGBTQ+ rep was non-existent as well, in case you're wondering.

All in all, not a bad read, and definitely well-written, but there are many fantasy books out there that are far more inventive.

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hopeevey's review

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This felt a bit more like a prequel than a first novel in a series, but I'm not sure exactly why. I enjoyed reading it, and look forward to the rest of the series - this author has a lot of potential.

panxa's review

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Six chapters in and there have only been two women, neither of whom really have lines or names.