The Gilded Chain: Musketeers on speed

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Dave Duncan King's Blades The Gilded ChainThe Gilded Chain by Dave Duncan

Fantasy books can be like beverages: you have your exquisitely aged wines (The Lord of the Rings, Mists of Avalon); your rich ports and liquors (the works of Guy Kay and Patricia McKillip); your searingly clear vodka (A Song of Ice and Fire); your boxed wines (The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Truth); and your panoply of Bud, Coors, Schlitz and so on. This novel, the first in Dave Duncan’s King’s Blades series, is the Jolt Cola of the fantasy canon: for those who love page-turning, caffeine-burning, sword-and-sorcery sugar, this is one for you.

The King’s Blades are master swordsmen trained from youth in Ironhall. The senior trainee, when called upon by the king, endures a magical ritual in which a sword is driven through his heart by his ward. If the trainee survives, he becomes a bound blade, a bodyguard with magically enhanced strength, speed and stamina, one of the greatest swordsmen in the land: a musketeer on speed, whose first priority is always his ward’s safety.

The Gilded Chain chronicles the life of Durendal, perhaps the greatest of all Blades, from his beginning as the Ironhall Brat, through his fabled career as Blade, adventurer, captain of the guard, and so on. Duncan tells the story at breakneck speed with a minimum of commentary or description, spinning off a huge yarn of adventure and intrigue in a land reminiscent of 16-17th century England. (There is the minister of this and that, Parliament, the Exchequer, and so on; and with armor largely obsolete due to new conjurations, rapiers are the weapon of choice.) The overall feel certainly recalls Dumas’s musketeers and the episodic French tales of Gargantua and Pantagruel and Candide.

This is not to say that the writing itself is especially elegant or refined. Certainly there are better-written works rotting in the slush pile of every publishing house. It doesn’t help that the first chapter after the prologue can only be understood hundreds of pages later or that women have almost no presence whatsoever (with the possible exception of Durendal’s wife), except when they’re mentioned in the running gag about how the Blades’ superhuman stamina doesn’t require them to sleep at night …

Fun, fast, furious, potentially addictive — The Gilded Chain is best obtained as a library loan. Unless you really love this kind of thing, there’s no need to ‘jolt’ your wallet or reserve a special place in your cellar.

Tales of the King’s Blades — (1998-2004) Publisher: The grim school of Ironhall takes in unwanted, rebellious boys and five years later sends forth the finest swordsmen in the world, the King of Chivial’s Blades. Bound to absolute loyalty by a magical sword-stroke through their hearts, they stand ready to defend the King or whomever else he designates against all perils, whether human or sorcerous. Each book in this trilogy stands alone, but together they make a larger story. The Gilded Chain tells of the greatest swordsman Ironhall has produced in its long history, Sir Durendal. When King Ambrose needs a Blade to accompany his agent on a dangerous mission to the far ends of the Earth, he naturally chooses young Durendal. Alas, even the plans of kings can go sadly awry.

Dave Duncan Tales of the King's Blades: The Gilded Chain, Lord of the Fire Lands, Sky of SwordsDave Duncan Tales of the King's Blades: The Gilded Chain, Lord of the Fire Lands, Sky of SwordsDave Duncan Tales of the King's Blades: The Gilded Chain, Lord of the Fire Lands, Sky of SwordsParagon Lost, Impossible Odds, The Jaguar Knights Dave Duncan King's BladesParagon Lost, Impossible Odds, The Jaguar Knights Dave Duncan King's BladesParagon Lost, Impossible Odds, The Jaguar Knights Dave Duncan King's Blades

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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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