The Silverblood Promise by James Logan fantasy book reviewsThe Silverblood Promise by James Logan fantasy book reviewsThe Silverblood Promise by James Logan

If any novel can make the case that a cliché is just a poorly executed trope, it’s James Logan’s debut novel The Silverblood Promise, the first in his THE LAST LEGACY series. Rakish, roguish noble? Check. Ancient civilization done in by some sort of cataclysm? Check. Scrappy, sassy street rat? Check. Mysterious, legendary thief? Mysterious, notorious criminal underground? Mysterious ancient artifacts? Unctuous, corrupt, greedy merchant-princes? Check, check, check, check. Heck, we’ve even got dying last words scrawled in one’s own blood (mysterious words, of course).

Are these cliches? Tropes? Two sides of the same coin. And in this case, the coin is always coming up, um, damn it, there goes the metaphor. Let’s say you called heads each time. Then in this case, the coin is always coming up heads. Because out of this blend of familiar ingredients, plus one part murder mystery, one part heist novel, and one part quest adventure, Logan has crafted a highly enjoyable stew of fantasy. One I thoroughly enjoyed and happily read straight through in a single setting.

The book opens by introducing us to that rakish young noble, Lukan Gardova, at one time seven or so years ago heir to a prominent aristocratic family (though one in decline), a student at the Academy, and a lover of card play and good wine. Thanks to a duel gone horribly wrong though, he’s now estranged from his father, far from home, and expelled from Academy (the gambling and drinking remain in full force). Relatively quickly though, he learns his father was murdered and that his last act were those mysterious words scrawled in blood. That message, and the desire to learn who killed his father, takes him to the grand city of Saphrona, where everything and anything can be bought or sold. A city not too far removed from a bitter war, a city across the water from the Southern Empire, a city ruled by merchant princes at the top and the Kindred — the criminal underground with its “Twice-Crowned King” — at the bottom. There he eventually teams up with Flea, the aforementioned street rat; Ashra, the aforementioned thief, famous for being able to walk through walls; The Scrivener, a master forger with a sharp tongue and very definite ideas of how things should be done; and a merchant prince currently in prison for murder. As he works with them to solve the mystery of his father’s death, he becomes ever more entangled in the politics of the city and a conspiracy meant to overthrow the current rule and spark a new war, leading to the deaths of thousands.

The worldbuilding here is well executed and intriguing. Saphrona is a wonderful city creation, reminding me a bit of Constantinople before it was Istanbul (go ask the Turks). But while nearly all the action takes place in the city, we get little snippets of information to flesh out a vastly larger world, little teasers that make me eager to see more of these places (and clearly we will based on this book’s ending). While the grounded worldbuilding is well done, my favorite part is the more abstract idea of the Phaeron, the legendary race of magical (or possibly highly technological) beings that were wiped out in some catastrophe but who have left behind a number of strange artifacts. Lukan’s father, in fact, was, in Lukan’s words, “obsessed” with the Phaeron and their artifacts, to the detriment of a relationship with his son, particularly after Lukan’s mother died when he was young. We see several of the artifacts in action in the course of the novel and what I love about them is the sense that they are beyond human ken. Maybe it’s how the Phaeron worked, maybe it’s just the rarity of the artifacts, but there’s no sense of systemized magic; they’re just, weird. I’m sure we’ll learn more about both the Phaeron and their artifacts, but here I ate up the truly mysterious nature of them, the befuddlement and sense of wonder that comes from something we just can’t fathom.

The artifacts are not the only source of magic in the story. Humans can perform magic under particular rules and conditions: paired Gleamers maintaining physical contact (emotional bonding helps as well) can draw and work power from the Gloaming (some sort of extra dimension) to do sorcery, with one Gleamer pulling it from the Gloaming and the other shaping it to their will. And finally there are The Faceless, powerful creatures thought to be the stuff of children’s stories and myth but who turn out to be frighteningly real. Their story, the little bit we see here, is absolutely fascinating.

James Logan

James Logan

The plot as mentioned is a mix of formats. The murder mystery of course is one, though that takes a step back and remains behind the scenes for most of the novel for all it drives events. The heist is rolled into the quest aspect, which is really a serial quest. Lukan has to talk to somebody to find some information about his father, that person is in prison, to get her out Lukan has to find someone else and gain something else, and so on, with little mini-quests accumulating one atop the other. It all moves at a fast pace with a number of twists and turns and shifting alliances thanks to the accretion of different quests.

But the real highlights of the novel are the characterization and the voice. Lukan at first is a bit off-putting: annoying, impatient, constantly interrupting people (he gets called on this throughout the book), harsh toward his father. But he has a good heart and as he forms close relationships with other characters, learns his father was much more than the cold, Phaeron-obsessed man he saw him as, and most importantly becomes willing to take great risks to help complete strangers, people of a city he has zero connection to, it becomes impossible not to warm up to him (save for one issue I’ll go into later). Ashra is vividly drawn, allowing her to transcend the stock character she so easily could have become. The Scrivener has only a few scenes, but honestly steals those scenes with her sternly threatening-yet-somehow-humorous manner. Even the minor characters, such as an old drunken general, a doctor to the merchant-princes, and a former-pirate-turned-legitimate (mostly)-sea captain, comes fully alive in their brief pages, and I was more than a little pleased to see we’ll be spending more time with at least one of them in the sequel.

The star of the cast though, is Flea. As with Ashra, she could have been your stock street urchin rat, and she has all the backstory and mannerisms and voicing of one. But she is so vibrantly portrayed, so clearly her own inimitable self, that she even more than Ashra transcends the stereotype. She steals every scene she is in, and one gets the feeling Logan himself realizes that as the book goes on. I swear I would read an entire second book that just retold the plot of this one from Flea’s point of view. She’s a wonderful creation, and I can’t wait to spend more time with her.

As for the voice, Flea is one, but only one, of the many vectors for the humor throughout. The Silverblood Promise is simply put a funny book. It’s not a comedy, not at all. Nor is it a wearying quip-a-moment style that gets exhausting. But hardly a page or two goes by where at least one line won’t raise a smile, or a chuckle, or a laugh-out-loud moment. That humor combined with the characters makes it, as I said early on, just a fun book to read.

That’s not to say it’s not without it’s flaws. The biggest one is that flaw of Lukan’s I mentioned earlier. Sometimes, and I don’t know how else to put this, he’s just so painfully dumb. Now, we all do dumb things, but this trait was pretty relentless throughout, and it didn’t seem to matter what other people told him (sometimes repeatedly) or what previous events might have/should have showed him. It did grate a bit each time we entered one of those scenes, though thankfully not for long. The other issue was a minor one at most, and that was a sudden shift from the third-person point of view into other POV’s toward the end. I get structurally and narratively why Logan chose to do this, but it still jarred when it happened. Though it was quickly passed over.

The novel ends with Lukan (and some others) heading out on track of another clue to his father’s murder. In that respect, and with regard to a background plot about the Faceless and the Phaeron, the book clearly needs a sequel. But the main arcs of this novel — what Lukan needs to learn in the city and the conspiracy plot — all come to a resolution. So one could, in theory, end here and be quite satisfied. But really, why wouldn’t you want to learn more about the murder, about the Faceless and the Phaeron? And more importantly, why wouldn’t you want to spend more time with Flea? Strongly recommended.

Published in May 2024. Set in a city of traders and thieves, monsters and murderers, this page-turning epic fantasy debut is a must-read for fans of Nicholas Eames and Joe Abercrombie. Lukan Gardova is a cardsharp, academy dropout, and—thanks to a duel that ended badly—the disgraced heir to an ancient noble house. His days consist of cheap wine, rigged card games, and wondering how he might win back the life he threw away. When Lukan discovers that his estranged father has been murdered in strange circumstances, he finds fresh purpose. Deprived of his chance to make amends for his mistakes, he vows to unravel the mystery behind his father’s death. His search for answers leads him to Saphrona, fabled city of merchant princes, where anything can be bought if one has the coin. Lukan only seeks the truth, but instead he finds danger and secrets in every shadow. For in Saphrona, everything has a price—and the price of truth is the deadliest of all.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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