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The Swordsman's Descent - G.M. White

Read May 2022




The second book in The Royal Champion series, The Swordsman's Descent reintroduces us to several characters we first met in The Swordsman’s Lament. Not least Belasko, the Royal Champion himself, and Queen Lilliana, formerly Princess Lilliana, but I won’t spoil anything if you’re coming to this fresh. Being the second book in a series, having read the first gives us an understanding of Villan, the characters, and the trials through which they’ve already prevailed. It’s not essential though. White recaps the events of the previous book deftly, weaving it into dialogue and description until it merges seamlessly with the current narrative. If you’re looking for a quick summary, here it is. This is absolutely a book to get yourself comfy, grab a cup of tea and settle in with, because you won’t put it down.


The Story


(Warning: very minor spoilers for book one and two)


After clearing his name of murdering Prince Kellan, Belasko has retreated to his accademy to focus on training his recruits, and indeed, finding his own successor for the role of Royal Champion. The intrigues of court life, something he never enjoyed even before they thought him capable of murder, he now actively avoids. He is Royal Champion by title and by his skill with the blade, but beyond that he is nothing but a teacher and a recluse. Even more ammunition for his detractors in court. Not that this stops challengers — mostly Baskans — from turning up at his door. They all leave with wounded pride at best, but a champion’s life is always balancing on the edge of a sword, especially when that champion’s body is beginning to fail him. When another challenger arrives at his academy, Belasko takes pity on the boy and, after beating him soundly, writes a letter of recommendation to the Baskan ambassador. After all, he had killed the lad’s father. With that particular distraction out of the way, Belasko can return to what he enjoys most. Until he receives a message from the Queen summoning him back to court. The Baskan king has died and a new ruler has been elected. A man Belasko knows well enough by reputation and history. General Edyard, now King Edyard. His foe at Dellan Pass but by all accounts an honourable man. He has invited Queen Lilliana to his capital to sign agreements between their two nations. Peace can only be a good thing, but can these ancient enemies really put aside the animosity of the past? Queen Lilliana thinks so and, amidst reservations from several members of her court, takes a diplomatic mission into Bask. The trip forces Belasko to face much from his past, from his relationship with his parents to the events of Dellan Pass that made his name all those years ago. Only with the help of friends, old and new, can Belasko and the Queen survive the mission and expose a cult that crosses borders, counts people at the highest offices as initiates, and won’t bat an eyelid at murdering royals to get what they want.


My Thoughts


The short version is that I absolutely loved this book. It feels comfy to read in an era where grimdark is still making a lot of movements. There are no world-ending stakes but that doesn’t make the story any less compelling. If you want a homely, character-driven read that still keeps you turning page after page, I highly recommend The Swordsman’s Descent and White’s other works in The Royal Champion series.


Now for the longer version. Multiple POVs and short chapters mean the pacing of this book is swift, effortlessly pulling us through the story. We’re never left wondering what certain characters are doing as we’re back with them in no time. Especially in the second half, I found myself not wanting to put this book down and push on to the end.


The plot itself is not high-stakes. Belasko and the others aren’t fighting to prevent the end of the world. Instead, it's a story contained to two countries, and really only a select few locations and people within those countries. The rest of the world is hinted at but at no point did I feel the story getting cramped by its restricted setting. Indeed, the settings are realised and detailed enough that I was perfectly content where we were without needing to see all those other exotic places.


White makes it easy to like the characters we are meant to like, and dislike the bad guys and most of the time it is easy to tell them apart. In some stories, this becomes predictable, but not here. There are several archetypal characters in the book, from master swordsman at the end of his career, to the young queen eager to prove herself, a criminal boss, honourable in his own way, and a foreign prince who’s willing to do what he must for his country. In White’s hands, none of these come across as stale, instead serving to entertain and carry the plot on.


One of White’s strengths is his dialogue. Almost every line feels natural and in keeping with the characters and their personalities. It conveys the right amount of information without being drawn out on one side or too direct on the other. The action and description contained within dialogue tags and additional sentences really brings out the colours and flavours of the characters.


Overall, you know what you’re getting from the first page. An exciting tale with well-formed characters who will guide you safely through the story. There are no left-field subversions that leave you wondering if you’re still reading the same book, nor is the world full of morally grey characters we’re not sure if we’re meant to like or not. Reading The Swordsman’s Descent is like getting into bed and sticking on an episode of your favourite show. G.M. White is an author I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future.


Inkborn Rating - 8. 5/10

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