“Book Review: Traitor’s Mark”
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
A fast, fun, and memorable story combining medieval fantasy with crime
Southwallow is a city radiant even by night. No one knows that better than Asgall, Commander of the Emperor’s Guard, a man who has faced both the best and worst his city has to offer. But whispers say that something worse is coming, and he’s going to need his best to find those responsible for this new threat.
When Caitlyn, the newest member of the Guard, uncovers evidence that a dangerous substance has hit the Southwallow black market, Asgall knows he needs to move quickly. If plague powder really has surfaced on the streets of the city he protects, no one and nowhere is safe.
Meanwhile, convicted traitors to the city (Nesta and Owin) are following their own leads. It’s becoming clear to them that something terrible is afoot in Southwallow—the very city they can never set foot in again. Their consciences demand that they find the threat and diffuse it, but they may be up against something more lethal than they anticipated.
Traitor’s Mark is the third book in the Emperor’s Guard series but can easily be read as a standalone. While it fits neatly into the medieval fantasy genre, there is also a strong crime theme running under it. In many ways, it feels like a genre crossover, akin to Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork City Watch series in theme, if not tone. Foot patrols, stakeouts, and criminals abound. As someone who loves both crime and fantasy, slipping into this story proved to be a treat.
From the first scene, stakes are high. A sense of urgency permeates its pages, whether the characters are searching for major criminal players or trying to prevent an impending catastrophe. But to keep things light, an underlying wry humor—the sense that the criminal element isn’t that savvy or that intel isn’t always what it seems—grounds the more frantic elements. It’s a charming mix of light fun and hefty danger that can keep readers hooked.
While the plot and world both serve Traitor’s Mark well, it’s the characters I am drawn to most. They are an absolute delight to follow. This novelette flits through several points of view, giving readers a wider scope of the city, politics, and culture. Leyla, the cartographer, is my favorite. Casually accepting of the increasingly odd situation she finds herself in and generally unflappable in the face of murder, traitors and possible city-wide destruction, she’s the kind of person I want to spend time with.
Traitor’s Mark might be short, but it packs a punch. Evocative setting, relatable characters, and intriguing events combine to create a memorable story. This is a fast and fun read that might just make you pick up the previous books, if you haven’t already.
Page count: 34
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