Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

The Gilded Chain by Dave Duncan

The Gilded Chain by Dave Duncan is the first in his six book King's Blade series. While the story in each novel takes places in the same world, each work stands alone as a tale unto itself. This first book tells the story of Durendal, a waif with little future who is recruited to become a King's Blade, a swashbuckling swordsman bound by magic to serve either the king or whoever the king so chooses.

The enchantment is important as it defines the identities of the Blades as a whole. It goes beyond mere allegiance as each Blade is bound magically to protect, serve, and always hold their ward's safety and life in the highest regard. Blades do not sleep, they can stomach only one glass of wine when on duty, and they look upon everyone with suspicion or at least as a potential threat. They do not do this willingly; the enchantment makes them. While there is great loss of freedom in choosing to serve as a King's Blade, it is also considered the highest honor.

Durendal is, of course, special. It is a common practice for each Blade to take the name of a previous Blade and, in doing so, aspire to live up to the previous Blade's deeds. There is one name, Durendal, that none will take for the bar was set too high when that first Durendal served. Not so for our young hero as he claims the name for himself and not only meets the challenge but far exceeds it. What begins as a bit of a predictable tale, with Durendal bound to a nothing lordling, does an about face when that lordling is killed early on. The tale picks up from there, introducing a completely different tale from what one expected based on the book's summary. This works out for the best, for Durendal is sent to learn the whereabouts of a missing Blade and to unravel the mystery of a gladiatorial arena where the gladiators cannot be killed.

I've been reading a bit of Duncan's work lately, namely The Alchemist series of Venetian fantasy/mysteries, which is one of his more recent works. The Gilded Chain goes back a bit to 1998. It's interesting to note the differences in style between this book and Duncan's more recent novels. I can see signs of maturation in both the author's ability to tell a tale and in his writing chops. Regardless, The Gilded Chain is exceptionally written, with a good balance of endearing characters, plot intrigue, adventure, and even a bit of mystery. Duncan does an excellent job of bringing the overall story full circle with a bit of a twist ending that I did not see coming.

The Gilded Chain is a fun read and I'm looking forward to picking up the next book in the series.



Comments (3) -

  • Steven Till

    4/26/2010 5:43:14 AM | Reply

    It sounds pretty interesting. I had never heard of it before. Does it have a lot of the traditional fantasy elements/cliches, or does it separate itself in some way?

  • Scott Marlowe

    4/26/2010 6:04:18 AM | Reply

    What I was most struck with is the way the story unfolds over Durendal's lifetime. It quickly goes from his boyhood to his being bound and then through various points in his life until, ultimately, the finale which takes place in his older years. It did take about 200 pages before the larger story unfolds, though, as Duncan leads the reader down one lane only to have it dramatically dead-ended. Another one opens, though, and that's when we start to see the larger story unfolding. It had a nice ending, too.

    It's not as gritty as a Martin or Ericsson tale, but there is also no clear separation between good and evil. Everyone is capable of both.

    There are six books in the series. I just bought the next one if that's any sort of endorsement.

  • sanna

    8/12/2010 1:25:04 PM | Reply

    I first came across The Sky of Swords in my school library, which i enjoyed, then i read the first book in the series- The Gilded Chain, and now have finished Lord of the Firelands, all 3 take place roughly during the same time period each giving a perspective of events from different characters. What I really liked about these books was that they offer something new, so none of the cliche supernatural beings and witches and wizards stuff, and its packed with action and political drama.

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