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Impossible Odds (Chronicle of the King's Blades Series #2)

Impossible Odds (Chronicle of the King's Blades Series #2)

4.8 5
by Dave Duncan

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Elite warrior swordsmen, they are unequalled in any time or realm . . .

The King's Blades

The King has decreed that new Blades must be sworn into the service of the Grand Duke Rubin, deposed by a foul usurper and currently on the run. But none of the rough youths being readied at Ironhall possess the seasoning to survive what better, more skilled Blades


Elite warrior swordsmen, they are unequalled in any time or realm . . .

The King's Blades

The King has decreed that new Blades must be sworn into the service of the Grand Duke Rubin, deposed by a foul usurper and currently on the run. But none of the rough youths being readied at Ironhall possess the seasoning to survive what better, more skilled Blades already have not. Still, two woefully unprepared candidates are approached with an offer of early bonding and probable death: deft but dense, rude Ranter, and eager, impetuous Ringwood . . . with a third, the inadequate swordsman but potentially able spy Bellman, enlisted into their threadbare ranks. Joining the Duke's entourage along with the courageous and prescient White Sister Trudy, the would-be champions must restore a rightful ruler to the throne or die in the process. But before them waits an army of the dead. And the Duke whom the Blades must protect to the last drop of their lifeblood is not the liege they imagined . . .

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Impossible Odds, Dave Duncan's fifth installment in the Chronicle of the King's Blades series (Gilded Chain, Lord of the Fire Lands, etc.), pits four youths -- two half-trained Blades, a Blades reject, and a religious order dropout -- against Lord Volpe, a great warrior and skilled sorcerer, and his arsenal of deadly magic.

When exiled Grand Duke Rubin, a distant cousin of King Athelgar, arrives in Chivial, he brings with him a dark history of political treachery and cold-blooded murder. Overthrown by his cousin Volpe, the Grand Duke wants not only to recover his throne but also to rescue his wife and infant son, who are most likely dead or dying somewhere in a dark dungeon. With no suitable senior Blades available, the King is forced to assign the two best choices under the circumstances: Ranter, a mule-headed bully, and Ringwood, a skilled swordsman who has barely reached puberty. The Grand Duke also enlists Bellman, a Blades reject who was forced to drop out after an accident impaired his vision, and Sister Gertrude (a.k.a. True) a brilliantly acute young woman with the power to detect magic.

Once on their quest to somehow gain back the throne, the four youths discover several unnerving truths about the enigmatic Duke, including the astonishing fact that "he" is really the Grand Duchess in disguise!

Fans of Duncan's King's Blades and King's Daggers novels should enjoy his newest offering, as much a mystery as a fantasy. With enough subplots and surprise twists to make Agatha Christie happy, this novel will have readers guessing until the very end. Paul Goat Allen

Publishers Weekly
Canadian author Duncan explores the perils and pitfalls of dynastic politics in this swashbuckling fantasy, the fifth entry in his popular King's Blades series (after 2002's Paragon Lost). When Grand Duke Rubin of Krupina asks King Athelgar of Chivial for help in regaining his duchy, he's promised two of the King's Blades, peerless swordsmen mystically bonded to their wards. Given the shortage of trained Blades, though, Rubin will have to make do with Ranter and Ringwood, two senior boys. They, meanwhile, have to make do with Rubin, a deposed noble of uncertain prospects to whom they will be pledged for life, and his companion, Baron von Fader, an acerbic old man. Getting Rubin back to the throne of Krupina involves fending off shadowmen, preserving secret identities, uncovering traitors and penetrating impregnable fortresses. The author makes an admirable attempt to introduce a mature ambiguity in the book, enhancing the sense of mystery surrounding Rubin. However, the differing perspectives on the characters can get confusing, and two long digressions to establish background slow the action to a crawl. The novel is a thinking reader's Prisoner of Zenda, which may be missing the point. (On sale Nov. 4) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Although the fifth installment in a series, this stand-alone novel is perhaps the one with most teen appeal as untried but eager youths pit their swords and wits against an enemy that threatens their bonded lord, exiled Grand Duke Rubin, who arrives in Chivial in a cloud of political intrigue and supernatural forces. Unfortunately for Rubin, Ironwood, the training school for King Athelgar's legendary Blades, is short on senior candidates ready for the sword stroke through the heart that magically binds them and their blades in absolute, lifelong loyalty to defend their King and those to whom he offers their services against all peril. And perils they face, for on the dark trails lurk shadowmen, but these walking dead pale beside the dangerous secret that Rubin keeps from his Blades. Can the intrepid band of newly sworn but half-trained swashbucklers, along with White Sister True, skilled in detecting magical forces, and Bellman, not a Blade but with a skill for spying, succeed in vanquishing the evil Volpe and restoring Rubin's succession? Sword and sorcery, adventure, and romance with a twist of mystery will delight fantasy fans. VOYA Codes 3Q 3P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003, Eos/HarperCollins, 365p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Mary Arnold
Library Journal
When the Grand Duke Rubin seeks assistance from the elite group of swordsmen known as the King's Blades, two candidates receive the honor of serving as bound warriors to their new master-only to discover that the Grand Duke is actually a woman, the Grand Duchess Johanna. Hoping to reclaim her throne from a wizard who can control the dead, the Grand Duchess and her blades embark on a series of adventures that lead ultimately to the unmasking of a traitor and a battle to the death against unearthly foes. Duncan's latest tale (after Paragon Lost) of warriors bound by ritual magic to those they serve and protect deserves a wide readership and belongs in most fantasy collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fifth in the series of fantasy yarns about the King’s Blades, those bodyguards magically bound to defend their ward to the death (Paragon Lost, 2002, etc.). Grand Duke Rubin, of distant, land-locked, Austria-like Krupina, arrives in Chivial seeking the help of King Athelgar. Driven from power by his warrior-cousin, Lord Volpe, and harassed across Eurania by evil magic, Rubin has urgent need of Blades to defend his person and help him recover his throne. Even in Chivial’s Nocare Palace, magically animated corpses attack him. But just now Ironhall is all but devoid of suitable candidates. Ranter is uncouth and inexperienced, Ringwood a half-trained youth, and Bellman, his vision damaged in an accident, cannot become a Blade. Nevertheless, Sir Ranter and Sir Ringwood must serve the Grand Duke, with Bellman as an advisor. Also joining the party will be Trudy, formerly of the Sisterhood, with her unerring ability to sniff out and diagnose magic. She immediately notices that Rubin wears a magical device to alter his appearance: indeed, the Grand Duke turns out to be the Grand Duchess! Johanna has no idea whether her philandering husband is still alive, or where his son and heir, Frederik, might be. Also counted among her enemies must be Karl, Volpe’s lecherous son, and the Vamky Brotherhood, warrior-knights skilled in magic. Johanna must lead her raggle-taggle band to Krupina, knowing she can trust nobody—or the faces they wear. Something like a fantasy whodunit—agreeably knotty and misleading, though not the best of this reliable series.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Chronicle of the King's Blades Series , #2
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Impossible Odds
A Chronicle of the King's Blades

Chapter One

At the Break of Day

"Enter!" Grand Master said.

Sir Tancred did so and closed the heavy door behind him, moving with the feline grace of an expert fencer. He had changed out of his mud-soaked traveling clothes into fresh, crisp livery, and no one could have known from the look of him that he had spent the better part of a day and night on horseback. His silver baldric marked him as Deputy Commander of the Royal Guard; his presence here at Ironhall, far away from Grandon where the King was, meant that something was seriously awry.

"All bedded down?" Grand Master inquired dryly.

"My charges are. Your two are falling all over themselves getting dressed."Tancred's thin smile was a formality, not denying the underlying worry. "Unless they decided I was just a nightmare and went back to sleep."

Grand Master grunted and turned back to stare out the window at the first glow of sunrise on the wild crags of Starkmoor. Early-morning chill dug into his bones, making him shiver and pull his cloak tight about him, yet in fact his study was still warm from the previous day's heat. Tancred was not even wearing a cloak over his jerkin, and that display of youthful vigor made Grand Master feel old. He was old, Lord Roland, although he rarely had to admit it, even to himself. He was too old to be dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, too old to deal with unexpected, unwelcome visitors, and too old to tackle a monstrous problem created by a fool of a king.

"I regret that I brought such trouble," Tancred said quietly. This was their first chance to talk privately.

"Not your fault." It was Grand Master's fault. Yes, the King was being totally unreasonable and Leader was a worrywart, but the responsibility was Grand Master's. If his duties required him to refuse direct orders from his sovereign, then he should be prepared to do so and take the consequences. It was guilt that gnawed at him this morning, not age. In a long life of service, he had rarely known such a sense of failure.

"Exactly how many warm bodies does His Majesty expect me to produce?"

"Beg pardon ... the warrant." Sir Tancred stepped closer to hand over the baleful paper, a single sheet that might dispose of many young lives. "He left the number blank. He said to tell you at least one, but he knows you don't like to assign less than three private Blades at a time. No more than three, he said."

"How considerate of him! As soon as possible, I assume? Ram the swords through the boys' hearts and throw the lot of them on the first ship out of country by this time tomorrow?"

"Even sooner!" Sir Tancred smiled, although he must be shocked to hear such sarcasm from a man renowned for his discretion.

Idiot king! Athelgar certainly knew that Ironhall had no boys ready to graduate as Blades, because it was only two weeks since he had made his semiannual pilgrimage to the school to harvest the latest crop of seniors, binding them to absolute loyalty with the ancient, arcane ritual. Grand Master had wanted to release six candidates and had reluctantly included another three to please Sir Florian, who was anxious to build up the Guard's numbers. The previous Commander, Sir Vicious, had preferred to keep it lean -- as Grand Master himself had, back in his own time as Leader, forty years ago. Florian saw safety in numbers, which was his privilege.

But then, just a week later, the King had decided on impulse to appoint a new ambassador to Baelmark. The hapless designate, Lord Baxterbridge, had arrived at Ironhall with a warrant for three Blades. Grand Master should have dug in his heels then, but how could he condemn a man to go off to that nest of bloodthirsty pirates without adequate protection? Diplomatic immunity carried no weight in Baelmark. Only steel and the skill to use it mattered there, and the season on ambassadors never closed. So Grand Master had released three more candidates, very much against his better judgment.

And today another warrant. It took five years to turn an outcast rebel boy into a Blade and even Prime Candidate Ranter had been in the school for less than four. Not since the worst days of the Monster War, forty years ago, had Ironhall suffered such a dearth of trained, competent seniors.

"Eagle did look somewhat sparse," Tancred remarked caustically.

Eagle was a dormitory with a dozen beds and only three occupants -- Ranter, Ringwood, and Goodwin. Two of them had not been billeted there a full week yet. A moment ago Grand Master had been feeling sorry for himself because he had lost half a night's sleep. How much worse this morning's awakening must have been for Ranter, being shaken awake by the Deputy Commander! He would have known instantly that his stay in Ironhall was at an end, his adolescence over. Ringwood could still hope that he would not be needed, but both of them had reasonably looked forward to another year of security and instruction, time to mature personally and physically, to perfect the deadly skills they would need as Blades. They were entitled to all that, and Grand Master had failed them.

He realized that Tancred's comment had really been a question about Candidate Bellman, who was none of his business. Bellman was another worry, but this mess had nothing to do with him.

"Goodwin didn't waken?" Grand Master asked.

"Still snoring when I left."

After a moment, Lord Roland's anger erupted again. "Tell me, Deputy, was Leader not consulted about this warrant? Did he not remind His Majesty that Ironhall presently has no candidates ready for binding?"

Impossible Odds
A Chronicle of the King's Blades
. Copyright © by Dave Duncan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Dave Duncan is an award-winning author whose fantasy trilogy, The Seventh Sword, is considered a sword-and-sorcery classic. His numerous novels include three Tales of the King's Blades -- The Gilded Chain, Lord of the Fire Lands, and Sky of Swords; Paragon Lost, a previous Chronicle of the King’s Blades; Strings, Hero; the popular tetralogies A Man of His Word and A Handful of Men; and the remarkable, critically acclaimed fantasy trilogy The Great Game.

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Impossible Odds (Chronicle of the King's Blades Series #2) 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've been a huge fan of Dave Duncan's Blade series so far and this one more or less kept up with the previous titles that he's written. For whatever reason, I wasn't quite as gripped by this one like I was with his others. It was still a quick, fun Sword and Sorcery novel like the rest of his titles, but his others have simply been better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In Chivial, Grand Duke Rubin of Krupina asks King Athelgar to help him regain his lost dukedom. Rubin¿s warrior-cousin Lord Volpe tossed him off his minor throne and has attacked him with evil magic as he crossed Eurania to come her for assistance. Rubin pleads with the monarch to assign the King¿s Blades to help him regain his power.

King Athelgar has no fully trained Blade available so he selects the inexperienced Ranter and the rookie Ringwood led by the injured Bellman to assist the Grand Duke. However Trudy of the Sisterhood, states that Rubin is using a magical device to alter his appearance. He turns out to be a she as the visitor is the Grand Duchess Johanna, who does not know the fate of her spouse or their son. Johanna accepts what she can and leads her motley crew back to Krupina to confront Volpe and his magic practitioner knights.

The fifth Chronicle of the King¿s Blades is an exciting sword and sorcery tale that reads somewhat as if an amateur sleuth story was set in a fantasy realm. The quintet heads to Krupina for a final confrontation with very distinct, realistic and realistic characters. The story line is fast-paced so that fantasy fans will enjoy the enchanted battles while mystery readers who appreciate a radically different slant will relish Trudy. Fans of the series will want to read the latest Blades adventure as once again those magically bound to defend the King (and anyone he chooses even to the death) risk their lives.

Harriet Kalusner