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
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.
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.
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 nobodyor the faces they wear. Something like a fantasy whodunitagreeably knotty and misleading, though not the best of this reliable series.