The Gilded Chain


Dave Duncan


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 20, 2008

ave Duncan tells a straight forward fantasy tale in the Gilded Chain. Build a fantasy world, make a few magic items, populate with interesting characters, and see what sort of romp results. It is nice to find a book like this: instead of a weighty tome introducing a multi-volume epic with a cast of thousands, the Gilded Chain is a stand alone story that finishes in less than 350 pages. (Oops, I just checked on Amazon, and I see that the Gilded Chain is actually the first book in a trilogy! I am not sure what more can be said in this story, because it seemed to me that the tale had certainly finished.) Don't get me wrong, I love fat fantasy series, but sometimes it is nice to pick up a book that doesn't require a couple months of reading commitment to get the entire story

This novel begins with an unnamed boy approaching the grim citadel of Ironhall. The boys who enter Ironhall suffer years of rigorous, uncompromising training which transforms the survivors into excellent swordsmen who serve the King Ambrose (and thus, they are called The King's Blades). The unnamed boy is a cocky lad who decides he will join Ironhall partly because he has no other options, and partly because he has a self confidence that borders on arrogrance. This novel follows his career throughout his life. The boy graduates and adopts the name Durendal, which is the same name of the knight who is acknowledged to have been the greatest of the Kings Blades during his lifetime.

The King assigns Durendal to be the body guard of a newly rich fop whose wealth has made him a big player at the court. Durendal is full of visions of derring-do and heroic quests, guarding the life of a dandy is not why he thought he was undergoing such difficult training. Of course, things never turn out as expected.

The setting for this novel in a country called Chivial, it is clearly modeled upon a medieval Europe setting, except that Duncan has injected magical elements. The swordsmen are magically bound to the master that they must protect. There are sniffers, who can smell sorcery, they ferret threats to the King. There is an evil counsler /secret agent who has a whole bag of sorcerous tricks.

Word reaches Ambrose's court that one of his swordsmen, who disappeared long ago on a mission to investigate a story of immortal, unbeatable swordsmen who control a castle full of gold, is actually still alive and held prison in the castle. Durendal is chosen to travel to this distant land and investigate if the rumor is true. But he will have the evil counseler travel along with him, along with a younger King's Blade named Wolfbiter. This is an interesting quest. Duncan doesn't waste time with intervening side issues, when a character sets out on a mission, we cut right to the chase. Durendal soon reaches the gates of the castle of the immortal swordsmen (by "soon" I mean it only takes a single chapter to complete a perilous year-long journey) and sets about investigating the mystery. Durendal watchs as challengers line up to fight, since beating one of the swordsmen in a duel gives you all the gold that you can carry. Naturally, very few survive to claim their prize, and naturally, Durendal is intrigued.

I liked this novel. Dave Duncan is clearly a professional story teller with some good ideas to relate. I will have to look up the other Tales of the Kings Blades and see if Duncan is just as good in those novels.