Tracato by Joel Shepherd

Rating 9.4/10
I am more and more impressed with Shepherd's ability to captivate, teach an horrify me.

Having taken so long to read ‘Petrodor’ by Joel Shepherd, the second book in his ‘A Trial of Blood and Steel’ series, I figured that I should jump straight on to the third book, Tracato (and then the fourth). I’m really glad that I did, because upon completion of this book I realised that Joel Shepherd has stepped up to the plate that Robin Hobb so ignominiously fell from.

There is no magic in this world. There are no dragons, and there are no sea monsters. But this world is as vivid and real to me as Robin Hobb’s Elderlings series.

A book that gives you all action all the time may be good for some, but I want my action to have reason. The back-room dealings and politicking gives this book real gravitas, without leaving you bored to tears by endless pages of dialogue.

In fact, the involvement of politics and rationale dialogue in this series has increased as the lead characters desire to change the world has increased. We’re not just suffering through an author’s desire to explain everything going on, but rather a favourite characters hope that the more she knows and involves herself in will lead her to bring about real change.

Of course, a book with an unbeatable swordswoman is not complete without proof of her skills, and Shepherd writes his fight scenes – both one on one duels all the way up to full-scale battles – with amazing depiction and skill. You can almost feel the crunch of the shields meeting flesh and the thud of the horses’ hooves.

What surprises me most about this book is the way in which each character we are allowed inside creates a fully rationale reason why they are in the right, even if they are on opposing sides of the next character to take a chapter. There is something eerie about seeing both sides of a conflict, and sympathising with both.

But to say that there are only two sides to this book’s conflict is to negate the amazing intricacy and design of Shepherd’s world. There is of course dozens of sides to be seen, but we are given two main points of view that, in the end, I wager, will end up closer than either realised could happen.

I love this book, and the moment I finished it I ploughed on into the fourth and final book of the series (Haven). Tracato has kept me up late at night more than once, and diverted my attention from other tasks countless times. From the simpler beginnings in the first book (Sasha) and all the way through to the end of Tracato, I have become more and more impressed with Joel Shepherd’s ability to tell a story that both captivates, teaches, an horrifies me, and all to my betterment.

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