Are you watching closely? For those of you unfamiliarly with this quote, it is from one of my favorite movies The Prestige and I couldn’t think of a better Segway for introducing this novel. The Prestige is about two magicians trying to out perform each other and trying to push the envelope, but what makes a magic trick work so well is misdirection. Although the characters, plot, and worldbuilding have nothing to do with magicians, you will feel at several points throughout this novel that the author is tricking you. The author will lead you down a path and open a trap door to send you in another direction. I have never read a novel with this type of plot element as it is one of a kind.
Antoine Rouaud is a French author and his debut novel was translated into English in 2013. The story revolves a around an old, disheveled knight named Dun-Cadel and how he has been drinking his life away for years. His friends have all betrayed him to embrace the new republic on the ruins of an empire and Dun-Cadel has nothing left to live for. He is also crestfallen with the loss of his apprentice Frog, yes you heard that right, in battle. At the same time a young historian named Viola is on a mission to discover the last Emperors sword and her search leads her to Dun-Cadel. It is from here that the story begins and the journey that will trick you at every turn. They will have to work fast as murders are happening across the capital and they all seem to be done by an imperial assassin.
The chapters are written in a very unique way by splitting the narrative between the present and the past within each chapter. One moment we will hear from Dun-Cadel talking about the old emperor and the duties he had as a knight, the next we will see Dun-Cadel much younger and training his apprentice to become a knight himself. The world has a feel of a medieval France but sprinkled in are the whispers and uprising of the French Revolution. The pacing can be slow but the translation from French to English is done exceptionally well and you can definitely see the authors vision shine through to the page. The deeds of the past will come back to surface and you will not know which way to turn.
Apart from the chapter structure being different, the entire book itself is split into two parts. I will not go into detail about this as it will be getting into huge spoilers, but just know that this story has two climaxes. At the halfway point, Antoine Rouaud will completely shock you and the second half of the book will be read in a completely different light. I have yet to see this technique done by any other author and believe me when I say that I have tried to find one. Now, there is a negative with this series in that the sequel novel has yet to be released and their has been little to no indication that it will ever come out. This saddens me based on how much I enjoyed this debut.
With all that being said, the story ends on a good ending point and it is definitely worthy of your time. It may not satisfy everyone with the approach and style of the story, but it will not be the same old novel. You are not looking for the answer as you want to be fooled!