REVIEW: The Crimson Court by Brendan Noble

Set in an Eastern European-flavoured flintlock/gaslamp fantasy world where malignant spirits roam free, deadly conspiracies thrive, and magic comes at a high cost, Brendan Noble’s The Crimson Court is an utterly unique epic political fantasy perfect for fans of M.A. Carrick’s The Rook and Rose series and Thiago Abdalla’s A Touch of Light.

The Crimson CourtNow, as with any good and meticulously plotted multi-POV epic fantasy, it is nearly impossible to do the brilliance of such an ambitious story justice in a review. Yet at the same time, the premise of The Crimson Court is really rather simple: a strong-willed young noble woman with outlawed Death Reacher magic embarks upon a revenge quest to take down the elusive group of nobles that got her father killed, but soon she and her odd group of unlikely allies find themselves at the centre of an intricate web of conspiracies and schemes while a looming supernatural threat is becoming ever more dire and deadly.

There’s no denying that there are a lot of moving pieces on the board to keep track of, but somehow Noble manages to let this magnificent world unfold in the most organic way possible. Yes, the first couple of chapters might feel a bit overwhelming, but I honestly think that initial sense of bewilderment only added to the already insanely high sense of wonder and intrigue. And moreover, this really is the type of deliciously slow-burn story where having patience and full trust in the author pays off in spades by the end.

This wonderfully diverse cast of characters immediately captured my heart, and I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I latched onto all of these lovable chaos demons, if you will. Alongside Kasia, we follow a gruff Glassblade warrior, the stubborn granddaughter to the king, a physically disabled and illegitimate noble man, and a non-binary city urchin who is way too snarky for their own good. Their distinct voices just make them leap off the page, and I loved seeing how their paths crossed in the most unexpected ways, forcing them to tentatively try to work towards a common goal despite their clashing personalities and differing personal motivations.

Through their eyes, we really get to explore this world in all its glory; both the most awe-inducing and wondrous aspects, as well as the most horrifying and ugly parts of it. Even though most of the story is set in the capital city of Kalastok, as 4 of the 5 POV characters find themselves there, Noble still managed to establish the wider world in a way that made it feel vast, grand, and so beautifully rich. All the little drops of twisted ancient history, mystifying lore, and cultural and ethnic diversity just breathed so much life into this world, and I loved letting myself get swept up into the epicness of it all.

But the true highlight of The Crimson Court was undoubtedly the incredibly imaginative interdimensional (and semi-elemental) Reacher magic system for me, which both excited and frightened me in equal measure. I am always a sucker for magic that comes at a cost, and seeing the characters having to deal with the Taint due to the overuse of their unique powers was just morbidly fascinating to me.

Moreover, I loved how intricately the magic and supernatural threats were woven into the larger political schemes that drive this narrative forward. This story is brimming with political strife on so many levels; within the noble court, between the scions and the lowborns, on an international level, and eventually even on an interdimensional level. The way that all the seemingly separate threads of this story converge into an earth-shattering climax sequence honestly had my jaw on the floor, and I loved how each new revelation completely shifted my perspective on the entire situation; I can already tell that The Crimson Court is going to be a true treat to re-read one day.

It’s honestly quite impressive how such a relatively low-action narrative managed to be so unputdownable, but Noble’s engaging storytelling just had me in a chokehold from start to finish. The simmering tension just keeps building and building, and while there are a few pulse-pounding cinematic magical action scenes, the most intense and thrilling scenes in this story to me were the constant battles of false smiles, cutting remarks, and hidden blades. I honestly ate up all the juicy bits of court gossip amongst the scions/nobles, and could not stop turning the pages to stumble upon the next scheme, betrayal, or jaw-dropping reveal.

Now, if I had one tiny little quibble with this excellent story, it would be the fact that I wanted a bit more development for some of the minor side characters that played an important role in each of these characters’ respective lives. All the big players, from the lovable goodies to the deliciously hateable baddies and to the morally grey enigmas in between, are established and drawn with exceptional skill, but some emotional beats fell a bit flat for me due to my lack of investment in the wider cast of characters.

That said, other shocking twists and turns hit me way harder than I ever could have anticipated, reaching straight for my heart and crushing it without remorse. No, this is by no means a grimdark fantasy, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the stakes aren’t dangerously high. Noble is not afraid to put his character through the wringer and he masterfully plays around with morality, which makes The Crimson Court just an excitingly unpredictable page turner from start to finish.

Safe to say, I am incredibly impressed by this first instalment in the ambitious Realm Reachers series, and I can easily see this becoming a new favourite as this story reaches its full potential in future instalments. If you like the sound of a slow-burn yet unputdownable political fantasy filled with flawed but loveable diverse characters, A Game of Thronesesque political scheming, looming supernatural threats, a magic system that would make Sanderson jealous, and gorgeous interior illustrations, then you have to pick up The Crimson Court. Also, it features a crystal dragon, do I really need to say more?

Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. The Crimson Court is scheduled for release on 23 April 2024. 

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Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.