The Paladin Caper is the third in Patrick Weekes’ “Rogues of the Republic” series, which follows a team of mismatched characters in a fantasy world as they steal their way into - and talk their way out of – riches, whilst incidentally saving the world.
This third book moves slightly further toward the heroic end of the spectrum. Where previous books had dragged us across the geography of Weekes’ world – from dwarven cities to elven wood-ships and back again – here we’re solidly in the heartland of the Republic. The shifts in this text feel more cultural than geographical. Here we see the rise of the Paladin Band, which feels analogous to a smart phone. It’s got calendars. A means of transporting messages. It has health benefits and broadcasting capability. The Republic, already surrounded by broken technological wonders, courtesy of their previous rulers, the Ancients, takes these changes into stride. Still, it’s a society in flux, one which has staggered out of one war, narrowly avoided another, and is ripe for change via social shift, rather than conflict.
There’s some other interesting revelations here too. We get to see a bit more of the Ancients, and the discussions of what drove their civilisation initially are absolutely fascinating. There’s also a rather fun exploration of the elves, how they’re affected by crystal magic, and how their society operates. Weekes has kept up the tradition of slipping backstory and social logic to the reader through conversation and as a backdrop to more immediate issues, and this works well; he puts some more detail into an already well defined and vivid world, without overwhelming the reader.
The characters are quite familiar by now, but Weekes still manages to change things up on us every now and then. There’s Ululenia’s struggle to decide who and what she is, after changing her self -definition in the previous book in the sequence. We also get a deeper look at Loch’s defensiveness, and the reasons she doesn’t feel emotionally available – apart from focused rage. Kail gets a more light-hearted approach in this book, after a rather more pensive study in the preceding novel, but still has some serious emotional depth lurking beneath the surface – which becomes clear later in the text. Each of the main crew gets a decent amount of time on the page, and they certainly feel like they have more than two dimensions – the twists and turns of their burgeoning relationships are particularly enjoyable, entirely believable, and often dreadfully amusing.
The villains get, if not the same sort of emotional heft, enough time on the page that they’re not simply dastardly fiends. They’re convincing, and make convincing arguments for their actions, whilst also acting in thoroughly reprehensible ways. I won’t get into that in detail for fear of spoilers, but there’s also a variety of crosses and double crosses, all of which seem to be both character appropriate and utterly entertaining.
As ever, I won’t talk about the plot in detail, for fear of spoilers. However, I will say this: It starts off with a bit of a bang, and hurtles at a breakneck pace from then on. There’s some wonderfully crafted emotional moments in there, which were both effective and affecting. There’s sword fights. There’s demons. There’s poignant moments of love, and horrifying moments of betrayal. There’s a few moments which didn’t quite gel for me, but they were easily forgotten in the overall mosaic of emotional honesty and rapid-fire action. In the end, The Paladin Caper delivers, for both the characters and the readers.
On that basis, is it worth reading? If you’ve not picked up the first two novels in the sequence, I’d go there first – they add context to this book. If you’ve already read the previous two novels, then yes, this is absolutely worth your time – I’d highly recommend it.