The Justice of Kings - Plot Summary
This is intended to provide an aide memoire to those who are about to read The Tyranny of Faith (either as an ARC or next February when it is released--or whenever, really) and who have forgotten bits of / all of the plot of The Justice of Kings. It is fairly comprehensive, but necessarily omits a lot of detail and nuance.
OBVIOUSLY MASSIVE SPOILERS. This summary contains everything, including how the book ends. If you have not read The Justice of Kings, and plan to, this post will COMPLETELY RUIN IT FOR YOU.
I can't make it any clearer than that.
HERE BE SPOILERS
The story takes place within the Sovan Empire, which has recently expanded to absorb a large number of neighbouring provinces. The Sovans are famed for their unshakable faith in the principles of equality, law, and order. To ensure that the common law is being applied by the Emperor’s newest subjects, the Order of the Imperial Magistratum dispatches its Justices—a combination of investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner, and mage—to police the distant fringes of the Empire.
Sir Konrad Vonvalt is one such Justice, armed with the power to compel people to speak the truth—the Emperor’s Voice—and to interrogate the dead. Helena Sedanka is his clerk, and it is through her eyes that the story unfolds. Helena is an orphan of the Imperial expansion and was plucked from the streets of Muldau, the capital city of Tolsburg, by Sir Konrad during a pickpocketing attempt. Along with Dubine Bressinger, Sir Konrad’s taskman, she has spent the following two years touring the Empire as part of Sir Konrad’s itinerant court. She is his apprentice, confidante, and protégée.
The novel opens with Sir Konrad and his team coming across the Tollish village of Rill. En route they have heard rumours of a witch practising the outlawed pagan religion of Draedism (now supplanted by the official Imperial religion, Nemanism), and Sir Konrad means to investigate. They meet briefly with Sir Otmar Frost, the manor baron, who attempts to redirect them, but Sir Konrad instead heads into a local forest where he finds Sir Otmar’s wife, Lady Karol Frost, leading the villagers in a pagan ritual.
Accompanying Sir Konrad is a young and zealous Neman priest called Bartholomew Claver. Claver insists that the pagans be burned, but Vonvalt decides to show clemency and instead fines them. In so doing, he makes a lifelong enemy out of Claver.
Several months (and several hundred miles of travelling) later, Sir Konrad, Helena and Bressinger come across the wealthy merchant town of Galen’s Vale. There they discover that Natalija Bauer, the wife of prominent nobleman Lord Leberecht Bauer, has been recently murdered. Sir Konrad takes over the investigation from the local sheriff, Sir Radomir Dragić.
During the course of the investigation, Helena confronts her doubts about her role and her future. She finds the limitless authority and arcane powers of a Justice alluring, but is less impressed with the hardships of their daily existence and the endless procession of mundane and petty crimes they are obliged to deal with. To complicate matters, Helena falls for a local lad, Matas Aker, who encourages her to leave Sir Konrad’s service and stay in the Vale. She finds herself questioning the nature of her feelings towards Sir Konrad, too.
Sir Konrad’s earlier spat with Patria Claver comes back to haunt him when it transpires that the priest has obtained the patronage of a powerful aristocrat, Margrave Waldemar Westenholtz, the lord of the northern Hauner fortress of Seaguard. Westenholtz is allied with an influential cabal of Imperial senators (the Mlyanar Patricians) and knights (the Savaran Templars), themselves enjoying the patronage of the Neman Church, who all together are locked in a battle of wills with the Emperor and the Magistratum. Centuries before the events of the book, the “Draedist Arcana” (the collection of magicks which draw their power from the afterlife, of which the Emperor’s Voice and necromancy form a part) was stripped away from the Neman Church and gifted to the Magistratum as part of a wider modernisation / secularisation of the Empire. The Neman Church has never forgiven this heresy, and powerful priests, lords and senators are seeking to take advantage of the dispute to feather their own nests.
A few days later, Vonvalt is sent a letter from a dying Sir Otmar Frost, warning him that Margrave Westenholtz, at the urging of Patria Claver, has burned all of the villagers of Rill in spite of Vonvalt’s instructions to the contrary. Vonvalt, furious, takes Helena first to Rill and then to Seaguard and confronts Westenholtz. There he discovers that the margrave is somehow impervious to the Emperor’s Voice, something which is not impossible but which requires extensive training to withstand. Frustrated, but ignorant of broader events, Vonvalt leaves Seaguard and has an indictment penned, formally accusing Westenholtz of murder. He dispatches the indictment by courier as he travels south to resume the investigation.
Vonvalt and Helena return to Galen’s Vale where Sir Radomir and Bressinger have made progress on the investigation. They have discovered in the town’s civic accounts evidence of regular sums of money being diverted to the kloster (the local mixed-sex monastery). The timing of these payments coincides with the disappearance of Lord Bauer’s daughter several years before, and the men have concluded that she is being held hostage in the kloster in return for regular bribes. Vonvalt means to act on this when he receives word that Claver is heading south down the Hauner Road along with a fresh crop of several hundred Templar initiates heading for the Frontier. It is likely that several dozen of the initiates have come from Seaguard. Vonvalt intercepts them and accuses the Templars of massacring the villagers of Rill. Even though thanks to a legal technicality Vonvalt does not have jurisdiction, he still executes one man for the crime. Claver is furious, but before Vonvalt can arrest him, another Justice, Resi August, appears. She talks Vonvalt down before he can make any further errors of judgement, and warns him in a nearby tavern that he is grappling with forces beyond his control. Vonvalt, his judgement clouded by his former romantic involvement with August, is furious at what he sees as a missed opportunity, and ignores her warnings that the Magistratum’s authority and influence in Sova is on the wane.
Returning to Galen’s Vale, Vonvalt now resolves to interrogate the man responsible for the town’s bookkeeping, Fenland Graves (who is himself a retainer of Lord Bauer), but he and Helena are ambushed in the treasury by traitorous city watchmen and Helena is knocked unconscious. When she comes to in the physician’s ward, she learns that Graves has fled and that Bressinger is chasing him down.
That night Helena is awoken to find Graves being manhandled into the bed next to her. Bressinger has stabbed him, and he dies shortly after. Sir Konrad conducts a hasty séance to try and glean the truth from the man. A demonic entity known as Aegraxes, or ‘The Trickster’, hijacks the ritual. It makes some mischief before ultimately directing Vonvalt to the local kloster. There, the crime will be solved. He also offers Vonvalt and Helena several portentous visions: Lady Karol Frost strangling a two-headed wolf cub; a solitary rook in an orchard; and a man tied to a stake in a wildflower meadow, flames licking at his feet.
Appalled and terrified by the ritual, Helena nonetheless agrees to enter the kloster as a spy. There she discovers that the head of the kloster, Obenpatria Ralf Fischer, has been taking the money laundered through the town’s coffers by Bauer and has been gifting it to Claver and his Savaran Templars. She has uncovered a connection between Bauer’s fraud and a broader conspiracy between Claver and the Neman Church to fund the creation of a Templar army.
Helena is eventually discovered and taken prisoner. Matas steals in to try and free her, and is murdered by another of the investigation’s chief suspects, Zoran Vogt. Helena manages to escape and alerts the sheriff, Sir Radomir, who leads a party of men into the kloster and apprehends Vogt. Then Vogt, Lord Bauer, and the obenpatria of the kloster, Ralf Fischer, are indicted with conspiracy to murder Lady Bauer as part of a broader racketeering scheme. Helena cannot help but blame Sir Konrad for Matas’s death, although Sir Radomir convinces her to reconcile with him. Despite being emotionally scarred, Helena realises that she has a talent for the work of a Justice and that a quiet life in a provincial town will be suffocating.
One evening, in the lead up to the trial, Justice August warns that Westenholtz is approaching Galen’s Vale with a host of five hundred armed men. Vonvalt sends out urgent requests for assistance and does what he can to prepare the town for an attack. In the meantime he presses ahead with the trial. It quickly becomes a circus given its high profile. After opening remarks, Vonvalt receives a letter from a Sovan senator and old friend, Tymoteusz Jansen. He travels south to meet Jansen who fortuitously happens to be close by and who has rallied a small force of several hundred legionaries under the command of Baron Hangmar travelling west to Denholtz. They can be at Galen’s Vale within two days.
Vonvalt returns to Galen’s Vale to continue with the trial but it is once again interrupted, this time by the arrival of Westenholtz and his army. With him is Patria Claver, who demands that Obenpatria Fischer be released from custody. Using illegal Draedist magicks, they kill Justice August, which renders Vonvalt insensible with grief. The town watchmen, frightened and intimidated, open the town gates at Westenholtz’s insistence, and his force promptly enters and begins massacring everybody in sight.
Bressinger insists to Helena that Vonvalt would expect them to guard the prisoners—Vogt, Bauer and Fischer—though in trying to do so they are attacked and Bressinger’s arm is cut off. Despite Helena applying a tourniquet, Bressinger appears to die from blood loss. At that moment Vonvalt appears, having regained his wits. In spite of the fact that Vogt and Bauer have not been found guilty of anything (yet), and to Helena’s horror, he butchers them; then he interrogates Fischer with the Emperor’s Voice so violently that the man is knocked unconscious. He then tries to escape with Helena, but Claver stops him. During the confrontation it seems that Claver has mastered the ancient Draedist art of telekinesis, for he is able to stop Vonvalt from attacking him using nothing except his mind. Only Nathaniel Kadlec, the incumbent Master of the Magistratum, has access to such powerful magicks.
It looks as though Claver has the upper hand, but in that moment, Baron Hangmar and Tymoteusz Jansen arrive, saving the day. However, in the confusion looks as though their cavalry charge has accidentally killed Vonvalt, and Helena flees the scene. She is captured on the banks of the River Gale by two soldiers, one of whom she manages to kill. The second is about to drown her when Bressinger, alive, surprises and kills him.
In the aftermath, Vonvalt is stricken with grief at the death of Justice August. Claver escapes with Fischer east to Baron Naumov in Roundstone, and the pair travel south by river. The remainder of Westenholtz’s force is captured and hanged en masse. Westenholtz himself is also hanged by Vonvalt, even though technically speaking, he is entitled to be beheaded by the sword. Helena is worried about Vonvalt’s increasing propensity to violate the Sovan legal code.
At the conclusion of the story, Sir Konrad announces his intention to travel south, to Sova, to see if he can save the Order. He needs to investigate the connection between Master Kadlec and Claver, to report Westenholtz’s rebellion, and to throw his weight behind the Emperor and the Magistratum. Most importantly, he needs to find Claver and his acolytes, root them out, and destroy them, before they can become too powerful.
He asks Sir Radomir to accompany him as his retainer, who agrees. He also asks Helena if she, too, wishes to remain with him. She realises that, although she does not necessarily want to be a Justice, she will travel to Sova. From there, she is unsure.
In the closing chapter of the book, Vonvalt diverts from the road to Sova to the small Hauner town of Ossica. He tells Helena to stay in the inn with Bressinger whilst he and Sir Radomir tend to a task. Helena, mistrustful, sneaks out after them to find that they have tracked down Obenpatria Fischer in a local brothel. Fischer is incapacitated, and then Vonvalt interrogates him using the Emperor’s Voice, discovering that Claver has indeed received assistance from members of the Magistratum. Vonvalt subsequently murders Fischer out of hand. He then tells Helena to return to her bed, aware that she has followed him.
The following morning Vonvalt once again gives Helena the chance to leave. Troubled, she nonetheless decides to continue south with him, uncertain about what the future holds.