The Knight of Thorns, Volume 1: The Tournament of the Valiants

For a Lady’s Honor

VS’was in 2007 that landed a certain Jean-Philippe Jaworski with the superb Janua Veraa collection of short stories that went (already) make a loud noise. Followed two years later by the pavement Win the Warthe work of French would gradually impose itself in the French-speaking imaginary landscape.
After a detour into another more Celtic universe with The Kings of the world, Jean-Philippe Jaworski finally returns to the Old Kingdom with The Knight of Thorns, a colossal novel separated into three parts for the occasion. With this first volume entitled The Tournament of the Preuxthe French writer gives us another shot Win the War by taking up one of the characters of Janua Veranamely the knight Ædan glimpsed in the short story “ At the Service of the Ladies “.
Situating its action two years after the events of Win the War, The Knight of Thorns changes everything and nothing at the same time to the formula Jaworski…to the delight of its readers!

“It’s quite irritating to see that no matter how much you flee the century, the century always finds a way to flush you out. »

Before getting to the heart of the matter, we are going to have to talk a bit about what is happening in The Knight of Thorns. And that’s no small feat since Jean-Philippe Jaworski proceeds in the same way as George RR Martin or that a Glen Cook by projecting us directly within its kingdoms and its royal lines with a profusion of names, places and historical facts. But don’t worry, the customary French narrative mastery does work to keep our heads above water. And once you’ve learned to swim, it’s a TRUE happiness.
We are this time between the Duchy of Bromaël and the County of Kimmarc respectively led by Duke Ganelon and Count Angusel.
If the first is the lord of the second, his vassal is therefore not very happy to bend to the will of the Duke.
But all this is hardly the main concern of the story at the start since it begins with peasants who witness an unexpected confrontation between two knights: Ædan de Vaumacel and Yvorin de Quéant. The incomprehension is total because the people of Chanevier, the small village where the action begins, have no quarrel with those of the nobility.
It is even the opposite since Sir Rainfroi, suzerain of these lands, has offered his help to find a young boy from the village who has recently disappeared.
And it is this case of disappearance, from which the people of Chanevier are not the only ones to suffer, which interested Sir Ædan the day before!
What they don’t know is that the valiant Ædan has much to be forgiven. Accused by Duke Ganelon and his court of having dishonored the Duchess Audéarde by going far beyond the courtesy due to her rank. Repudiated and imprisoned, Audéarde is quickly replaced by Clarissima, daughter of the ruler of Ciudalia, and the affair spirals out of control when Duke Ganelon’s sons, Blancandin and Méléagant, take the side of their betrayed mother. But if one thing makes everyone agree, it is the cowardice of Sir Ædan de Vaumacel who did not even come to defend the Duchess during her trial when he was one of the main actors.
Since then, all the valiants have sought to challenge him and take him prisoner… which Yvorin tries before emptying his stirrups and understanding that other reasons explain Ædan’s noticeable absence.
He then proposes to the knight of thorns to find forgiveness by coming to defend the honor of the duchess during a tournament in Lyndinas where the fine flower of the knights of Bromaël and Kimmarc will confront each other in the din of arms. Only here, Ædan must first solve the mysterious disappearances of children that hit the countryside of the duchy and which could well have to do with these ladies’ affairs…
Once all this setup is complete, you will easily understand that Jean-Philippe Jaworski has lost none of its mania for detail and its concern for the universe. The Knight of Thorns is intended to be as much fantasy as it is nitpicky, with diabolical precision in the turns to compose a set of realms larger than life which thus constitute the backdrop of the intrigue.
A plot which, however, does not seem to have anything unique at first glance but the French has a plan, as always, and the threads of the tapestry are slowly tightening on the reader…

“For most people, time is just a thread that we unwind throughout our lives; some are content to spin the distaff of seasons and days, most weave the fabric of lineages, encounters and legacies. Sooner or later, a scissor cut interrupted these banal proceedings. Mirabilis had a completely different vision of it: for him, time was only a metaphor. It was with this figure as with life: one could attribute to it various colors and various sizes, many of them very common or quite flat. But as long as you had a touch of fantasy, you could spin them and embellish them at will, give them the trick of a palindrome, a cock-a-donkey or a jumble. »

For this second romantic foray into the Old Kingdom, it seems that Jean-Philippe Jaworski wishes to take the total opposite of his first novel, Win the War. Exit the Italian Renaissance and the tribulations of the assassin Benvenuto Gesufal, here we are in a chivalrous and courteous atmosphere where noble heroes in armor come to blows for the honor of a lady. The rich and particularly generous writing of Jean-Philippe Jaworski digs into the chivalrous tales of yesteryear, eyes courtly romance and material from Brittany.
In short, nothing to see.
Truly ?
Beneath this courteous and particularly elegant veneer, where every two tirades are spoken of honor and where pompous codes are respected, Jean-Philippe Jaworski insidiously changes the situation.
Little by little, political machinations are set up, low blows and treachery rain down, and violence, all draped in chainmail and damsels’ ribbons, returns to the charge without sparing anyone.
The Knight of Thorns quickly becomes a mirror image of the machinations of Win the Wardressed with forceful elegance and adorned with very pretty words to give confrontations and tricks a more noble and presentable aspect.
Only then, men remain men.
With a maniacal attention to detail and a sense of rhythm that no longer needs to be demonstrated, Jean-Philippe Jaworski installs its characters, and in particular Ædan de Vaumachel and Yvorin de Quéant, to bring to light the workings of the war that is looming between the two parties. It is also an opportunity to give a history to this part of the Old Kingdom, between fratricidal wars and revolt, not to mention the barbarians at the gates of the county of Kimmarc. The profusion of lordly names gradually becomes familiar and all this culminates in the famous tournament of Lyndinas where Jean-Philippe Jaworski throws himself into the battle head on.
A piece of complete literary bravery, the two successive confrontations of the novel show the almost supernatural ability of the French author to switch from the description of universes and the construction of political intrigues towards the epic and the warrior in a few pages. The result leaves the reader clinging to the pages of the novel while keeping a perfect fluidity and readability of the action while chaos reigns most often.
Epic but also intimate and contemplative, The Knight of Thorns alternates viewpoints to better capture the plurality of this medieval world that is much less courteous than you would think…especially if you are just a villain at the mercy of men-at-arms!

“There are creatures whose existence grows in fruitful violence. In abuses suffered as much as inflicted, because it is necessary to have received to know how to give. Unlike the good people whom fate smashes when it persists, these souls flourish in excision and in ordeal. What is taken from them increases them, the loss nourishes them and the absence roots them. »

But beyond ducal machinations and spears broken in Lyndinas’ footsteps, Jaworski don’t forget the fantasy part of his new novel.
An always sweet and discreet fantasy that goes through several very mysterious sub-plots and which tackles each of the peoples / factions at the margins such as the Elves or the devotees of the Desiccated.
Surprisingly and daringly, it’s a cat, Mirabiliswhich will guide us most of the time in the mysteries of magic, wandering through the fabric of time with paws and cavalcades to flush out the magic threads that stretch almost invisible to ordinary mortals.
At this stage, Jean-Philippe Jaworski multiplies the mysteries: the return in force of a sinister religious faction, the identity of the true narrator of the story and his links with a certain Lady of the Blue Forests, a trio of elven knights decked out with the names of birds, not to mention a certain Lissandière, a magician particularly close to Ædan and another mysterious knight of the Duke. Finely, subtly, skilfully, Jean-Philippe Jaworski adds an underground layer to its main story, as if other powerful people are pulling the plug behind this deadly and artificial facade.
What is certain is that the French author has lost none of his evocative force and his tenuous way of disseminating the fantastical elements in a narrative that might otherwise seem strongly realistic. (even historic if you take the game enough).
Finally, and this remains appreciable, Jean-Philippe Jaworski shows that you don’t have to be in the forefront to influence history. Not only because of the fantastical elements aroused but also because almost all of the characters in the knight of thorns Although they may be men, it is indeed the women, much more intelligent and thoughtful, who cause the great events of the novel. Behind the scenes, the fairer sex suffers from the cruelty and stupidity of these men who fight over their honor and their bed… although we can use it, but it remains a dangerous game that leads straight to convent and infamy. The caprice of men, especially the powerful, restores an image of the time when women are a convenient pretext for war.
The game of thrones has not yet really begun when this first volume concludes, but in the chaos of arms, we feel the dawn of betrayal and perfidy, leaving our good Ædan in a precarious position, to say the least. No doubt that Jean-Philippe Jaworskiafter proving once again the extent of his talent as a jouster and poet, has a lot of surprises in store for us!

A great return to the Old Kingdom, The Knight of Thorns takes a completely different approach for a result at least as fantastic as its illustrious predecessor. Jean-Philippe Jaworski dominates French-speaking fantasy head and shoulders, imposing extraordinary writing and captivating characters to serve a world of ever-increasing richness. That’s what we call a winning return!

Rating: 9.5/10

The sequel to this first volume is scheduled for June 2023!

The Knight of Thorns, Volume 1: The Tournament of the Valiants