During Part One of Priest of Lies, there is a pretty firmly established status quo. McLean does an impressive job of catching the reader up to speed with the events and characters from Bones without resorting to info dumps or a “previously” section. We are slowly (a bit too slowly for my taste) immersed again in this world and reintroduced to the way things are run…and who is really in charge. Spoiler: Ailsa. Ailsa is in charge.
The status becomes less quo when Ailsa orders Tomas to round up those few blessed (cursed?) with the cunning (this world’s magic) for unspecified reasons. This only partially includes Billy the Boy who has become like a son to the faux married couple. It is around this time, Ailsa is summoned back to Dannsburg, and she brings Tomas and Billy with her.
Here is where the book picks up.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed it up to this point. Tomas is an interesting character, and I enjoy his voice. But I found Part One to be very putdownable. I think this is largely due to Priest of Lies’ short chapters. Every time I started to sink in, I reached the end of a chapter, and it felt like a fine place to leave it. I’m sure other readers won’t have this problem, but there it is. For reference, I read the first half of the book in ten days. I read the second half in one.
Parts Two and Three CLIP. From the moment the reader arrives in Dannsburg with Tomas and company, the political intrigue gets ratcheted WAY up. Suddenly, Tomas is outside of his element and forced to think of other ways to achieve his goals. Throughout Bones, there was a definite sense that Tomas was the apex predator of his eco-system. He is no such creature in Dannsburg.
In Soviet Dannsburg, bears hunt you!
No, but seriously, things go from fantasy Peaky Blinders to fantasy 18th century pre-revolution France right quick. The nobility is abominable, the Queens Men have their fingerprints on everything, and people die in brutal ways. While there is an apparent lack of crime, there is a bleakness hanging over the city that leads to secret crimes against humanity. These crimes are also dealt with in signature Pious Men style. There is some serious badassery afoot.
Circumstances continue to escalate right back to Ellinburg where all of the tension built up in Bones comes to a head in spectacular fashion. People die. Some people explode. There’s blood, violence, and much profanity.
Then the book ends.
It was one of those moments where I wondered whether I had missed something. I knew I hadn’t, but I was still tempted to read the last couple pages again. There’s a new status quo established like at the end of Priest of Bones but with just significantly less closure. In this way, I think Priest of Lies suffers the tiniest bit from being a middle book. There is so much more story left to tell.
In the end, Priest of Lies is about the growth of its protagonist – how Tomas deals with life’s highest and lowest points – set to tune of Ready to Die by Andrew W.K. It is every bit as sharp and lean as its predecessor, but with a deeper emotional depth and harder consequences. I had the benefit of receiving an advanced review copy (Thanks Ace) and so I read Bones and Lies back to back. Now, I have to wait for the next book like everyone else. But wait I will with eager anticipation. Peter McLean knows his craft as well as Tomas Piety knows his blades.
This is a story worth reading.