The latest book among the number?
Priest of Bones. This may be my very favourite discovery of 2018, so far. Like a lightning bolt from clear skies, Peter McLean’s first book in the War for the Rose Thorn trilogy struck me without warning and has left one hell of a memorable afterimage.
Now, I’ve never seen Peaky Blinders, but apparently, this novel is inspired by the BBC series, and if that means something to you, you’re all set, and you can save yourself the tedious amount of text the rest of the review is, and safely pre-order a copy of Priest of Bones. To me, all that means is, I really need to see Peaky Blinders because a show that inspires a work like this must be something truly exceptional.
A warning to all you ladies and gents who cannot deal with dark fantasy; this novel is quite violent. The violence is not gratuitous, and it always serves a point, adding to the story rather than being there for violence’s sake, which is what matters most to me.
The setting of this book I would describe as a mixture of grimdark and Low Fantasy. Magic, while existing in the world and playing a small role in it, is more of a side-note. While powerful and terrifying, it is a rare thing, and mostly unexplored by our main character. Just about all the characters in Priest of Bones are gritty, visceral, and down to earth ex-soldiers.
The plot is simple enough: Tomas Piety is a priest, a soldier and the leader of a criminal group called the Pious Men. Tomas returns home from war with his squad of soldiers, along with his brother, to find his criminal empire overcome by a new organization with ambitions that go well beyond anything the Pious Men imagine.
The character of Tomas Piety carries this story really well. He’s ruthless but principled, unwilling to cross certain lines – rape, the distribution of drugs, sampling the merchandise without paying for it. Piety’s first-person PoV does a fantastic job, chiefly because Tomas is one of the most interesting characters – at first, portrayed as somewhat emotionless, the story digs into the psychology of this man. A very well-explored theme is PTSD, or shellshock. The horrors of the war our characters return from will pop up time and time again. Like Y’Gathan or Pale did for the Bridgeburners in Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, so did Abington forge and break these new Pious Men.
This book has so much to love – visceral skirmishes between a dozen fighters, quick and brutal, executed flawlessly thanks to Peter McLean’s clean, easy-to-read prose. Spies, intrigue, a splice of magic, even a healthy shot of politics. Varied characters in the crew– Bloody Anne, Sir Eland the (False) Knight, Fat Luka, Billy the Boy, they’re all interesting, damaged beyond repair, and memorable. And if you were hoping for despicable characters—just you wait until you meet Ma Aditi, and a few others, besides!
You’ll enjoy this book if you’re into
- Bands of likeable crooks;
- A fantastic main character, who sees the world very much in grey but has a line he won’t cross;
- Gang warfare;
- Really, did I mention the exceptional characters all around?
- The smell of a world’s early industrial era;
- Well-paced stories;
- And More! Prob’ly.
I am happy to throw in a 5/5 star rating on Goodreads, and my Filip’s Read of the Month badge on the bottom of the mountain (or at least large hill) of accolades this lovely wee novel deserves! I’m extremely excited to read the next book, whenever that one is due to be released.
Now I have to acquaint myself with whatever Peter McLean’s previous series is. If its quality is anywhere near as good as this, it’ll be a treat.