Tomas Piety returns from war to see everything he has worked so hard for in his life taken from him. While he was fighting for his country and his Queen, foreigners invaded his city and took all of his businesses and therefore his throne as one of the city's most powerful crime lords. But while he once used to lead gangsters, he now leads soldiers, forged and hardened in the fires of Abington. Soldiers that he won't hesitate to use in order to bring the Pious Men back in power, and harsh justice to those who dare stand in his way.
"I looked down for a moment and gave thanks to Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows for my victory. She hadn't guided my hand, I knew that much. Our Lady doesn't help. Not ever. She doesn't answer prayers or grant boons or give a man anything at all however hard he might pray for it. The best you can hope for from her is that she doesn't take your life today. Maybe tomorrow, aye, but not today. That's as good as it gets, and the rest is up to you. She was a goddess for soldiers and no mistake."
Before I tell you what I think of this book, I'll first delve into its nature. I've seen Priest of Bones described as Grimdark, and although several of its aspects are usually seen in that sub-genre, I find its main thematic elements closer to Low Fantasy: a morally ambiguous, gritty and realistic world, a complex and flawed social order with consecutive power struggles, a limited use of magic, and a lack of heroism (or interest in it).
Priest of Bones is beautifully written and well-thought-out. While you meet a big portion of the rather numerous characters from the very first chapter, you're still able to set them apart from their distinctive personalities and traits. The purpose of such a large cast is clear in the same chapter, when a seemingly important character is promptly killed and disposed in a surprising and shocking manner. While the story is told by a single POV in a character-driven way, the rest of the cast gets enough spotlight throughout the story, making the reader care for their fate, which is rather unsettling at places due to the aforementioned purpose of their large number.
The plot is kept tight from beginning to end, and while a couple of sub-plots naturally emerge to introduce fresh purposes and motives, they don't steal much of the spotlight. The rather small portion of the world introduced in the story is beautifully portrayed and well fleshed-out, but most importantly aptly suited to the story. The magic, although scarcely used, is still there, playing a role rather than serving a purpose, which is what sets apart Priest of Bones from a number of other fantasy debuts of the past few years. The prose is smooth and easy to follow, and that combined with a flowing story, an even pace and a rising tempo, result in one of those books that you could easily read in one go. All in all, Priest of Bones is Low Fantasy at its finest, and I wouldn't hesitate to call it the Fantasy Debut of the Year.