Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

Series: War for the Rose Throne #1 Rating: 4.5/5
Date of Publishing: October 2nd 2018 Genre: fantasy
Publisher: Ace Books Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Number of pages: 332 Author’s website: https://talonwraith.com/

Quote of the Book

“Company!” Bloody Anne bellowed at my side, in her sergeant’s voice. “Charge!”
We fell upon them like the wrath of Our Lady.
A glorious charge, in the light of the rising sun.
It sounds so grand.
It sounds like the stuff of legends, the act of heroes. Well, we were no heroes, and we were outnumbered and exhausted and hurt, and it was a fucking disaster.”

Blurb

It's a dangerous thing, to choose the lesser of two evils.

The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety finally heads home with Lieutenant Bloody Anne at his side. When he arrives in the Stink, Tomas finds that his empire of crime has been stolen from him while at war. With his gang of Pious Men, Tomas will do whatever it takes to reclaim his businesses. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, and is forced to work in secret for the sinister Queen's Men, everything gets more complicated.

When loyalties stretch to the breaking point and violence only leads to violence, when people have run out of food, and hope, and places to hide, do not be surprised if they have also run out of mercy. As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the backstreet taverns and gambling dens of Tomas's old life it becomes clear; the war is not over.

It is only just beginning.

Personal notes

I’ve got a signed paperback copy from the author. I’ll be indebted to Peter McLean forever for his kindness.

 

Song of the Book

Confession time: I’ve never listened to Motörhead. I know, I know, shame on me. So, why do I pick a Motörhead song? I absolutely have no idea. As I was reading on Easter Sunday in the car, on our way to church, Lemmy Kilmister just popped into my head. Which, let me tell you, never happens to me. So, I’ve set out to look at their songs. Honestly, I just browsed through the list of their songs, checked the lyrics of those that spoke out to me and in the end I picked one that seemed the best match. Which is Brotherhood of Man as it appears.

 

Review

In the last few months Priest of Bones popped up on my different social media feeds from time to time. Many bloggers hyped it, and upon reading the blurb I though I’d like it. Even so, I was weary, because hyped books usually not ones I end up liking, also because I didn’t want to have too high expectations. Which is hard to achive, when one of your reviewer friends whose taste usually matches with yours says its one of their favorite books (and threatens you with knife emojis to read it – love you Em, btw). Anyway, I was looking forward to read Priest of Bones sometime over the summer before the sequel, Priest of Lies is being released, but when a signed copy found its way to me, I couldn’t help myself and dived right in. Ho boy, I was in for a treat all right. But then, I don’t even know why am I surprised, I read and loved his short story published in the 18th issue of Grimdark Magazine.

Tomas Piety and his rag tag war band arrives home after the war is over – each of them battling with their own level of battleshock which we’d probably call PTSD today – only to find that all of his businesses were taken from him. Tomas sets out to take it all back to regain his former status, but also because the mysterious Queen’s Man agent leaves not much choice for him if he wants to save the city from another battle like the one at Abignon. Tomas might be living in the Stink, but he cares for his home and his people and to his mind there is no question he has to do what it takes to save it from an invasion.

“Sixty-five thousand battle-shocked, trained killers came home to no jobs, no food, and the plague. What the fuck did Her Majesty think was going to happen?”

Lately I’ve been getting fed up with epic fantasy, books with huge scope and lot of travelling between places. I’ve been suspecting for a while that books that focus on one or two places work better for me as I can immerse myself in that world/city, can discover it as the story progresses and the characters visit different parts. To fill a “small” place with life and characters, giving it the vibe of being real is not easier than doing the same with a huge world with kingdoms, cities, etc. All that said, McLean does a pretty good job with bringing Ellinburg to life. I could see myself walking along the river with Tomas, Billy the Boy and Bloody Anne, or sitting in the tavern watching Hari, Ailsa, Jochan, Fat Luka and the others going on with their jobs. Or in the back rooms of The Chain where the smoke of poppy resin whirls in the air as the nobles’ personality slowly slips away from them to be slaves to the drug.

I’m not going to talk about the plot further as not to spoil anything, I’m going to talk however about the characters. McLean whipped up a great selection of them. Starting with Tomas Piety himself. Honestly, it took me a while to get into the book, as the repeating phrases irked me. But then at one point I realised that this is Tomas’ voice, the way he talks and thinks, this is part of his personality as it is written from his POV. From then on I just leaned back and enjoyed the ride. It actually gives character to a book instead of taking away from the enjoyment. This is an example using this kind of style right, unless some other books I’ve come across.

Anyway, Tomas is an interesting character. I couldn’t quite decide if I liked him or not – probably did more than I didn’t – but he intrigued me as he was a puzzle. I found myself turning the pages to learn more about him and his ways. He is ruthless and caring at the same time – even if he denies that he cares. If you can get on his good side you are set for life, if you cross him however… Tomas Piety is not someone you’d expect to be a priest, and still, he has some qualities that makes him into a believable one. Not because of his faith or because he is so devoted to any deity, but because he listens and, as I said, cares. Besides he knows perfectly well which buttons to push with each men. That what makes him a good leader to his mind. All the while he is being conflicted with his own past and the pressures the present has in store for him. Does he always makes the right decisions? I’m not sure about that, and I am honestly surprised how easily he let himself get under the thumbs of Ailsa, but he had his reasons. Also, let me note, I couldn’t stand Ailsa, with her haughty, know-it-all attitude and the way she tried to control/manipulate things. I have a feeling she’ll just get worse from here on, and I’m hoping we’ll find out more about her as the series goes on. If for nothing else, then to learn why is she the way she is.

“He’s no priest,” Anne said.
“No, he ain’t, but he’s the closest thing a lot of folk have, especially down in the Wheels. He hears confessions too. He shouldn’t, to my mind, but he does.”
“And you’ll be taking confession today?” Anne asked. “Here, I mean?”
“I could throw open the doors of my magnificent golden temple and do it there instead, but it’s a long fucking walk to dreamland,” I said. “Aye, I’ll be doing it here.”

On the other hand, there is Bloody Anne. Now she is a character I could symphatize with. She is definitely not a damsel in distress kind of character and probably the only one who could get away with talking plainly with Tomas. I liked how she put him in his place when he kind of underestimated her despite knowing her. She is not someone I’d like to run into in a dark alley. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t want to run into any of the characters. Anyway, I liked how she opened up throughout the book and started to change, to accept that although she can’t change her past but she can let it go and let it be just that: a past she only can well, not embrace but aknowledge it and move on.

One more character I want to mention before I wrap this review up. Billy the Boy. Reading McLean’s short story in GdM issue #18 gave a great background to his character. Still not enough to get the full picture about him, but definitely shining some light on his past and why is he being touched by Our Lady. He didn’t get much part in Priest of Bones, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see him more later on. Being only 13 years old, and seeing as much as he did in his short life, can make him into any kind of person yet and with his abilities it’s hard to say how he’ll turn out. I’m actually excited to watch him grow up and follow him as he discovers his skills and tests his limits. Curious.

“Where is the difference between holy and possessed? I wondered. When does miracle become magic, magic become witchcraft? Is it in the nature of the deed itself, or in the eye of the beholder? Is it decided in the telling after the fact, and if so does it depend on who does that telling? Magic was magic to my mind, but then I wouldn’t know. That was a philosophical question, I supposed, and this was no time for philosophy.”

I probably could go on talking about all the characters that make an appearance in Priest of Bones, but then it would be a damn long review – longer than it is already. What makes Priest of Bones an exceptional read are these very characters. We learn about them only what is necessary to know, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have depths. You can just feel there is more to each of them than what we get to glimpse at. And so you can’t help but breeze through the pages in search of answers. Wondering what steps Tomas will take next in his game, what awaits for them after the next corner. Priest of Bones has enough world building to set the atmosphere for the story McLean wants to tell, but that’s enough. For now.

“When people have run out of food, and hope, and places to hide, do not be surprised if they have also run out of mercy.”

Priest of Bones deserves all the hype it got. If you ever wondered what would happen if you mixed a priest and the Godfather, then you can finally get your answer. Priest of Bones is an unputdownable character driven fantasy about organised crime, magic, political intrigue and a world left by the gods. I already can’t wait for the sequel, Priest of Lies to learn what happens to these lovely rogues called Pious Men next.

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