- Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne #1).
- Peter McLean.
- 352 pages.
- Fantasy / Low Fantasy / Grimdark / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
‘Sixty-five thousand battle-shocked, trained killers came home to no jobs, no food and the plague. What did Her Majesty think was going to happen?’
Tomas Piety takes his duties seriously: as a soldier, as a priest of Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows and as a leader of men. He has come home from the war to reclaim his family business, to provide for his men and to ensure the horrors of Abingon can never happen in Ellinburg.
But things have changed: his crime empire has been stolen and the people of Ellinburg – his people – have run out of food and hope and places to hide. With his best friend Bloody Anne, his war-damaged brother Jochan and his new gang, the Pious Men, Tomas sets out to reclaim what was his.
And as Tomas is dragged into a web of political intrigue by the sinister Queen’s Men, forced to work against the foreign infiltrators lurking in the backstreet taverns, brothels and gambling dens of the Stink, one thing becomes clear.
The war has just begun.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
After three years away, fighting a war in Abingon for Queen and country Tomas Piety returns home to the city of Ellinburg.
Before the war conscripted everyone of an age to fight Tomas with his brother Johan were ‘The Pious Men‘ and led by Tomas they were one of the gangs that ruled Ellinburg. Each gang has a specific area of Ellinburg that they rule with borders dividing the territories. The gangs take taxes, offer protection to those that pay, bribe the City Guard to stay out of the way and run various businesses and criminal enterprises to make money.
Upon his return to Ellinburg Tomas finds that his businesses and his territory have all been stolen from him by outsiders from another country. With veterans from the war that were part of his company and crew along with Jochan, his younger brother and his crew too offering the battle-scarred soldiers jobs, an income and a future Tomas reforms The Pious Men. Setting out to take back his businesses, his streets and reclaim everything that was his before he went off to war taking on the foreigners and other returning gang leaders alike and that’s the crux of the story. As the story escalates and builds to its explosive finale, there are, however, added reasons (and slight twists) as to why Tomas needs to consolidate his power in Ellinburg that are revealed during the course of the book.
There is more than enough action to please in the bloody battles, gangland warfare, power struggles and turf wars that take place on the streets of Ellinburg but Priest of Bones is also a very character-driven read with a great story that unfolds too.
Priest of Bones is written in the first person perspective and narrated by Tomas Piety but also features a large cast of ensemble characters. The war in Abingon was hard and harsh and it has taken its toll on those who survived, all have scars, some you can see, others you can’t and many of The Pious Men are suffering from battle shock (PTSD). Some of them are downright bad and all of them have questionable morals coming firmly from the ‘shades of grey‘ school of miscreant characters.
For those who like and look for strong female characters in their books, there is Bloody Anne. Bloody Anne was the sergeant in the company that Tomas was the priest of during the war and has remained by his side becoming a Pious Man. She can handle herself in a fight, gets the job done and is tough, she’s also a fantastic character. She’s not the only strong female character though, Tomas’s aunt Enaid an ex-soldier herself is as tough as old leather, a battle axe whose not to be messed with, likewise, Ma Aditi the leader of the Gutcutters, a rival gang and then there’s the mysterious Ailsa too.
The whole cast in Tomas’s narrative has a role to play in his tale. As we become acquainted with them and their plethora of nicknames McLean turns them into fully-fleshed characters. Offering plenty of page time and giving them their own individual attitudes and personalities. Allowing many of them the chance to shine and to showcase the various abilities that make them important to both The Pious Men and the story that McLean is telling.
Tomas, himself is an intriguing main character and narrator. Lower class, he’s neither prim nor proper and there’s no excess pomp to his words. Narrating in his own distinctive voice, peppered with foul language and using his own unique phrases and sayings. He’s a priest, due to circumstance and the war rather than any excessive religious belief. He’s a hard man who delivers harsh justice to those who wrong him and those who deserve it but there’s something more to him too. He’s a leader who looks after his family, both his blood and his crew, he looks after his people, those under his protection and takes their safety seriously, he’s fair to those who show him respect and to those who do right by him and The Pious Men, he’s not honourable as such but he has a code that he abides by.
The city of Ellinburg and its streets are the setting for Priest of Bones. We don’t get to see a vast amount of the city with the story predominantly taking place in only a couple of the quarters but what we do see is well-depicted, shows the class divide between the rich and the poor and comes to life in a grimy and gritty fashion.
There’s not much magic in Priest of Bones and its usage is very minimal but it’s there and has a role to play. There are various explosives but the fighting is done mainly with steel. Axes, knives and swords are the weaponry of choice for The Pious Men with the occasional crossbow thrown in for good measure allowing for plenty of blood-letting to occur in the battles.
One of the things that I particularly liked about McLean and his writing was how he delivers information to the reader. Alongside Tomas and Jochan only a couple of the other characters are Ellinburg natives who know the city and the ways of The Pious Men, the others don’t. This enables McLean to have Tomas explain to and tell the new crew members how things in Ellinburg are done and what the appearances, expectations and rules of The Pious Men and the politics of the city are without it ever feeling like information dumping on his part.
McLean writes in such a way that his words fluently flow and adroitly pull you in. From the first chapter, you find that you are in for a grim read and one in which the author isn’t afraid to off his characters. Priest of Bones is a dark and fast-paced book that you can devour and I found myself effortlessly reading 100 pages or more in one sitting.
In fantasy and in other genres too some books tend to be padded out with an overly long page-count and they can, on occasion feel like a chore or a slog to get through often outstaying their welcome. Priest of Bones isn’t one of them and with his book, McLean has created what feels like a short but snappy read that packs both a punch and a lot into its length.
Priest of Bones is an intoxicating blend of fantasy and gangsters that left me wanting more.
Pre-order Priest of Bones (released October 4th, 2018).
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