Thursday, July 02, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Skull Throne (The Demon Cycle, #4) by Peter Brett

The Skull Throne is the fourth book in Peter V. Brett's best-selling Demon Cycle. The Skull Throne starts just seconds after the events in Book 3 (The Daylight War). That book literally ends with a cliffhanger, as the two main characters Arlen Bales (the eponymous Warded Man of Book 1's The Warded Man) and Ahmann Jardir (the Shar'Dama Ka or head of the Krasian forces) fall over the edge of a cliff.

Book 4 is primarily about the impact on the rest of the characters on the disappearance of Arlen and Ahmann from the ongoing events that had been set in motion during Book 3. (We find out pretty early in Book 4 that Arlen and Ahmann are fine, and their joint fall over the cliff's edge was part of Arlen's plan to try to force Ahmann to combine forces with him to take humanity's fight to the demons as well as provide an opportunity for the remaining humans to practice self-sufficiency without the presence of their two most powerful warriors (Arlen and Ahmann).

The Demon Cycle is set in a world with minimal technology (no electricity or real technology) where  for as long as anyone can remember (hundreds of years) every night vicious creatures emerge from the dark who kill and eat any human or animal they meet. The humans call them "demons" and have discovered that they can be repelled by certain symbols, called "wards."

The overall story is set in both Thesa, which resembles a North American climate and possesses a European culture, and Krasia, which is a desert land and has an apparent Muslim-influenced culture. In the first two books of the Demon Cycle (The Warded Man and The Desert Spear) events were almost entirely set in Thesa, then Krasia, respectively.

The primary characters of the Demon Cycle are Arlen Bales, Leesha Paper and Rojer Halfgrip in Thesa and Ahmann Jardir, Inevera and Abban in Krasia. It's possible (but not preferable) to read each of the books separately without having read the others, but I think that (as expected) one gets a better sense of the books overall if you read them in the order of release.

Book 4 (like Book 3) before it, splits its time between Krasia and Thesa, providing for an interesting contrast between the patriarchal, faith-based caste system of Krasia and the more liberally familiar but still complicated interpersonal relationships found in Thesa. In Krasia the relationships are based around family ties, since polygamy is a central feature of the culture, so Inevera is Ahmann's First Wife, but he also has a wife from each of the dozen or so important tribes. Inevera also has her own power base, because she is the Damajah, the head of the class of Krasian women (called damaji'ting) who are able to use the Demon bones to make dice that allow them to foretell the future.

It took awhile to get back into the flow of The Skull Throne for me, but once I did, it was very difficult to put down and I enjoyed it very much. Leesha and Inevera are some of my favorite characters and both women are central to much of the action that happens in this book (although they do not interact with each other they are enemies due to romantic entanglements of the plot). Inevera's story was a bit stronger than Leesha's in this book, in my opinion, although since my sentiments are more aligned with the Thesans I was frustrated by some of the poor decisions Leesha made.

Although some readers may take umbrage or even be offended by the faux Muslim nature of the Krasian society, especially with its virulently homophobic and chauvinistic nature but as a gay man I was not offended at all. I was completely unsurprised by the chauvinism, sexism and homophobia in Krasian culture and Brett does an amazing job by having an incredibly diverse cast of characters (Abban is bisexual, and there are two clearly gay characters in the book, although both are ultimately villains in the story.)

I'm sure some of the fans of the earlier books will be disappointed that Arlen and his wife Renna, along with Ahmann have such limited roles in The Skull Throne but I liked that Leesha, Rojer, Inevera and Abban and many more were given a higher profile in the story.

I don't want to give any spoilers in this review but I do want to say that some of the characters that we have grown to love and cherish have their lives changed forever in this book. I suspect that the same will be true of Book 5, but there the stakes will be even higher because I'm pretty sure that Arlen, Renna and Ahmann's fates will be decided in that final installment.

Title: The Skull Throne.
Peter V. Brett.
Paperback: 681 pages.
 Del Rey.
Date Published: March 31, 2015.
Date Read: May 18, 2015.

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).


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