Thursday, May 04, 2017
This is Brian Staveley's first standalone novel in the same universe that his amazing Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy (The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire and The Last Mortal Bond) were set in. Maybe we should start calling the universe these books are set in the Annurian Empire universe because the Unhewn Throne doesn't play much of a role in the new book. Skullsworn instead provides us with an extremely detailed backstory for one of the highlights of the Trilogy, Pyrre Lakatur, the Priestess of Annanshael (God of Death), who is simply a delight as a middle-aged, completely unflappable but often deadly female assassin in The Last Mortal Bond and The Providence of Fire.
Skullsworn is set in the time decades before the events of The Unhewn Throne trilogy when 20-something Pyrre is still seeking to pass her Trial to become a full Priestess, and we follow her journey with two Priests of Annanshael (named Ela and Korral) and learn how the character of the person we met in the earlier books was shaped by these other priests. It also allows the reader to realize that the unflappabilty and unusual attitude towards death is not sui generis to Pyrre, but appears to be a feature of skullsworn priests.
However, this being a book written by Staveley, there is a lot of political intrigue involved in the plot, as the story takes Pyrre back to her hometown, the captured city of Dombang which has been under Annurian occupation for centuries. In addition to political intrigue, Staveley also seeks to confront the reader with thorny philosophical questions, such as "what is the nature of love?" and "why would anyone worship the god of death?" Oh and there's a lot of action and a fair bit of adult language and sexual situations.
One of the key features of the Unhewn Throne trilogy is the panoply of gods that is featured in those books and in Skullsworn religion and worship becomes an even more central aspect of life. So much so, that Skullsworn began to remind me quite strongly of the DIVINE CITIES books (City of Stairs, City of Blades and City of Miracles) by Robert Jackson Bennett. Bennett's trilogy is primarily animated by intellectual dilemmas such as the nature of faith, the horrors of colonization and the memory of cultural genocide. This is not a bad thing, but it makes Skullsworn a more serious book than the rip-roaring tales of adventure and fun with which Staveley first began his oeuvre.
Overall, my primary complaint about Skullsworn is that it was approximately half the length of any of the books in the trilogy. But then again, if the main complaint after reading a book is that "I wanted to read more!" than that's not really a complaint, it's a compliment.
Author: Brian Staveley.
Paperback: 320 pages.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Date Published: April 25, 2017.
Date Read: May 1, 2017.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★★ (4.5/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A (4.08/4.0).