Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
Also by this author: The Emperor's Blades
Published by Tor Books on April 25th 2017
Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.
Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer--she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.
The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including "the one you love / who will not come again."
Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.
Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love...and ending it on the edge of her sword.
"A complex and richly detailed world filled with elite soldier-assassins, mystic warrior monks, serpentine politics, and ancient secrets." —Library Journal, starred review, on The Emperor's Blades
It may have taken a few months, but I am finally ready to hand out my first 5 star rating for 2017.
And as much as I loved the Unhewn Throne trilogy, Skullsworn has taken seat for my favorite of Staveley’s book. One thing Staveley did well in Unhewn Throne was create fascinating secondary characters that you wish had more page time, and even without knowing everything about them, you just love them. Well, Staveley has now proven he can take one of those intriguing secondary characters and create a very rich and full story that makes you understand and appreciate the character on a whole other level.
Pyrre stood out in Unhewn Throne as one of those intriguing secondary characters that really added to my enjoyment of the series. This book is the story of her trial to become a priestess of Ananshael, the God of Death and really gives us an amazing background on her to understand how she became the character we met earlier.
One would expect her trial to be full of death (which, it was), but it is love, not death, that really takes the spotlight. To complete her trial, Pyrre must take the life of someone she loves. Problem is, Pyrre can’t think of anyone that would qualify. So within the short span of her trial, she must both find love and do so knowing that there is an ulterior motive and a not so happy ending for the relationship. One has to wonder if it is possible to find love under these circumstances. And while the rest of us are wondering how she could kill them if she does love them, well, you have to understand they see “sending someone to their god” as a mercy or gift, not as violence or murder. Her perspective on death is so incredibly different from how we normally think. But through the course of this book, I came to really understand her and how she sees the world. For Pyrre, this is not unthinkable on the level one might expect, and yet she still comes across as quite humanized and someone you want to root for.
The prose in this book seemed to be a step above his earlier books as well. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed his other books, but I never really considered prose a strength. I would find myself reacting not to just what Staveley was saying, but how he was saying it. I would think “wow, I love that description”. I honestly don’t remember noticing this in his other books, but I found myself just really impressed with his word choices, descriptions and the general flow. I enjoyed not just the entire story, but also how it was told.
While this book is told from Pyrre’s perspective, it is told in both a current timeline as well as flashbacks. These flashbacks increased our understanding of Pyrre and how she came to serve her God. They were integrated with the current day events very well, keeping the pace going and holding my interest just as easily as the current timeline.
Also adding to my enjoyment of this book were Pyrre’s companions. Like I said earlier, Staveley does secondary characters very well, and this book is no exception. Pick one at random, and I would love a book dedicated to them.
So, yes, as much as I enjoyed The Unhewn Throne, Skullsworn is now favorite of Staveley’s books. It is as exciting and fascinating as Pyrre herself. Perhaps it just struck my mood, but I loved getting a single perspective and just immersing in Pyrre’s character. It just felt like a quicker and more gripping read to focus one her. And what a character she is! Even as a secondary character I found her interesting, but this book delivered more than I expected. Highly recommend, especially for fans of female characters that like to kick ass and not always follow the rules.