Review: The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
Series: The Demon Cycle #4
Also by this author: The Daylight War
Published by Del Rey on March 31, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy
The first three novels in New York Times bestselling author Peter V. Brett’s groundbreaking Demon Cycle series—The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, and The Daylight War—set a new standard for heroic fantasy. The powerful saga of humans winnowed to the brink of extinction by night-stalking demons, and the survivors who fight back, has kept readers breathless as they eagerly turned the pages. Now the thrilling fourth volume, The Skull Throne, raises the stakes as it carries the action in shocking new directions. The Skull Throne of Krasia stands empty. Built from the skulls of fallen generals and demon princes, it is a seat of honor and ancient, powerful magic, keeping the demon corelings at bay. From atop the throne, Ahmann Jardir was meant to conquer the known world, forging its isolated peoples into a unified army to rise up and end the demon war once and for all. But Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, stood against this course, challenging Jardir to a duel he could not in honor refuse. Rather than risk defeat, Arlen cast them both from a precipice, leaving the world without a savior, and opening a struggle for succession that threatens to tear the Free Cities of Thesa apart. In the south, Inevera, Jardir’s first wife, must find a way to keep their sons from killing one another and plunging their people into civil war as they strive for glory enough to make a claim on the throne. In the north, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn struggle to forge an alliance between the duchies of Angiers and Miln against the Krasians before it is too late. Caught in the crossfire is the duchy of Lakton—rich and unprotected, ripe for conquest. All the while, the corelings have been growing stronger, and without Arlen and Jardir there may be none strong enough to stop them. Only Renna Bales may know more about the fate of the missing men, but she, too, has disappeared. . . . Praise for Peter V. Brett’s novels of The Demon Cycle The Warded Man “There is much to admire in Peter Brett’s writing, and his concept is brilliant. There’s action and suspense all the way.”—Terry Brooks “[A] fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable dark fantasy.”—The Miami Herald The Desert Spear “Inspired, compelling, and totally addictive: the most significant and cinematic fantasy epic since The Lord of the Rings.”—Paul W. S. Anderson, director of Resident Evil: Afterlife “Fans of epic fantasy in the tradition of Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin will enjoy the arrival of a strong voice in multivolume epic fantasy.”—Library Journal The Daylight War “Highly entertaining, fast-paced, and action-packed.”—SF Site “[Brett is] at the top of his game.”—Tor.comFrom the Hardcover edition.
I found the Skull Throne to be an improved reading experience from what I had with the Daylight War. To be honest, I was not sure if I wanted to continue the series, but my enjoyment of the first two books convinced me to give the series another shot. Thankfully my key complaints in the Daylight War were not carried through to The Skull Throne.
First, while Arlen does still have a bit of an accent, I don’t think it was anything like it was in Daylight War. I was grateful for this (even if it wasn’t a major complaint). Renna also did not seem to annoy me as much in this, perhaps its because we just didn’t get as much of her, especially not as much Renna and Arlen together. And sexual manipulation was not the only tool allotted to women in this book. I was quite thankful for this last one.
I’m still not a fan of Krasian culture. The treatment of women and those outside their religion, or even outside of their warrior class, is just abhorrent. I can find it depressing to read, to be honest. And I feel like everything is taken to such an extreme that the characters and culture itself just seem to be more caricatures than anything relatable. The Krasians are always good for action packed scenes, but my detachment from the characters definitely dulls the experience.
The structure of this book is different than the standard epic fantasy. The first third of the book focuses on Everam’s Bounty and the set of characters there, then the next section is set in the Hollow and then the setting switches one last time (when everything comes to a head). It seems that typically these POVs/settings would be interspersed. The format made it feel almost like several separate stories. While I was not thrilled to start with the Krasians given my experience with The Daylight War, I do think this format worked quite well for this book.
One important thing to note here is that in previous books Arlen and/or Jardir have been primary characters. That was not the case in The Skull Throne. They are important to the overall story line of the series, obviously, but they were featured rarely. In fact, I mentioned Renna not being in this much (as a positive) and I would guess she had twice as many pages as Arlen or Jardir. That’s a guess, maybe I’m wrong. But still, the point is we see very little of Arlen or Jardir. In fact, the bits they were featured didn’t add much to this story, but I suspect it is set up for the next book. The focus of The Skull Throne is really how everyone is coping without either Deliverer there to lead them. It provides the opportunity for some to be opportunistic (*cough*Jayan – Jardir’s annoyance of a son*cough*) and others to come together to provide a solution for survival rather than waiting for someone else to “deliver” them from the evil demons.
I found the section in the Hollows strangely addictive, but not in the standard epic fantasy way. Fellow reviewer Mogsy referred to it as Days of Our Lives in the Hollow because of the soap-opera style drama in her review at The Bibliosanctum. That is quite apt, actually, at times I felt it was actually pushing Jerry Springer levels of drama revolving around Leesha’s baby (and who the father may or may not be) as well as Rojer and his wives. Yeah, multiple wives, and those being from enemy land during a time of war, that can create some drama in a small town! So I found myself quite into this section, but was also terribly aware that the reasons I enjoyed it had nothing to do with my typical reading preferences. It had nothing to do with world building, unique story telling, politics, backstabbing, survival or anything else like that. It was all Jerry Springer style drama played out in the Hollow. I was waiting for the chairs to start flying.
I’m left feeling like the bulk of important things that happened in this book happened in the last couple hundred pages. There certainly were key things before then, but wow, there some major events right up to the very end. Lots of action, plotting, quests for power. Pretty much, it was war. And with that can come unpredictability and changes that will impact everything else yet to come. I definitely plan on finishing the series out, if nothing else, there’s probably still some baby drama to come! Just kidding, there are some interesting storylines coming together, and I am quite intrigued to see how they play out.