Source: Penguin – I received a complimentary copy for review purposes, all opinions are my own.
Publisher: Ace Books
Series: War for the Rose Throne #1
Edition: ebook, 352 Pages
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository
It’s a dangerous thing, to choose the lesser of two evils.
The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety finally heads home with Lieutenant Bloody Anne at his side. When he arrives in the Stink, Tomas finds that his empire of crime has been stolen from him while at war. With his gang of Pious Men, Tomas will do whatever it takes to reclaim his businesses. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, and is forced to work in secret for the sinister Queen’s Men, everything gets more complicated.
When loyalties stretch to the breaking point and violence only leads to violence, when people have run out of food, and hope, and places to hide, do not be surprised if they have also run out of mercy. As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the backstreet taverns and gambling dens of Tomas’s old life it becomes clear; the war is not over.
It is only just beginning.
Priest of Bones is the first book in a new dark fantasy series, that is heavy on the socio-political and the thriller and light on the fantasy. This is very much a crime family story and so far outside of my normal comfort zone, but I love intrigue and cunning characters so I took the chance.
Priest of Bones focuses on Tomas Piety a conscripted army priest as he returns back home and works to reclaim the city he used to run from the shadows. He also returns home with a company of soldiers who are quickly pulled into the family as he works to rebuild his small empire. While I enjoyed the story overall, there were a few things that kept me at arm’s length at all times. The world building is both fantastic and disappointing at the same time. I feel like I could sketch out a map of Ellinburg from memory, the city is vibrant in its griminess. However, the world as a whole feels like a mystery. I see the after effects of the war that was raging prior to the start of the book, we are given small glimpses of the horrors of Abingon…but I don’t understand it. There is a mysterious and powerful queen, but not much is mentioned about her or her reign other than in the context of spies and war. The fantasy element, other than the setting, is very slight but incredibly compelling as it is such a rare topic in the book. The style, however, was really engrossing and made it super easy to dive into, and before I knew it the ages were flying by.
That same issues also plagued the characters as well. We get to see and understand Tomas Piety, and there is a lot of insight on his brother as well. Both are really interesting, but not particularly likable. I loved Tomas’ dual nature of both being a crime boss with a very dark side but also a priest who listens to the confessions of those around him. It’s such a cool idea, and I think it’s really neat hook. I also liked Bloody Anne, Tomas’ right hand, who is a fierce woman with some surprising depth. But as I said, it had the same issue of feeling somewhat distant at times and I just didn’t find myself too engaged with the characters. There is also the matter of the nicknames which drove me crazy. It’s the one thing in the whole ‘crime family’ trope that just drives me batty, it’s so cheesy and I do get that it was a thing that some crime families actually did…but again…cheesy. We get such gems as Will the Woman, Black Billy, Billy the Boy, and Bloody Anne. For the most part, people are referred to as just the name, but then randomly someone will actually hold a conversation and refer to that person, to their face, by their moniker and it just felt so stiff and awkward. I also felt that other than Anne, Tomas, and Jocian we don’t get to know any of the other characters enough to truly have them feel fleshed out. It is, however, a really interesting group of people with a ton of rough and tumble personalities and more than a few mysteries surrounding them.
Overall I enjoyed Priest of Bones, and despite some issues connecting with the story, I found it be a fun read. I’m definitely curious to see what the sequel will throw our way.