Loved this novel. An epic fantasy novel with characters who make you think.
Read my full review here.
Buy the book here.
If you’re only gonna read one fantasy novel this year, this wouldn’t be a bad choice!
Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (Pan Macmillan, Tor)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Pyrre is on trial. She has committed murder. But she isn’t a criminal. She is Skullsworn, acolyte of Anashael, the God of death.
To become a Priestess, she must complete the trial, a 14 day long mission to fulfil the words of a song. The song is a list of offerings to the god, victims of the acolytes training in death. One such offering must be “the one who made your mind and body sing with love”, and so Pyrre travels to Dombang, town of her birth, in search of a man from her past.
If she can fall in love with him, and then kill him, she is certain she will pass her trial. What awaits her in Dombang, however, is much bigger than her trial, and the requirements of her trial may not be as easy to fulfil as she believed. If she fails, all that awaits her is a violent death. She must not fail.
Phew! I feel like I need a breather.
Brian Staveley’s novels are truly epic. He has an uncanny ability to create entire worlds with a vast array of characters, religions and cultures. I was first introduced to Pyrre when I read the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series. Skullsworn is a prequel to those novels, and works brilliantly as a stand-alone story, so is perfect for readers new to Staveley’s work. Pyrre was always an intriguing member of the Unhewn Throne cast, however, so I’m delighted to learn more about her story.
She’s different in Skullsworn, though I can definitely see how she’ll evolve into the gruff, ferocious woman from the Unhewn Throne series. She’s a little more uncertain but I think she’s also more willing to take risks and accept and experience her own emotions. She’s a refreshing take on a female protagonist. One of the things I love about Staveley is that you’ll find no stereotypes in his work.
In Skullsworn you’ll also find no black and white. Each individual could be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but there is always something sympathetic to create a bit of tension and interest. It would be incredibly easy to view Pyrre and the other Skullsworn as evil murderers with a vile and depraved religion, but when Pyrre explains how she feels about Anashael and death, it kind of makes sense! Anashael is not a malicious god. Death should be painless and quick, the furthest from suffering. His followers also accept that there is no sacrifice in death without having known the beauty and wonder of life. Many of Anashael’s followers are great lovers of the arts, in particular music. It is these intricate details, so thoroughly explored, which take Staveley’s novels from the run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure to the masterclass in expert story-writing.
Skullsworn, at its centre, feels like an adventure novel. There are plenty of swashbuckling action scenes, intriguing plot twists and warring cultures to stop the novel from being a bit of a slog – it’s a big book! The novel is certainly not for the faint of heart, and I think to really enjoy it you’ve got to love reading. It’s long and involving and there are complex themes which can take a bit of thought to wrap your head around. Luckily, Staveley is great at knowing how to get this information across. He tells you what you need to know and when, but doesn’t rely on giving the reader too much description at any one time. By the end of the novel you’re left with the feeling that you really understand the world he’s created.
You’ll also be left with the satisfying feeling of a story well-finished. He really knows how to end a book. So often, novels fall at the final hurdle. The longer the book, the greater the build-up, and often the finale can seem a little lacking in comparison to the rest of the story. In contrast, I think Staveley’s novel is weakest in the middle. We’re met all of our characters, Pyrre is well into her trial and at times I feel the story may have been progressing a little too slowly for my liking. I do wonder, however, whether a faster pace would have made the ending a little less enjoyable.
Skullsworn is a great adventure with a dash of romanced, wrapped around a core of characters who will play with your emotions (and even your moral compass), I can’t recommend this novel enough. Just make sure you’re not going to be too busy for the next couple of weeks.
Skullsworn is released on 20th April 2017.
I love reading. Love love LOVE it.
With that in mind, I have no idea why it took me so long to purchase The Last Mortal Bond, the final book in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series I started reading over a year ago. I won’t give you a synopsis as it’s the last book in a series of three, but the author is Brian Staveley, and you can check out his epic blog here to find a synopsis for all 3 novels (by the way, the blog is a fantastic resource for wanna-be fantasy authors like myself and anyone who wants to get inside the mind of such an exciting novelist).
I’m pleased to announce that I have finally started The Last Mortal Bond, and I’m kicking myself for leaving it so long. IT’S AWESOME!
Because it’s been about a year since I read the second installment, I will admit that I couldn’t precisely remember where everybody was up to when the last book ended. Enter Mr Staveley, an author with the skill to remind me what’s been going on without relying on boring and transparent narration provided by the main character as they re-live the events of previous novels and ponder their significance – sadly this seems to be a trick used by many authors as trilogies become the norm for successful publications.
According to my Kindle I’m 27% through the book at the moment (eurgh, I know. Kindle. I’m truly a lover of physical media, and Amazon is the devil, but it was bought for me as a present and to be honest, getting any book I want at my fingertips in an instant is a little too hard to resist.) 27% through probably isn’t the best place to be when writing a review/recommendation but I have a pressing need to get people to read these books and I can’t really wait until I finish (it’s quite a long book and my job keeps getting in the way!).
Nevertheless, I’ll do my best to pique your interest.
A lot has already happened in the first third of the book; the plot has moved on significantly from page one, many of the characters are facing situations they haven’t been in before, we’re learning more and more about each character (their strengths, weaknesses and motivations) and there is an air of mystery about how the trilogy will end which is very difficult to unpick. Nothing is predictable, and yet everything that has happened so far is ultimately satisfying and seems true to the world the author has created.
I clearly can’t speak for the end of the book – for all I know Mr Staveley could ruin it all in the next few pages – but based on the previous installments, I have the sneaking suspicion that it will culminate in a brilliant finale to a series which will stick in my mind long after I’ve turned the final page. As much as I hate finishing a book, I also can’t wait for my lunch-break to get stuck in again. It’s a problem I’m happy to be burdened with.
If you fancy being in a similar predicament (and I highly recommend you try it), and you enjoy books which can be both heartbreaking and uplifting, intriguing and frustrating, fantastical and grounded and all held together by complex, real and relatable characters, I highly recommend this series.
You can purchase any and all of the books from any good retailer – I’d be really excited to hear what you think when you read them so stay in touch!