Book Review – Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (fantasy)

Here’s the blurb;

“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.”

So I am new to the writing of Brian Staveley and I found this book to be a slog from beginning to end, and in the end, it was only sheer determination that drove me to the end, and not a desire to know the ending of the narrative. The novel felt very much like the hot and muggy climate that the story takes place in, and which the author goes to great pains to constantly describe, it clung to you, the smell, the heat, the sweat, but a good shower and the whole thing was washed clean away with little remaining to remind you of the story.

There are moments in this book when I thought it was fantastic, but they were too short and too few and far between and sadly, were too often stopped abruptly by a complete change of pace by the author, or the ending of a chapter. And, my word, does the author like to ‘world build’. I would have much preferred a style that didn’t involve long and torturous ‘backfill’ when a character did something that the author was unable to explain away. I felt, almost like a bad joke, that if it needed that much explanation then, really, that scene shouldn’t have happened or wasn’t needed.

There were also moments when the plot made no sense whatsoever. There are too many ‘gods’ and too many events that seem ‘forced’. There is no overriding narrative that holds the story together, and the author revels in using language that I’ve never heard of. Repeatedly I had to make use of the dictionary on kindle to understand the words – a strange occurrence as I’ve never had to do this before in any of the many books I’ve read. There are also, and this is a pet peeve, lots of silly sounding names for all the peripheral characters – Gods, people, places.

I very much tried to be open minded about the novel. From my own experience about writing side-stories to an already established universe, I know how hard it can be to find a storyline that doesn’t depend on the other novels – one that truly stands alone – and from what I can gather, I think the author has done this. However, if the novel was intended to inspire me to read more of the ‘world’ that has been created, it has failed. While Pyrre may have been a bold and decisive character, ultimately, I found her to be too ‘little’. There was little to love there, in fact, the characters who surround Pyree are far better – perhaps because we don’t constantly have to listen to their self-doubt – Ruc Lan Lac, Kossal and Ela. They might be more one-dimensional – but they are easier to connect to and understand.

Yet, I still give the novel 4 stars – mainly because it is so detailed and confident in itself and I’m sure that fans of the series will love it.

And you can buy it here from April 25th 2017;