AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: https://talonwraith.com/
SERIES: War for the Rose Throne
PUBLISHED: July 2, 2019 by Ace Books (US), July 2, 2019 by Jo Fletcher Books (UK)
GENRE: Grimdark fantasy, Dark fantasy
Tomas Piety has been many things: soldier, priest, gangster…and spy. As Tomas’s power grows, the nobility better watch their backs, in this dark and gritty epic fantasy series.
People are weak, and the poorer and more oppressed they are, the weaker they become–until they can’t take it anymore. And when they rise up…may the gods help their oppressors.
When Tomas Piety returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his empire of crime with his gang of Pious Men. But his past as a spy for the Queen’s Men drew him back in and brought him more power than he ever imagined.
Now, with half of his city in ashes and the Queen’s Men at his back, the webs of political intrigue stretch out from the capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling.
In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people’s champion…or just a priest of lies.
Respect, power, authority. Those are the levers that move me.
Through fire and blood, Tomas Piety has cleansed the Wheels and the Docks of Ma Aditi and her Gutcutters, claiming the territories as his own. Quietly swayed by the Crown, the Pious Men grow in influential power, yet the Northern Sons are gaining a stronger foothold in the city of Ellinburg with the help of their Skanian masters, who are keen to take advantage of the greed and corruption that mar the city. Tomas has an agenda, one he cannot share with the rest of his crew, but it’s getting more difficult to keep them in the dark. Manipulation is key, and having friends in high places is both a blessing and a curse – if he can’t successfully stop the threat of these invaders, the blowback will be catastrophic for all.
Priest of Lies is the sophomore installment in McLean’s War for the Rose Throne series, taking place six months after the events of book one, and is a true attestation of the corruption that results from achieving too much power. Not only does it mark the progression of the characters we’ve grown to love, but also the advancement of the secret war being fought in the shadows by some of the world’s loftiest ruling classes through intrigue and roguish plotting. This story perfectly highlights the detrimental consequences of secrets and lies, and the idea that choosing the lesser of two evils is only owing your allegiance to one devil or another, which is not really an ideal choice at all. While its predecessor Priest of Bones is akin to a violent and chaotic hurricane of bloodletting and reclamation, this book is more reliant on scheming and cunning, as Tomas strategically exposes weaknesses in order to gain control – don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of blood and viscera to go around, as well.
As with book one, the characters and their development take center stage, allowing us to witness their evolution (or devolution in some cases) as events unravel. Tomas, son of a humble bricklayer from the Stink, now overlooks the city from his stately manor on Trader’s Row, a status achieved through violent domination. Always a critic of corruption, we watch as he gradually spirals into self-absorption, embracing his hunger for more than is necessary, and becoming more ruthless as he climbs upon the backs of the weak in order to elevate himself above the rest. His brother Jochan, still greatly suffering the effects of battle shock, rapidly degrades into madness. Bloody Anne, in spite of the surrounding hostile environment, leads the Pious Men and mercilessly protects their territories when Tomas is away from home. Billy the Boy’s interests shift and he begins to withhold critical information from his Da. Fat Luka seems suspiciously and increasingly comfortable with his responsibilities as spymaster. As the tide changes and more power is funneled into their grasp, we’re finally beginning to see everyone’s true colors.
It’s strange how fast a man can grow accustomed to a thing.
While we spend a considerable amount of time on the Pious Men streets, we’re also introduced to Dannsburg, city of the Rose Throne and headquarters to the Queen’s Men. Vividly described as being the polar opposite of gloomy and ramshackle Ellinburg, Dannsburg’s towering walls and sprawling, cobbled streets give it an air of superiority. One is ruled by those with the biggest swords, the other is ruled by those with the deepest pockets, but it seems that’s where the differences end. Both contain an influential criminal underground that is driven by the Crown. In both, it’s extremely dangerous to whisper discontent against the ruling powers. And both require a clear and observant sense to wade through the politics and stay alive. While it appears Tomas is clearly out of his element while roaming the Queen’s streets, he quickly finds his way to the nearest businessman to begin his conquest of the foreign city.
McLean continues to impress with clever storytelling and beautifully immersive prose; the narrative is penned and by Tomas, allowing us to observe the development of his mindset as he climbs the ladder of refinement, all while explaining events that have happened in the past. We celebrate alongside him when his gambles bear fruit, we join in his sorrow when he’s betrayed by someone close to him, and we feel his wrath when harsh justice is served during the Rite of the Betrayer. Each chapter ends with a little nugget of wisdom that immediately pulls you into the following, making this book virtually impossible to put down. The pacing is perfect, slowing down for suspenseful intrigue, then speeding up during the pandemonium of battle. And last, but certainly not least, the staggering unexpected – some of these bits left me speechless.
I arrived a little late to the War for the Rose Throne party, but it has quickly become one of my favorite series – I tore through this book in two days, and my only regret is that I have quite a bit of time to wait for more. Priest of Lies digs deeper and hits harder, getting darker by the chapter, with astonishing surprises around each and every corner. And what an ending! I’m really looking forward to seeing what blood-soaked mischief Tomas gets into next. If you haven’t yet picked up this riveting and unique series, I highly recommend you do.