by Brian Staveley
Published on April 25, 2017 by Tor
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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.
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Can someone please explain to me WHY I haven’t read anything by Brian Staveley before? Because clearly I’ve been delusional for not doing so. Skullsworn was absolutely amazing. I don’t often find fantasy, or really anything in the realm of SFF, that manages to pull off the extensive world-building and large character cast while still maintaining a solid narrative voice. ESPECIALLY one where that voice has personality.
By that, I mean that Staveley keeps the story engaging while building this intricate world. Now, I haven’t read any of the other books in this world (though you can bet they’re now all on my TBR list) but I had no problem falling into this masterpiece.
I absolutely loved Pyrre. This is her story of becoming a priestess of Ananshael, the God of Death, and as she’s completing her Trial, you can feel her struggles. Especially that of finding love and it’s such a subtle but powerful theme through her entire story. Part of me knew the ending, somewhere deep down from all those little clues offered up among the turmoil of the rebellion, but it still took me by surprise. She’s such a strong person who overcame a rough childhood and found her calling, and she’s good. In that understated kind of way. Pyrre can kill a man and it doesn’t seem like anything because to her, it really isn’t. And that amazed me, the casualness of how she and the other characters treat moments that (in another book) would be drawn out and dramatized.
I’ve heard rumors that she’s in the other books of this world and perhaps I went about it all a bit backward reading her origin first but now I’m REALLY excited to check out the rest.
But I could talk about Pyrre all day. She quickly became one of my favorite fantasy heroines to-date. Yet I can’t ignore this world. Most of the book is focused in the city of Dômbang while Pyrre completes her Trial and I definitely was there. I felt the heat pressing against my skin, tasted ta and quey, floated down the waters of the delta and came face-to-face with the Three. I stood next to Pyrre as well as in her very shoes seeing through her eyes. Every little detail sprang to life and maybe that seems like a bit of an exaggeration but trust me, read Skullsworn and you’ll see it’s really not.
And let’s not forget the rest of the cast. While I can’t speak as much on grumpy Kossal who I adored, Ela who was beauty and death in one, and Ruc with a history left mostly unspoken of and something I want more of, they added to every bit of Pyrre’s adventure.
This book was amazing, hands down. If you’ve already read Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne books, I think you’ll find this an excellent addition to the world. But if you’re like me and haven’t yet, don’t let it get in your way of grabbing a copy of Skullsworn as soon as you can!