I seem to be on a fantasy crime-boss reading binge. Priest of Bones landed on my “too read” stack when my agent mentioned fellow client Peter McLean’s work. I recently had a long flight from Oklahoma to Afghanistan, so his novel seemed perfect for making an otherwise monotonous series of take offs, waits, and landings enjoyable.
Wow...what an entertaining read. I’ve always loved fantasy on the darker, more realistic side of things. Let’s face it, there’s nothing particularly romantic or noble about hacking and stabbing at each other with a sharpened lengths of metal. Probably why I enjoyed almost everything David Gemmel ever wrote. War is dark, messy, and painful, and people will do things they’re not proud of to survive. Priest of Bones takes place right after a war, and Tomas Piety, a former crime boss, has survived enough death and destruction to look at killing in a far more practical light. When he returns from the war to see his territory taken and his aunt in a convent, he rebuilds his gang of Pious Men to take back his streets. The ensuing power struggle has all the intrigue, backstabbing, and danger of a season of the Supranos. There are a few clichés--nicknames and character types--but it wouldn’t be a mob-style story without them, and unlike the Supranos, Tomas Piety isn’t trying to fit into upper echelon society.
Don’t get me wrong, Tomas Piety isn’t amoral--it would be hard to empathize with an amoral protagonist. He has his own version of honor, and there is enough family conflict and inner turmoil to make him an intriguing character. He also has a few secrets, and those secrets are what gives the promise of a solid arc for the next couple books in the series.
As far as the setting and world goes, while not expansive, it was flushed out just as much as the story needed. There is enough magic to call the book fantasy, but like a sword or a lock pick, it’s a tool instead of a pillar supporting the plot. Last, while the setting is dark and gritty, with most people attempting to take advantage of each other in some fashion or other, there is still hope in the world that things will be better.
I’ve noticed a few comparisons of Priest of Bones with works by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, etc., both positive and negative. Mostly the same old arguments I’ve heard in hundred other places, of what belongs in a group and what doesn’t. In this case, if it falls under grimdark fantasy or not. Well, if I grouped my novels by sub-genre, I’d put Priest of Bones with The First Law Trilogy and Prince of Thorns. Since I don’t sort my books that way, I’ll just shelve it after the Dennis L. McKeirnan novels and leave a little room after it for the next books. I’ll be buying them--and that’s about the best praise you can give an author.
Troy Carrol Bucher
Reader, Writer, Runner in Southwest Oklahoma... recent addition to the DAW family.