The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety heads home with Sergeant Bloody Anne at his side. But things have changed while he was away: his crime empire has been stolen and the people of Ellinburg–his people–have run out of food and hope and places to hide. Tomas sets out to reclaim what was his with help from Anne, his brother, Jochan, and his new gang: the Pious Men. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, everything gets more complicated.
As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the back-street taverns, brothels, and gambling dens of Tomas’s old life, it becomes clear:
The war is only just beginning.
Hello again dear reader/listener!
It’s been a while since my last review and the main reason why is that I’d been on rereads and, after that, because I hardly read much of anything for a few weeks. When this sort of lull happens, I’ve learned it is because I need a change of pace with what I’m reading. So I finally turned to a book I bought quite a while ago after having read an author interview with Peter McLean.
Turns out that Priest of Bones was exactly the change of pace that I needed, and I’ve already bought the sequels, Priest of Lies, and Priest of Gallows, to get into soon as can !
Following the story as told/written by Tomas Piety in first person, the reader is met with a matter of fact recounting of events that reveals a character who is choosing to share his story, while also keeping some of the details to himself. This is all done while commenting on it all in a manner that, I don’t want to say is bleak, cause it’s not really that, more like with very few fucks left to give and heavily influenced by the protagonist’s principles. This sort of unreliable narrator is the kind that fascinates me the most, especially because when done well, and I’d argue that McLean did it brilliantly, it reveals more about the characters themselves than what they’re actually telling the reader. At the same time, this makes for a fast moving story that doesn’t waste time on world building through long expositional paragraphs, but rather only focuses on the relevant details and events.
That said, Tomas’ narration is admittedly also fairly repetitive throughout, but I found it added to the charm and rendering of his voice eventually. A few choice phrases especially gave the whole thing a certain cadence which I believe would work even better when listened to in audiobooks (a trusted source tells me it is so as well)!
As for the plot, I was expecting grim and I was expecting dark, and hoooo boy did I get both!! But here’s the thing, McLean’s grimdark is the kind that I enjoy because while intrinsic to the setting and plot, it wasn’t the overwhelmingly bleak kind of ambience that really drains any good feelings you had before opening the book. I won’t go down that rabbit hole but suffice it to say that while this story and its characters very much aren’t fluffy unicorns and kittens on a picnic, there are hopes and dreams for a better future, and characters that persevere. They all have their psychological scars to deal with, be it because of past trauma or ptsd from the recent war, and the way it is all navigated was rather honest (sometimes brutally) in its severity and weight, while also not being romanticized in some odd way or ridiculed/made light of.
This finally, is also what made this book for me along with the characters! There’s a varied and multifaceted cast of them, with Bloody Anne (my new queen, long may she reign – she and Tomas are a new favorite duo), the clever and loyal Luka, and Billy the Boy with his magic, among my favorites! Moreover, the way the reader gets to know them through Tomas’ eyes added that subjective lens to them that guarantees my attention is most piqued so that I try to discern how much Tomas sees but doesn’t understand or viceversa how much he observes but then picks and chooses how to act on.
All said, I’m super eager to continue reading this series to see how Tomas and his Pious Men will continue in their fight to make a better life for themselves while also fighting a foreign threat through a hidden war!!
Now, excuse me while I go fight the urge to binge watch all of Peaky Blinders again because I find myself in the sudden mood to watch my favorite gangster -ahem businessmen- series!
Until next time,