PRIEST OF LIES by Peter McLean (Book Review)
A prince is respected on his streets, even loved.
But when others break that peace and threaten the prince, what then? When they drag him out of his place of business in irons, with crossbows trained on him, how do his people react to that?
How do you fucking think?’
Priest of Lies by Peter McLean is the second instalment in the War for the Rose Throne series, and as I write this review I find myself struggling to eloquently express how much I loved this book. So, in the words of Jochan Piety, “fuck a nun”, that was a good read!
Six months have passed since the events of the first book, Priest of Bones. Much has changed for Tomas Piety; now a member of noble society, he finds himself snared ever deeper in the Queen’s Men’s clutches. Although no longer a soldier, the war is far from over. The threat from the Skanian foreign invaders hangs as heavily as ever over the city of Ellingburg. As the plot thickens Tomas finds himself journeying to Dannsburg, a place where his swords are of little use. In Dannsburg, Tomas must fight with manipulation and clever words, or risk being amongst the countless many who simply just disappear.
From the beginning it was clear that my beloved Tomas Piety’s narrative voice was as addictive as ever; it is a voice that gets under your skin, a voice that is haunting, yet undeniably charming. In the first book I had found Tomas’ repetition of certain phrases slightly jarring, but in Priest of Lies I adored how distinctive it was to his voice. In a way, I felt comforted by its familiarity. At the first, ‘to my mind’ and ‘as I have written’, I knew I was back in Tomas’ world and I was eager to see where his story led. I think what I find most compelling lies in the way the narration allows us to feel real intimacy with Tomas’ character, he’s not a man to be freely open, so it is us alone who are privy to his inner feelings and motives.
As I have said there is a certain charm about Tomas that I found in Priest of Bones, which I felt was heightened even more in Priest of Lies. In his own way Tomas is a guardian; if somewhat a guardian devil, more than an angel. Nonetheless, he protects his people, he protects the vulnerable, and though he counters that with bloodshed, violence against violence if you will, you still find yourself defending him. Even though you may not agree with him. Underneath it all we understand Tomas down to his very core, and really, he does care.
I think it’s fair to say that this is a book that deals with the vast gap between the rich and the poor. The contrast between the city of Ellingburg and Dannsburg explores this topic perfectly, as Tomas is like a fish out of water in Dannsburg. You see, Dannsburg is the pinnacle of nobility, a place that revels in luxury and wealth. Whereas Ellingburg is more seedy, and it revels in its criminal underworld. But which is better? Yes the nobility want for nothing, and never fear starvation, yet this only seems to magnify their cruelty. In Dannsburg they hide behind veiled words, and false pleasantries, but underneath the bravado they still allow or even implement atrocities to their own people. They turn a blind eye to those in need, even though they have the means to help. At least in Ellingburg Tomas’ Pious Men are trying to make a difference.
‘If I kill you, it’s murder. If the queen has you killed, it’s called justice. That’s just the lay of things, and I know which side I’d rather be on.’
It is evident Tomas is not suited for noble pleasantries! Yet even in Dannsburg, he still shows himself to be the ever pragmatic man. Wherever he is, he can still decipher the ‘levers that move’ someone, and he still deals his ‘harsh justice’ to those that insult or break the boundaries of his moral code. Throughout McLean deftly navigates his way through political intrigue and gory bloody action scenes, which completely captivated me.
I also found that the side characters come into play more in Priest of Lies, and this is what I wanted, because some of them were true gems. Billy the Boy was my favourite; he gave me such an Eleven from Stranger Things vibe. In fact, some of his scenes were so deliciously gruesome. I appreciated how McLean added and intensified the battle magic this time around, and if you’re squeamish, beware, some scenes were an absolute bloodbath! Personally, I loved these parts!
Bloody Anne remained her formidable self, with all her fierceness. Her loyalty towards Tomas, no matter how far he went, felt honestly endearing. Who wouldn’t want a friend like Bloody Anne? Then there was Cutter, who intrigued me in the first book, but he’ll have your goddamn full attention in this one! Even the new character, Mina, with her filthy mouth whilst using the cunning, held such an entertaining value.
‘I wondered if I would ever truly be free of battle shock. Truth be told, I doubted it. To be free of it would be to forget, and I didn’t see how I could do that. That would feel like a betrayal, of myself and of all those I fought beside.’
As with the first book, Priest of Lies once again deals with trauma, PTSD and battle shock. The ex-soldiers cannot escape what they have been through and their suffering is evident throughout. There is much to admire in that, because McLean makes you feel for each and every one of them. No matter what violent deeds they may endeavour in, you understand where their demons came from, and this makes them all the more human. I appreciated the way McLean portrayed each character as broken, because let’s face it, when you’ve seen, done, or had horrific things done to you, how do you ever come back from that unscathed?
After finishing Priest of Bones I stated that Tomas Piety had jumped straight into my favourite characters list. Well, after finishing Priest of Lies this series has soared into one of my all-time favourites, and we’re only on the second book! I really hope there are many more instalments to come, because I will follow Tomas Piety wherever his story may lead us, even to the very depths of Hell itself.
Thank you to the author for providing this review copy.