Priest of Bones


Peter McLean


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

October 24, 2021

made a comment in my review of The Bone Maker that there seemed to a recent abundance of fantasy novels with the word Bones in the title. And most of them were good books! So when I saw a fantasy novel titled Priest of Bones, I had to read it, despite not knowing anything about it. The author, Peter McLean, was completely new to me. Yet again, I am rewarded for picking up a book by a new author; Priest of Bones is an entertaining read (The review on the back cover of the paperback says: The first in an unmissable series, Priest of Bones is a fresh and compelling take on Grimdark Fantasy, mashing together soldiers, gangsters, magic and war into a heady mix that is a hulking big brother to The Lies of Locke Lamora -- Anna Stephens, author of Godblind. I don't know who Anna Stephens is, but this book, while solidly written, isn't better than the excellent Lies of Locke Lamora. It's nice to write a solid review for another author, but don't make ridiculous exaggerations!

Priest of Bones is narrated in the first person by Tomas Piety. He was a priest/lieutenant in a just concluded war, a horrific and bloody struggle that ultimately ended with the grim siege of Abingon. Piety fought on the winning side; now he and his band of soldiers have been discharged from service. Tomas must forget his soldier ways, and return to his former life. However, in his former life, Piety was a boss of a gang called the Pious Men in an industrial town of Ellingburg. When Piety arrives at Ellingburg, he plans to resume a life of crime - brothels, protection money, gambling, smuggling, even a bit of opium. The Queen's Army conscripted every able-bodied man under age 40, so when Tomas and his brother Jochan marched off to war, they left tough old Aunt Enaid with a couple of aging thugs to hold down the business. But when Piety and his crew return to Ellingburg, Aunt Enaid is gone to a convent, and all of Tomas' properties are in the hands of strange, tough men. But Tomas is tough as well, a battle-tested veteran not afraid of violence, and so he and his soldier set out on a path to regain the corner of Ellingburg where Piety once held sway. The novel tells the story of how Tomas' schemes and fights to get control of his corner of the city. Lots of violence, and retaliation.

McLean does an excellent job of describing the individual members of Piety's cutthroats. His right hand man is actually a woman with a brutal scar across her face, sergeant Anne, whom evey calls Bloody Anne. His left hand man is Jochan, a reckless hothead who none-the-less is valuable assest in a melee. Sir Eland claims to be a knight, though Tomas doubts the title is true. But Sir Eland does have armor and first class weapons, plus, he knows how to ride a horse, so perhaps there is a smattering of truth to his boasts. Billy the Boy is a twelve year old orphan who was rescued by Piety's soldiers and now he has become a regular member of the troop. Billy the Boy is blessed by Our Lady, he seems to know something of the future, and he might possess some magical abilities as well. Luka followed Tomas from Ellingburg to war and siege and back again; Tomas knows he can trust him. Cutter - a fearsome cutthroat, awfully good with his knifes and completely devoid of a conscience. Plus quite a few more. McLean makes it easy to keep track of each individual, they all have some personality, they all engage in the backstreet violence in Ellignburg.

Tomas Piety aims to control the sowuth west corner of Ellingburg. It is the poorest part of the city; it is commonly called The Stink because of the tanneries located there. Just to the north is a territory of a rival gang called the GutCutters. There has always been an uneasy truce between the Pious Mem and the Gutcutters, but things that were stable before the war are now in flux. Violence is inevitable as the gangs fight to re-establish themselves.

All the action takes place in Ellingburg, but this is just the first book in a four(?) book series called War for the Rose Throne. A Rose Throne isn't even mentioned in book 1, so it is clear there a bigger things in store for Tomas in subsequent volumes. I will look for the next book, Priest of Lies.