Priest of Lies


Peter McLean


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 30, 2021

riest of Lies is the second book in four book series called The War for the Rose Throne. Like the first volume, Priest of Bones, this book is told as a first person narrative by Thomas Piety, leader of a mob gang called the Pious Men in the city of Ellinburg. In book one, Piety ended up in a sham marriage with the scheming Ailisa, who was a secret agent of the Queen. Piety did not love Ailisa, but for the sake of appearances, the two act as if they are in a happy marriage. In actuality, Ailisa is a member of the dreaded Queen's Men. She is authorized to use any means she deems fit, including murder, in the service of the Queen. Currently, a secret war is being waged between the Queen's Men and the Skanians, who apparently are a nearby rival kingdom. The governor of Ellinburg, a drunk named Hauer, is suspiciously thwarting Piety's efforts - is it possible that the governor has been bought by the Skanians? One thing that I find a bit odd is that I have no idea of the name of the country the Thomas Piety lives in. I know his city is called Ellinburg, and I know that the name of the capital city is called Dannsburg, but I don't know the name of the kingdom. Also, even though I am now halfway through the series, I don't recall ever reading any reference to The Rose Throne. I presume that The Rose Throne is the seat that rules this unnamed kingdom, but I don't know. It just seems unusual that a series called The War for the Rose Throne doesn't actually mention the throne.

Because Priest of Lies is the middle book of a series, it involves maneuvering characters around, presumably setting things up for climatic results to come. In this volume, Piety is consolidating his hold in the eastern half of the Ellinburg, which he runs like the crime lord he is - shaking down owners for protection money, murdering people who won't knuckle under, selling drugs to addicted nobles, while always maintaining a veneer of plausible deniability. Piety shows that at least he is a benevolent crime lord, feeding the poor and shutting down child prostitution, the other crime lords are worse. But, as Piety's punishment to betrayal by one of his henchmen shows, Piety's benevolence is only "better" when measured relative to the other evil rival criminal leaders.

The governor of Ellingburg is a drunk and obese incompetent named Hauer. Hauer used to ignore Piety's criminal enterprises as long as he paid his taxes, but lately Hauer has been thwarting Piety's efforts. Is it possible that the treacherous Skanians have bribed the governor? This would be a major concern for Ailisa - it certainly would not benefit the Queen if a foreign power gained control of one of the major cities in this unnamed kingdom!

The middle part of Priest of Lies concerns Ailisa and Piety's trip to the capital city of Dannsburg, where the chief of the Queen's Men, Lord Chief Judicar Dieter Vogel, resides near the royal court. Ailisa must report on the status of the Ellinburg situation, and give details of the fight against the Skanians. Piety travels with his "beloved wife" and meets some of the aristocrats who rule the kingdom. Piety also meets Ailisa's demanding mother and half-decent father. Piety is not impressed by the Dannsburg nobles, their wealth is immense, but their character is flawed (at least, in the opinion of our narrator, who is himself a murderous crime boss). Piety is especially outraged by the amoral Lord Lan Yetrov, who is brutal to his wife and murderous to his opponents. Naturally, Piety lands on the wrong side of Lord Yetrov, and a powerful enemy is made.

While in Dannsburg, Piety meets up with his counterpart - Grachyev, the chief criminal kingpin in the capital city. It turns out that his chief advisor, Iagin, is also a Queen's Man. It is a setup quite similar to Ailisa's arrangement with Piety. Are the Queen's Men involved in all the criminal enterprises in the kingdom?

This book develops some of the characters of the Pious Men - his second in command, Bloody Anne; his insane brother; the mysterious and frighteningly efficient assassin, Cutter; and especially the child prodigy that is apparently the most powerful magic user in the kingdom; twelve year old Billy. Billy has been adopted by Thomas Piety and Ailisa, and so far he has been nothing but obedient to Piety's commands, including magical murder. But a young person with that kind of power is going to have ideas of his own, and I wonder if that will be an element in the forthcoming novels. For how would Piety handle a super-powerful yet disobedient young boy that he claims to love like a son?

Overall, the story is entertaining enough that I will look for the third volume, Priest of Gallows when it comes out later this year. But I am glad this series won't go longer than four books, because it isn't awesome (if you want awesome fantasy novels, I recommend The Books of Babel by Bancroft, or the Tide Child Trilogy by Barker