Because all of life is stories.
**WARNING: THIS BOOK CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS IN THE SERIES**
When the third book in Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle came out, I had mixed feelings about it. Still, I gave it a 4 of 5 star review, and then I waited patiently for the arrival of the penultimate book in the series, The Skull Throne. I had every faith that it would be another awesome addition to the series, and set us up for the final book of his unique and wholly engrossing series.
Well holy shit does it ever.
The Skull Throne picks up right where The Daylight War leaves off. We get answers about the really horrendous cliffhanger fairly quickly, which was great because my eyes might have exploded if I had to wait a hundred pages for closure on that particular soul smashing moment. From there The Skull Throne shows off all of the things that I’ve come to love about Brett’s books. The fighting is really cool and fierce. Many of the personal relationships continue to grow and change against the backdrop of as many as three separate wars. While I don’t know if this entry into the series is the best (I’m really fond of The Desert Spear) it certainly was better than The Daylight War and leaves me absolutely salivating over the things that should happen in the final book of the series, tentatively named The Core.
Let’s discuss some of these things that have managed to SHATTER MY HEART MR. BRETT HOW COULD YOU?
Ahem, sorry, emotions.
A large portion of the first third of the book belong to Ahmann and Arlen, the two would-be Deliverers. This great for several reasons. First, the aforementioned cliffhanger from book three. Seriously, I don’t know if I’ll ever be over that. Second, the relationship between the two most powerful humans in the world is like listening to brothers or jilted lovers go at it, and it is phenomenally entertaining that they can have moments of snark and debate while casually punching holes through demons and ripping their heads off. Third, because they are completely absent from the latter two thirds of the book. At first, this annoyed me to no end. I casually looked forward to each chapter heading as it tells you which characters will be the POV characters in that section, and found neither Ahmann nor Arlen would feature in much of the book. What it does do is force all of the other POV characters to step up, much as Arlen has told them they would one day need to all throughout the series. Not only does it reinforce that point, but it lets us see just how awesome all of his other characters really are when left to their own devices.
Leesha rebounds hard from The Daylight War where I felt her character took a step back and turned into a bit of a weepy mess. Determined to protect her home, the people she loves, and her unborn child, Leesha continues to orchestrate the growth of Cutter’s Hollow, now so overwhelmed with refugees and fighters it has swelled to become a county and great free city in its own right, with power to challenge Miln and Angiers to the North, if it wished such a thing. Leesha begins experimenting with the power of the demons, painting temporary warded tattoos onto a select handful of volunteers in order to quantify the magic of her enemies and reduce down a science. One that may be used against them. Even as she continues her experiments a great meeting of Herb Gatherers convenes at her request. Leesha means to see to it that no knowledge that can be used to save lives is held private again, lest it be lost when it’s owner passes on. I can see another Age of Science coming down the line, and I can see that Leesha is going to be the one responsible for it.
Inevera is left to deal with the absence of her husband, attempting to hold the Skull Throne under her sway and so keep the nation that she and her husband have forged together. Inevera doesn’t get a lot of screen time in this one, but she got the majority of the last book, including its flashback sequences, to herself. What we do see as a result of Inevera’s ploys and plans is the introduction of a new viewpoint character, Ashia. Ashia is the niece of Inevera and Ahmann, and is perhaps the best fighter in all of Krasia excepting Ahmann himself. Ashia is a mother, a warrior, an advisor, and one of my favorite characters in the series, despite not being fleshed out until now. Her loyalty and struggle to discover Everam’s plan for her in the grand scheme of things is one of the best parts of this installment, and I only wish there was more of her.
Rojer and his growing family own a large part of this book as well. He continues to train musicians in the art of using music to protect from and to destroy demons. His wives Amanvah and Sikvah grow and become more complex as the book continues to progress, and Amanvah are characters I can only hope feature heavily in book five. When a party of influential members of the Hollow, Rojer and family included, are invited to Angiers to discuss the eligibility of Gared, newly minted Baron of the Hollow, old scores and enemies rise in the city that Rojer has long waited to face. Justice and blood debts feature heavily in Rojer’s blessedly increased role this time around.
Let’s not forget my favorite misanthrope and khaffit, Abban. In a stronger partnership than ever with Inevera, Abban finds himself advisor to Jayan, eldest son of Ahmann Jardir, the Shar’Dama’Ka. First Cleric Warrior and Deliverer of the world for any that don’t speak Krasian. Jayan is brutal, a warrior through and through more likely to solve a problem with spears than with wisdom. Abban becomes not only a spy for Inevera, but a staying hand that does its best not just to make profit for himself this book, but to keep the kingdom that has made him a rich man stable. It’s a side of Abban that I think has always been there, but comes more to light in these pages than in previous books. It’s getting to the point where I’m almost sympathetic for the wily merchant king.
About two thirds of the way through I realized that this book lacked something that the other three played heavily upon. Flashbacks. Each of the previous three involved one character (Or three in the first book) getting a dozen or so flashbacks that filled in personal backstory and world history. It seems at this point that we know enough about the world that Brett is ready to take us forward into the coming days of Sharak Ka, The First War, without delay. I can’t say the book suffers for it. It really just leaves more time for him to rip my heart out and stomp on it.
One more warning before you go. There is a novella called Messenger’s Legacy that takes place between The Daylight War and The Skull Throne. Normally, these stories and novella’s are nice additions to a growing canon. In this instance, I highly suggest you read Messenger’s Legacy before jumping into The Skull Throne as plot points late in the book make much more sense after having read it. At the very least, that was my takeaway. I’m sure it works fine without having read the novella, but I’d recommend it in this case. Besides, it’s a really entertaining hundred or so pages that’s only two or three bucks as an eBook.
Overall The Skull Throne was everything I was hoping it would be. It tied off a lot of loose ends from previous installments, and left a lot of different plot points in chaos or on the brink of something very very exciting. I can’t imagine The Core moving at anything other than a breakneck pace if Brett wants to fit everything into one book. Either that or it’s going to be fifteen hundred pages long. Which I’m more than ok with. If he can keep me silently swearing at some of the unexpected turns his books make, then I’m ok with as many extra pages as he’s willing to throw at me.