Skullsworn by Brian Staveley reviewed

Skullsworn Book Cover Skullsworn
Brian Staveley
Pan Macmillan
April 20, 2017

For one apprentice assassin, the clock is ticking . . . Pyrre Lakatur doesn't like the description skullsworn. It doesn't capture the beauty of her devotion to Ananshael, God of Death. She is not an assassin, but a priestess. Or she will be, if she can pass her final trial. The problem isn't killing: Pyrre has spent her life training to kill where necessary. The problem is love. To pass the trial, a skullsworn must offer their partner to Ananshael - but Pyrre has never been in love, and time is short. Pyrre throws herself into the other aspects of her trial - until she's arrested by the brilliant, enigmatic Commander Ruc Lan Lac. He might be Pyrre's last chance at love, so she must stay close - even as he investigates the murders she's committing. It's a dangerous dance, trying to fall for a man while worshipping a god he loathes. If she succeeds, she must betray her only love. And if she fails, a violent death awaits them both .

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley reviewed

Skullsworn is a spin off from a earlier series written by Brian Staveley. I’ve not read the books in the series however this one looked interesting. Set in the same world as the Unhewn Throne series, it is about Pyrre who is hoping to become a priestess in the service of her god Anashael. Ananshael is the god of unmaking (I liked that term!) or death to the rest of us. As a result of that I’d warn folk that this book can be violently dark at times. She is ready to face her Trial to become a priestess and goes to her original home town for the trial which is monitored by two other devotees of the god, Ela and Kossal. Ela is a slightly older woman than Pyrre while Kossal is a relatively old and experienced priest. For her trial Pyrre must offer particular types of souls to her god including someone she loves. In this lies a problem as she feels she has never loved and there is a strict time limit on the trial.

Although I’ve not read the previous books connected to this I found it quite effortless to get into this world. Some fantasy stories I’ve found fairly impenetrable due to the structures and strictures of their world – this one is simple and beautifully so at times. There is a lilt to the rich language both in the dark parts and the light. There is humour too and even the darker parts seem to have a lightness of touch to them.

Pyrre returns to her old home town in part because there is a man there she believes she could love (and then offer to her god). Ruc Lan Lac is in charge of security in the town and is faced with the possibility of a revolution. Pyrre hopes to use this to get close to him. She is an accomplished killer and so may use her talents to help. Her two witnesses who are monitoring the trial are also efficient killers.

All in all this is one of the best fantasy books I’ve read recently. For a book that is often dark and violent there is a real tenderness in the writing at times. I also felt that for a male author the female role he has written was mostly convincing. I was deeply engrossed and frankly would have preferred not to put the book down at all. When I am reading a review book I almost always make notes as I’m reading. Quite large chunks of this book passed without me ever wishing to get my head out of it. I found the last quarter of this book even better than the earlier parts if anything. The writing and tale telling took on even more power.

While the book tells a great tale it also works on other levels too. Pyrre is coming to terms with her past. She is considering the real meaning of becoming a full servant of her god. Even more broadly the book looks at life, death, revolution and conquest among other issues. I would like this book to have had a map (I thought it was a rule in fantasy books!) but other than that I’d recommend it to anyone. People who have read Brian Staveley work already should love it. If you haven’t I don’t think starting here will be at all difficult.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review