Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.
Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer--she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.
The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including "the one you love / who will not come again."
Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.
Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—in the hope of finding love...and ending it on the edge of her sword.
"A complex and richly detailed world filled with elite soldier-assassins, mystic warrior monks, serpentine politics, and ancient secrets." —Library Journal, starred review, on The Emperor's Blades
Whatever I have to say about Pyrre Lakatur will not do this book, Staveley’s words, this world justice. If you’ve read The Chornicle of the Unhewn Throne, you will need no introduction to Pyrre. You know how well-versed she is in the world of bloodshed and murder. You know that no character can rival her. If you haven’t read The Chronicle, then let me tell you this: Pyrre needs no introduction. Her actions speak louder than any words could.
Skullsworn is her origin story. Pyrre has fourteen days to sacrifice the one she loves the most to the god of death, Ananshael. Problem is, Pyrre has never been in love before, and doesn’t really know what love is. Her parents are dead, and Pyrre became an acolyte at the tender age of eight. Hammered by loss, anger and determination, her only wish is to become an assassin.
“I was young, strong, alight with my own devotion and the fellowship of my sisters and brothers. Love was a pleasant afterthought, something I could experience later, more slowly, when I was finished being young.
Then came the Trial, and with the Trial, the song.”
With two priests of Ananshael, they travel to Pyrre’s hometown of Dômbang where she believes she can fall in love with an old flame, Ruc Lan Lac, and fulfill all seven kills details in the old song of Ananshael. But returning to Dômbang comes with its own set of problems. The bayou town is on the verge of revolution, abandoning the new gods for their old gods, and Ruc Lan Lac is in charge of keeping the peace — a peace Pyrre is determined to destroy.
“I understand. So when do you go find him?”
“Not yet. First, I need to drag the insurgency fully into the open.”
“Knocking down causeways isn’t open enough?”
I shook my head. “I want to help Ruc fight a war. That means there needs to be a war.”
Dômbang needs a little shove in the right direction, and although Pyrre knows her plan will work, she’s not sure about the love side of things. Growing up in Rassambur, training to kill and fight, the only love she knows is the devotion to her god. But what is love, really? How does one differentiate between a simple love, and a love to rival the world?
“The song is a list, obviously, a list of those that each acolyte must give to the god before becoming a full priest of Ananshael. From the first offering to the last, the would-be priestess is allowed fourteen days. Fourteen days for seven offerings. Not such a daunting task — not for one raised and trained in Rassambur — but an impossible one for someone, like me, who had never been in love.”
If she fails, Pyrre will die, given to the god like so many other souls before her. She’s not afraid of death (after all, she worships the god of Death), but she will not forgive herself for failing.
Needless to say, I loved Skullsworn. Pyrre became a favourite character from the first introduction in The Emperor’s Blades, all the way to this book. Pyrre spoke to me: her worries, her fears, the feeling of growing up too fast in a world that doesn’t quite match your pace. Even Dômbang, this backwater city surrounded on all sides by an empire they do not want or accept. Ruc Lan Lac, and his fears and worries, a man trying to be everywhere at once, defeat all enemies at once, and forgetting, at times, to save himself.
Staveley’s writing is as lyrical as always, providing a heartbreaking, beautiful story of first loves and loss and the power of one’s own determination. I felt for every character, even Ela, whom I found insufferable most of the time. I dreamt their every dream, and lived their story hand-in-hand, every bloody, murderous page of it, and at the very end I wanted more. More from Staveley. More of Pyrre. More of Ruc Lan Lac, and his unforgiving history of bloodshed and power. Just more.
“‘I saw hands of blood, ten thousand bloody hands
Reach up from the waters to tear the city down.
I saw those who worshipped fire burned in their own flame,
Their fickle tongues turned, even in their pleading, to flame.'”
Skullsworn answers every question about Pyrre I ever thought of when I was reading the original trilogy. Who is Pyrre? Why Ananshael? Why become Skullsworn? But even without reading The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, one can read Skullsworn as a standalone, without needing to know anything about the previous trilogy.
I cannot do this book justice with my measly words, so I shall leave you with this: read this book, and fall in love with Brian Staveley’s world of intrigue and war.
Thanks so much to Tor UK for providing me a copy to review.