Review: The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett

The Skull ThroneThis book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“The Skull Throne of Krasia stands empty.

Built from the skulls of fallen generals and demon princes, it is a seat of honor and ancient, powerful magic, keeping the demon corelings at bay. From atop the throne, Ahmann Jardir was meant to conquer the known world, forging its isolated peoples into a unified army to rise up and end the demon war once and for all.

But Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, stood against this course, challenging Jardir to a duel he could not in honor refuse. Rather than risk defeat, Arlen cast them both from a precipice, leaving the world without a savior, and opening a struggle for succession that threatens to tear the Free Cities of Thesa apart.

In the south, Inevera, Jardir’s first wife, must find a way to keep their sons from killing one another and plunging their people into civil war as they strive for glory enough to make a claim on the throne.

In the north, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn struggle to forge an alliance between the duchies of Angiers and Miln against the Krasians before it is too late.

Caught in the crossfire is the duchy of Lakton—rich and unprotected, ripe for conquest.

All the while, the corelings have been growing stronger, and without Arlen and Jardir there may be none strong enough to stop them. Only Renna Bales may know more about the fate of the missing men, but she, too, has disappeared. . .”

Oh, thank God for lack of Renna.  I would have been more pleased if she were missing altogether, but I’ll settle for her not sulking around the pages of this book prompting Arlen to tell her that he loves her.  There’s a little of that, but it’s blessedly minimal.

Of course, this also means that Arlen, and by extension Jardir, are hardly in the novel either.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, since missing main characters usually mean there’s not a lot of plot advancement.  And while the plot does advance, it’s not in the direction I expected, and not seeing the two possible Deliverers was an odd choice for this penultimate book in the series.

I am, however, extremely pleased with what Brett did give us.  In my opinion, the greatest strength of his series is his worldbuilding, or perhaps more accurately, his culture creating.  I find the Krasian culture to be fascinating, and I especially enjoy watching how those who should have no power in that society find ways to be powerful.  I’m speaking specifically about Inevera (a woman) and Abban (a man who is crippled and can’t fight demons).  Both should be completely disenfranchised in Krasian culture, and yet both have risen to have more power than almost anybody else close to Jardir and the Skull Throne.

The demons play less of a role in this book, and the main focus is on politics.  Among the Krasians, the struggle is for who will control the path of the coming war while Jardir is absent, and the conflict between two of Jardir’s sons dominates this plotline.  Leesha and Rojer tackle the other force in this conflict–the duchies that must ally to remain strong not only against the demons, but against the Krasians who threaten to completely subjugate them.

One thing I’d love to ask Brett is whether or not he’s been taking lessons from George R. R. Martin, because the carnage level in this novel is several levels higher than it has been before.  What I mean by this is the fact that a lot of characters die, and not just background or really minor ones, either.  Expect a couple of real shockers in this book.  It definitely made the conflict feel more immediate and more dangerous, but… damn, Brett, that’s a lot of death you’re slinging around.

So to sum up: Krasian culture good, politics interesting, lack of Arlen and Jardir minorly annoying, lack of Renna celebration-worthy.  If you were tempted to give up after The Daylight War like I was, think about giving this one a shot.  It might restore your faith in Brett’s authorial chops.

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