Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

June 27, 2019

Please note, Priest of Lies is the second book in an on-going series. If you haven’t read the first book in the War for the Rose Throne, Priest of Bones, then what follows will likely contain some minor spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I don’t want to have to send the Pious Men round to sort you out!

People are weak, and the poorer and more oppressed they are, the weaker they become–until they can’t take it anymore. And when they rise up…may the gods help their oppressors.

When Tomas Piety returned from the war, he just wanted to rebuild his empire of crime with his gang of Pious Men. But his past as a spy for the Queen’s Men drew him back in and brought him more power than he ever imagined.

Now, with half of his city in ashes and the Queen’s Men at his back, the webs of political intrigue stretch out from the capital to pull Tomas in. Dannsburg is calling.

In Dannsburg the nobility fight with words, not blades, but the results are every bit as bloody. In this pit of beasts, Tomas must decide once and for all whether he is truly the people’s champion…or just a priest of lies.

When it comes to the second novel in any series there is also that frisson of trepidation. You know the feeling; you’ve read book one and it’s gotten under your skin. You want to know what is going to happen to the characters. If book one has succeeded in doing its job, there should be tantalising questions still left to be answered. I’d imagine this could easily be an author’s worst nightmare, it has the potential to be the literary equivalent of that difficult second album. No such worries in this instance, however. Priest of Lies is the stellar sequel to Priest of Bones and I relished every word. Tomas Piety and his Pious Men have returned, and blood will flow.

Tomas remains a rock-solid presence at the heart of all the action. Driven by his own moral code, he dispenses his brutal brand of justice wherever he sees fit. The city of Ellinburg is still a battle ground and Tomas is willing to do anything to ensure he remains on top. At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking this gang boss is just a violent sociopath, but he is far more complex than that. Tomas is a fighter, the blades on each hip testify to that, but years as a solider and an innate devilish cunning make him the sort of man others are will follow. He is a keen strategist with skill at out-thinking his opponents. Peter McLean has a real gift when it comes to his characters. Tomas Piety is a wonderful amalgam of Ronnie and Reggie Kray, Scarface, Tommy Shelby and Richard Sharpe.

The other standout character is Tomas’ brother, Jochan. The mental scars of prolonged military action run deep and have left him damaged. Being part of a street gang is probably not the best option for someone suffering from such psychological trauma, but there is little choice in the matter. The Pious Men will always be part of Ellinburg and the Piety’s will always be part of the Pious Men. When the fugue of war descends on Jochan the connection between action and consequence are hopelessly broken. He becomes something primal, driven by a bloodlust that cannot be contained. This is a man who as barely managing to control his actions, his sanity teetering on the brink. I think Tomas sees a lot of himself in Jochan and knows he is not far from suffering in the same way himself. The siblings’ fractious relationship is compelling stuff. Mark my words, there is going to be a reckoning between the brothers at some point. Events are certainly heading in that direction. I have little doubt that whatever happens it is going to be bloody and violent. At least I hope so.

The narrative in this novel expands significantly on its predecessor. Part of the plot moves the action from Ellinburg to Dannsburg, the nation’s capital. Tomas is initially on the backfoot, polite society is not something he has ever experienced. Needless to say, the great and good are just as cutthroat as any gang boss and our hero quickly finds his feet. Turns out the Piety charm leaves a distinct impression wherever it goes. There is a real sense that the stakes have been raised. The actions of Tomas and his crew are going to have far larger implications than they ever assumed.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Priest of Bones is just a fantastical crime tale, Peter McLean’s writing touches upon a multitude of topics. The human cost of conflict, the nature of family and comradeship and society’s attitude towards veterans are all explored. It’s always impressive when an author manages to add depth like this to a story.

I’m going to round things off now. I know I could happily wax lyrical for another nine hundred words I enjoy this novel so much, but that would likely cut into your precious reading time. The key thing you need to take from this review – Priest of Lies is grimdark at its very best. Political conspiracies, gang warfare and some suitably visceral magic make for a hugely entertaining read. This series is just going from strength. Priest of Lies is available from 2nd July.  I don’t think you could ask for more when it comes to a sequel. I liked Priest of Bones a whole lot but I LOVED Priest of Lies. The next book cannot come soon enough. Highly recommended.

My musical accompaniment is the soundtrack to Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate by Austin Wintory. It’s the ideal mix of haunting classical musical music and bawdy tavern tunes that captures to tone of the novel perfectly.

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