Priest of Crowns by Peter McLean

July 28, 2022

Please note Priest of Crowns is the fourth book and final book in The War for the Rose Throne series. If you have not read books one, two and three, what follows is likely to contain more than a few spoilers. Consider yourself duly warned!

‘Praise be to Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows, and blessed be the Ascended Martyr.’ Those were the words on lips of the faithful: Blessed be the Ascended Martyr, and woe betide you if you thought otherwise. The word Unbeliever had become a death sentence on the streets in those days.

Gangster, soldier, priest. Governor, knight, and above all, Queen’s Man.

Once, Tomas Piety looked after his men, body and soul, as best he could. Then those who ran his country decided his dark talents would better serve in the corridors of power.

Crushed by the power of the Queen’s Men and with the Skanian menace rising once more on the streets of Ellinburg, Tomas Piety is forced to turn to old friends, old debts and untrustworthy alliances.

Meanwhile in the capital city of Dannsburg, Dieter Vogel is beginning to wonder if the horror he has unleashed in the Martyr’s Disciples might be getting out of control.

With revolution brewing and tragedy and terrorism running rife in the cities, Piety and Vogel must each weigh the cost of a crown.

So here we are, the finale of Tomas Piety’s illustrious rise in power. From street tough to the very highest levels of society. The one-time leader of The Pious Men faces his toughest challenge yet, the outcome of which will reshape a nation.

When I first started reading this series I thought the same as a lot of other readers. Ooh, it’s a fantastical take on Peaky Blinders, but that’s just Peter McLean being a sneaky old so and so. Tomas Piety’s journey is far more than just a homage to another genre favourite. It is its own unique beast. Not only has McLean created a riveting fantasy world, with some deliciously crafted world-building, there is also a wealth of insight into the human condition. There are important points to be made about all manner of topics. Everything from post-traumatic stress and religious extremism to gender equality. I was particularly pleased with the matter-of-fact way single-sex marriage is handled.

Lie with whom thou wilt, so long as both be willing

If only the real world were as enlightened.

In the midst of all this societal and political chaos Tomas Piety brings his own unique brand of intellectual discourse to the streets of the nation’s capital.

I’m an absolute bastard aren’t I?*

I think this is the thing I’ve enjoyed most of all. Throughout the entirety of The War for the Rose Throne Tomas Piety has been a brutally blunt constant. In many respects, he is the basest of creatures. Airs and graces do not impress a man like Piety; he does not suffer fools. Piety is a man of direct, and very often bloody, action. His fictional memoirs don’t sugar-coat anything. Its Piety’s often pragmatic worldview that has made him such a fascinating protagonist to follow. There is also a certain amount of irony in the fact that the higher he climbs in society the more Piety realises that villains are villains irrespective of where they were born. The higher classes aren’t better people, they’re just dreadful in a different way. At least when he was the leader of The Pious Men there was less treachery. Any backstabbing when Piety was a gang boss would have involved actual knives. 

I could wax lyrical about Tomas Piety all day but, who am I kidding, I’m going to miss all the characters. Bloody Anne, Beast, Jochan, Billy, Mina, Rosie, Cutter. The list just goes on and on. Hell, even the utter bastard that is Dieter Vogel has been great fun. 

Part of me has a burning curiosity about where Piety’s story goes next. The book ends in a bittersweet fashion and I was left with the impression that getting what you want does always equate to getting what you actually need. I’d love to revisit this character twenty years further down the line. What’s that quote from The Dark Knight?  You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain. As The War for the Rose Throne unfolded, it has become clear that our protagonist exists in a morally grey area. As events have progressed, Piety has evolved into someone new but at what cost?

If like me you’ve enjoyed this series, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Tomas Piety’s swansong is everything you could hope for. Revelations**, revolutions and resolutions abound. 

Priest of Crowns is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available from 4th August. 

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the Gangs of London soundtrack by Aria Prayogi and Frajar Yuskemal. It perfectly captures the tone of the novel and I’m sure Piety would approve of anything gang-related.

*The answer is a resounding yes but in the best possible way. Who doesn’t love an anti-hero? 

**I’ll even go so far as to admit there were a couple of moments where I turned the air blue with some choice expletives. Put it this way, there are some very definitive conclusions for some of the characters. 

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