Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne #1) by Peter McLean

Today I’m pleased to be taking part in a blog blast for Priest of Bones.  Check out the banner below to see which other blogs are taking part and make sure to pay them a visit and check out their thoughts.

PriestofPriest of Bones.  Where to begin.  Well, I think saying that I had a really good time reading this book is probably the best sort of opener for any review.  I won’t use the word fun because any story set in a grim and brutal world, where ruthless crime lords are battling for turf really can’t be described in such terms.  So, not fun, but definitely entertaining and, with perfect pacing, a gripping read.

Already there are many comparisons out there for Priest of Bones – most commonly likening this to the Godfather – and to be honest definitely hold that in your mind if you’re going to pick this up but also keep in mind that this is set in a different world and time where swords and axes are the weapons of choice.  I enjoyed this change of tack to be honest.  This isn’t about a dark overlord trying to kill all humans and take over the world, it’s not about huge sweeping battles.  This story brings the fighting to a street level and gives us protagonists that are more goodfella than knightly fellows.

So, as the story begins we make the introduction of one Tomas Piety.  Returning from war with his ragtag band of soldiers and his Lieutenant Bloody Anne, Tomas hopes to keep his soldiers on as Pious men.  Before Tomas was conscripted he was the head of the Pious Men, just one of the underworld gangs that run the streets of Ellinburg.  Of course, Tomas has been away for some time, as have most of the crime lords that were once in charge of the streets, and things have changed, not least of all the businesses once owned by Tomas having been take over by others.  Tomas is going to have to take swift and bloody action to reclaim what was once his.  Of course, not everything is what it seems.  Tomas may have lost his business interests but the other rival gangs are not at the heart of the takeover.  It seems that the streets of Ellinburg are being slowly infiltrated by newcomers who have a secret agenda, one that involves Tomas being forced to undertake work on behalf of the Queen’s Men.  Working for the Queen’s Men is tantamount to being a turncoat, if anybody finds out Tomas will be hung out to dry without any questions being asked.  As you can imagine, between trying to reclaim his businesses, keeping his crew in order and spying for the Queen’s Men Tomas really is sitting pretty between a rock and a hard place.

With a couple of minor reservations I really enjoyed this one.  I would plainly state that this is a book that doesn’t flinch away from the blood and guts or from the brutal scenes.  It’s not pretty and it certainly isn’t Middle Earth(ish) so you might want to consider that before embarking on Tomas’s story.  If you’ve read McLean’s Burned Man series you’ll be aware that his writing can be quite to the point, he doesn’t shy away from curse words or harshness.  For the record I’m not trying to paint this as overly grimdark because I didn’t find this as gut churning as some books that I’ve read in the not too distant past.  But, war is cruel and gangsters and crime lords are not renowned for their sweet and cuddly natures.

In terms of the characters.  Tomas is our pov character but he quite generously shares information about the other characters in his crew.  I enjoyed the way the back stories unfolded as part of the narrative and also with a degree of expectation that you would realise or understand the implied nature of things and reach the appropriate conclusion.  There are no info dumps here rather the inclusion of material as and when necessary that helps to build things in a steady but unobtrusive fashion.  Tomas is not necessarily a lovable character, he’s a gangster and a gang boss to boot.  In his favour however he won’t put up with certain behaviour.  He doesn’t condone drugs or rape and although he ‘taxes’ the people of Ellinburg he also wants to keep the place running smoothly and keep people fed and employed.  Regardless of his criminal proclivities you could say he cares.  He’s no Robin Hood but at the same time he’s not totally wicked or bereft of feeling.  I wouldn’t say that I’ve totally warmed to him just yet and he’s not become a lovable rogue but I would say that he has a feeling of ‘better the devil you know’ and like moss, that will grow whether you want it to or not, I think he’s started to grow on me.  I’m not going to give a breakdown of the other characters but I will give a shout out to the young boy called Billy – he fascinates me.  I want more of his character without a doubt.  I will even say please.  Pretty please sir, I want some more.

The setting could in fact be almost out of a Dicken’s novel.  It’s got that seedy dark underworld feel that some of Dicken’s stories had.  The streets feel ramshackle and grubby, people live in extreme poverty and there is a definite feeling of patience wearing thin.  I wouldn’t say that the world building is really strong here but I don’t mean that negatively.  I had enough to have a feel for the place and I think there’s plenty of room for growth in future books – I’m assuming there are more due but I’m not sure how many at this point

In terms of criticisms I don’t have anything significant.  I felt that at the start of the book Tomas repeated himself a little when he was talking about members of his crew – particularly in terms of their loyalty (or not).  It’s only a small thing and whilst it didn’t really bother me I was aware of it which in turn made me wonder if it was foreshadowing of things yet to come.  I also haven’t really become strongly attached to the characters.  They haven’t quite jumped off the page for me just yet but I do like Billy, well, I find him very intriguing, and Tomas is also starting to starting to grow on me as I mentioned above.

Overall, I found Priest of Bones a strong, entertaining read.  In a nutshell and simply put – I enjoyed it.  The plot develops really well, there’s a sense of ever growing threat and the pacing is absolutely spot on.  I cannot fault the writing  or the way that I was hooked to the page waiting to see what would happen next.  I very much look forward to the next book.

I would just say a quick word about potential triggers, this book is definitely not a YA read and contains violence and language.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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Can’t Wait Wednesday : Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne #1) by Peter McLean

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : Priest of Bones (War for the Rose Throne #1) by Peter McLean:

Priestof.jpgThe first in a brand new dark and gritty epic fantasy series, where a crime boss comes home from the war only to find that his businesses have been stolen from him.

It’s a dangerous thing, to choose the lesser of two evils.

The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety finally heads home with Lieutenant Bloody Anne at his side. When he arrives in the Stink, Tomas finds that his empire of crime has been stolen from him while at war. With his gang of Pious Men, Tomas will do whatever it takes to reclaim his businesses. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, and is forced to work in secret for the sinister Queen’s Men, everything gets more complicated.

When loyalties stretch to the breaking point and violence only leads to violence, when people have run out of food, and hope, and places to hide, do not be surprised if they have also run out of mercy. As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the backstreet taverns and gambling dens of Tomas’s old life it becomes clear; the war is not over.

It is only just beginning.

Due for publication October 2018

Damnation by Peter McLean (The Burned Man #3)

damnationDamnation is the third instalment in the Burned Man series and picks up about six months after the conclusion of events in Dominion where the main protagonist found himself employed by a Goddess with vengeance on her mind.  For the record this being the third in series the review below will undoubtedly contain spoilers so please bear this in mind before reading further.

I will start out by saying that Damnation is not my favourite of the series so far, but, that being said I am invested in the story and will definitely continue.  For me, this book had two main issues that prevented me from loving it – firstly, it did nothing to endear me further to the main character, Drake, and secondly, it felt very much like a ‘filler’ or set up book for the next in series.

As mentioned, we start 6 months after Dominion where we learn of Don’s rapid decline since he departed London to try and track his former girlfriend Debbie.
Unfortunately the search goes very poorly and nobody is inclined to help Don.  Why would they after all?  Debbie is a very talented alchemist who doesn’t want to be found by her cheating former boyfriend so there’s no reason for her new clients to give up her new location and earn her displeasure.  Don finds himself quickly spiralling out of control, he has little money and this results in him taking unpalatable jobs which eventually leads him down the route of drugs (which coincidentally help him to block out the voice of the demon now residing inside his head).  I keep thinking with each book that Don has reached an all time low but in this instalment he really does surpass himself by hitting rock bottom.  I actually thought this part of the story flowed well.  It’s full of darkness and despair which is natural given the situation.  Don is not only desperate in his search, and without means to continue, but is also trying to remain beneath the radar of his former companions and remain hidden.  Thankfully, his whereabouts are eventually discovered but not before he’s made the acquaintance of a very seedy character named Davey.  Davey is no ordinary mundane – he has an aura of something different and he positively reeks of power, he certainly doesn’t feel like somebody that you should mess with.  But bluntly, Don gets himself into a whole heap of trouble and without the cavalry rushing in to save him things were basically and literally going to hell in a handcart.

What  I liked about this instalment is we find out some more about Don and maybe his true beginnings.  We get to spend more time with the characters that we’re already familiar with such as Trixie – who I really do like – and we make the discovery of a number of revelations.  Don may be employed by a Goddess which gives him some sort of power but it all feels like little more than a front, if he wants to go out he’s escorted there and back and has little actual access to cash.  Of course Trixie, almost fallen completely from virtue herself, is readily on hand to assist Don – even when he’s making some pretty bad decisions.  And this leads to one of my main gripes.

Why did Don go to find Debbie?  For me his reasoning came across as a bit flimsy and little more than a way to further the plot.  Even if I bought into the reasoning it would do little to make me like him more.  I’ve said throughout the series that Don is something of a cowardly character.  He’s not really entirely likable but I was hoping that he would turn into something of a lovable rogue, because I also believe that he’s not totally bad.  As it is I’m finding my patience running a little bit thin.  He makes one bad decision after another and his choices in this instalment have an impact on others.  It just leaves me feeling very frustrated with him.

In terms of pace, this felt a little slow in terms of plot.  I’m not primarily concerned with a fast paced story but apart from a very good gritty and bleak start I thought this felt a little too much like it was progressing to something much bigger – something that will be continued in the next book.

I like the writing, I think McLean sets the scene well, it has a nasty dark realism feel that may be too near to the knuckle for some and certainly isn’t shy in terms of profanity.  I didn’t really mind that, I thought it fit the circumstances and in fact would have been less convincing if it was cleaned up.

Overall, I am committed to continuing this series.  I need to find out how the next part of the story progresses but I can’t deny that at the moment I’m at a bit of a low ebb in terms of Don Drake.  I hope that the next books helps to redeem him somewhat.

I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

Dominion (The Burned Man #2) by Peter McLean

Posted On 12 November 2016

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dominionDominion is the second in the Burned Man series by Peter Blake.  The story picks up not long after Drake (the first in series) left off and the action is fairly intense from the get go. I thought Dominion was a solid instalment in the series, the characters have been fleshed out and added to and the dark side of London is explored further.  Be warned, if you haven’t read the first in series there may be spoilers contained below.

Dominion, probably in the style of other UF stories, is a self contained instalment – it can probably be read as a stand alone although I would always suggest starting from the first so that you pick up more background to the characters.

At the start of the story our main protagonist, Don Drake, former hitman (or diabolist), has been roped into checking out a potential problem below the streets of London – in fact below the Tube.  Basically, deep beneath the underground tunnels of London live the elementals, gnomes.  It seems that their home is slowly being destroyed by something they know only as the ‘Rotman’.  Everything is decaying, including those who lay eyes on this monster and the rot is becoming so overwhelming that parts of London could easily start to collapse.  Unfortunately for Don and the gnomes the Rotman is much worse than they suspect.  He is in fact a powerful archdemon known as Bianakith,  He spreads disease and corrupts everything he comes into contact with.  Don is going to need all the help he can conjure to help with this problem and, well, not to put to fine a point on it, Bianakith is actually the least of his worries.

I can’t really give too much away concerning the plot.  Suffice to say there’s much more to it than I’ve made out above and there are plenty of twists in the tale, certainly enough surprises to keep this series going strong for a while yet!  Like Don, you’re never really sure who to trust and who not to trust and there’s a lot of talking in riddles with some of the characters which adds to that dilemma.

In terms of characters.  Well, obviously we have Don.  He’s still not a totally lovable character nor is he an unlikable one.  I think I mentioned in my review of Drake that he comes across as something of a coward, he makes poor decisions, spends a lot of his time drinking copious amounts of alcohol and can be a bit distracted quite easily by a good looking female.  At the moment I would say that I like him with reservations.  He hasn’t quite reached the stage yet of being a lovable rogue but he certainly grew on me a good deal more in this book than the first – saying that I sometimes wish he could perhaps cut down his sarcastic monologue a little.  I suppose the thing with Don is he’s spent a lot of time with his own personal demon and maybe being around such a nasty little character doesn’t bring out the best in a person after so many years.  The Burned Man (basically a demon who has been summoned and bound here on earth) is nobody’s friend.  His aim is to be free and he will go to any length to achieve this.  It would be easy to think of these two as a double act – and maybe even Don could fall into that trap – but they’re anything but.  The Burned Man is a demon and a very powerful one at that and Don needs to always keep that in mind.

Trixie, or Meselandrarasatrixiel, is an almost fallen angel!  She’s conflicted to say the least and her aura gives this away somewhat.  Trixie was put on earth to banish the Furies, many  moons ago – or perhaps she was put here to torment Don!  Following the conclusion in Drake she’s currently residing at Don’s place – although this is a purely platonic arrangement – much to his despair.  Of course, being an angel she has an ethereal quality, almost too beautiful, and Don can barely function every time he looks at her.  She is however a fearless warrior and comes in very handy in a tight spot.  Unfortunately she seems to have fallen in love with the wrong guy – to put it mildly.  Adam.

Adam, better known as Lucifer, is the handsome rake of the piece.  He has the creepy ability to materialise out of the shadows and to know everything about everything – at least that’s what his confident swagger seems to portray. You can’t help liking him somehow although, again, he isn’t a good guy – unless your aims happen to coincide with his.

On top of this we meet the usual crew at Wormwood’s.  A supernatural club which acts as a neutral ground for all to come together – this is an invitation only admittance and in fact most of us would be unaware of it’s presence.  Wormwoods is a great creation – for me I imagine it as something from the 50s, I’m not sure why, it just comes over as a glamorous club from an old noir movie and whenever Don and the others pay a visit you know you’re going to make the acquaintance of some interesting characters.

I think the other element that really helps to build this story is the setting, the City of London.  It really does lend itself to the urban fantasy story and McLean makes great use of it’s underground tunnels, dark alleyways and criminal underbelly to give his story a dark and gritty feel.  Think along the lines of Urban Fantasy meets Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  Bad language and a certain level of violence with angels and demons fighting it out instead of gangsters.

I thought this was a really firm instalment and definitely added some more meat to the bones of McLean’s world.  It’s fast paced and entertaining with a conclusion that definitely makes me want to read more.

 

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

Drake by Peter McLean

Posted On 31 December 2015

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25355564Drake is a new urban fantasy written by Peter McLean and set in a gritty London underground where gambling and gangsters, demons and other ancient creatures stalk the shadows.

Don Drake is essentially a hitman, he calls himself a ‘Hieromancer’ but basically, in his own words, he ‘summons and sends’ demons and other nasties to do the dirty work he’s been contracted to do by the local mob. He has a little helper, a rather repugnant and vile mouthed creature called the Burned Man. The Burned Man is in actual fact an archdemon who has been imprisoned many years ago and is now represented on earth by a small effigy of a burnt man chained to an altar. Of course the actual demon really resides in Hell but having been captured and bound in this form he is compelled to serve his owner and his power is really quite vast.

The story gets off to a fairly rapid start and we are introduced to Don just as he hits an all time low, losing at cards to Wormwood, the seedy (not to mention other worldly) owner of a gambling den. Losing at cards of course means Don is now in Wormwood’s debt and the interest is high and rising daily. His first job, to take out two rival gangster types, goes horribly wrong however and in the process a young innocent is also murdered. This of course leads to a whole new problem. Enter the stage the Furies – the three women of Greek Myth renowned for seeking justice and vengeance. Now, we have a different kettle of fish as the Furies stalk Don and something else seems to stalk them.

In terms of characters – well, frankly, Don is a bit of a drunken cowardly sort really or at least that’s how he starts off. He has a modicum of talent when it comes to his magical ability but he frequently finds solace in the bottom of a bottle, he cheats, lies and steals from his girlfriend and on top of this he uses demons to kill people – albeit that most of his ‘hits’ are unsavoury types and the world is probably a better place without them in it. In spite of this you do end up feeling for him. He spends a good deal of the book being beaten to a pulp or kicked to the pavement. He seems to make no end of idiotic choices and you can’t help slapping your head in frustration with him occasionally. At the same time you have to realise that he’s dealing with characters that are not human – and some of them will (and do) mess with his head!

The other key characters are Trixie – who I won’t go into detail about but she’s a character that I really did like. The Furies – who are very aptly named and bring such a lot of wicked anger to the scene! Debbie, Don’s on/off girlfriend who is also an alchemist who comes up with the vital ingredients needed to summon, the potty mouthed Burned Man and another dark and sophisticated stranger who also joins the fray.

The world building. This is definitely the seedy side to London. Dark, rough and a natural draw not just to criminals but to demons and other sorts. It’s very easy to imagine with dark alleys and glamoured buildings and you read along sure in the knowledge that something nasty is lurking and waiting to pounce.

The plot is intriguing and the pace is fast. There is plenty of action, in fact, frankly, never a dull moment.

In terms of criticisms. I don’t really have any criticisms to be honest although I feel that I should reinforce that there is plenty of violence, sex and profanity thrown in here so be warned of that. I wouldn’t say it was gratuitous, just blunt realism really. Also, I must say that the book, being set in London, is very ‘British’ – which you might expect and certainly didn’t create a problem for me personally but some of the ‘speak’ may give people, not familiar with the terms and slang used, pause for thought – although I think this becomes less noticeable as the book proceeds.

I thought this was a very entertaining start to series. It’s a bit near the knuckle in parts and the author isn’t shy about sharing ALL of Don’s thoughts with the reader which can be a little disconcerting sometimes, but it pretty much kept me glued to the page and was a very quick read. It has an almost noir detective type feel but with demons, fallen angels and Hellhounds running amok. On top of this the story concludes with a perfect set up for what promises to be a very good second book in series.

Do we really need another urban fantasy? Of course we do provided it brings something new to the table and I think McLean manages to do just that.

I received a copy of Drake through Netgalley courtesy of the publishers for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

This review first appeared here on the Speculative Herald.