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Book Review

Book Cover

Priest of Lies (Hardback)


Author: Peter McLean
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
375 pages
RRP: £20.00
ISBN: 978 1 78747 426 0
Publication Date: 02 July 2019

Having returned home from the war, Tomas Piety has fought to take back the streets of Ellinburg for the Pious Men. Although he has secured his power, even increased it, a street war continues with the other gangs in the city. What seems to be a turf war soon turns out to be a secret conflict which may decide the fate of the country…

Priest of Lies (2019. 381 pages) is the second book in the War for the Rose Throne series of novels, written by Peter McLean.

The story is told in the first person from the perspective of Tomas. He remains our POV character throughout the book. Tomas is a soldier, a businessman – a euphemism for gangster – and a battlefield ordained priest. Like many who have survived the war Tomas also suffers from battle shock, a form of PTSD.

On the outside Tomas is an imposing figure, ruling with equal amounts of magnanimity and violence, he controls the streets through his second, Bloody Anne, his damaged brother, Jochan, and other members of the Pious family. For all his power, Tomas is being controlled by his wife, Ailsa, who is a secret member of the Queen’s men. A covert group who have absolute power to do and behave in any manner to protect the queen’s kingdom.

For all of Tomas’s power, his tendency to use expletives regularly in his language, McLean has not painted him as a one-dimensional character. He remains conflicted between his loyalty to his crew and the power that his wife holds over him. As for Ailsa, he wrestles with his feelings for her, starting with a combination of fear and dislike, he slowly starts to both admire her skills and even to start to fall in love with her.

There is magic in this world, of a sort. The cunning, as it is called, is an extremely rare talent. Billy, the child he rescued during the war has it. There are no demons or supernatural elements to this world and the talents seem to manifest themselves as telekinesis, telepathy and the ability to create fire. In a lot of ways, they are akin to nascent X-Men. Given that this is a Tudor setting, rather than the overused medieval one, with both armoured knights and cannon being fielded at the same time., the cunning is likely to be seen as magic.

The story has a lot in common with The Godfather (1972), not that Tomas is an innocent who falls to corruption, he is no Michael Corleone, but he faces the same problems. Often during the story Tomas must make choices. His paramount drive is to protect his family and his gang, but often he is given only the choice between two evils. With every choice he makes, and with all the increased power, he is able to wrap around himself he starts to choose options which threaten his family and alienate members of his gang.

I thought this a very interesting novel as it eschewed all the lazy tropes of fantasy stories. Tomas is no young buck, but a damaged war veteran, the time period chosen makes the world seem fresh and the idea of telling a gangster story through the medium of fantasy is just brilliant.

If I had a criticism of the book it is that it doesn’t quite work as a standalone. All through the story Tomas harks back to a war which is not completely explained. For most of the time Tomas is fighting against the hidden machinations of the Skanians, but its not clear if they are a faction in his own country or a competing kingdom.

This is cleared up on page 360, but then you have spent the majority of the story somewhat confused. Lastly, the world building is somewhat lacking. The book has a map of Ellinberg, but not of the world. A world map would have shed illumination on some of these issues. Now, a lot of this would have been introduced in the first novel of the series, Priest of Bones, but this does not help this novel to stand on its own.

Niggles aside, It’s a stunning piece of dark fantasy well worth your time.


Charles Packer

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