The Skull Throne
Peter V. Brett goes and does it again with yet another magnificent piece of storytelling in The Skull Throne. This is book number four in The Demon Cycle series. It stars familiar characters like Inevera, Rojer, Leesha, Gared and Wonda, to name but a few, and new characters like Briar and Ashia who step into the spotlight. There is war as Krasia pursues its destiny in the Daylight War, struggle as the notherners hold on, and suspense as the great unifiers Arlen and Jardir try to find common ground to bring their fight to the demons of the core. Emotions run high with the characters at the forefront of this story. In the end, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better book with such immersive fantasy and escapism. If you’re a fan of the series, get ready to strap in for a hell of a ride.
The Daylight War ended with the ultimate cliffhanger. Literally. Where we left off, Arlen and Jardir went over a cliff and their fates were left in suspense. The Skull Throne thankfully wastes no time in picking up where things left off to provide readers with an answer. However, as the series has shown in the past, things are never simple. While the deliverers may live, their absence creates a political void that has everyone in Krasia scrambling to hold on to power. Inevera has to deal with the loss of her husband as well as the ambitions of her sons who crave the Skull Throne, the seat of power in Krasia. Meanwhile in the north, they have their own troubles with succession as they seek a heir to the throne amongst a nobility not fit to lead and incapable of reproducing. To make matters worse, their shining hope of Count Thamos and Leesha Paper is mired in the fact that she’s pregnant with Jardir’s son, the demon of the desert. It’s but one more piece in a grand story ripe with character drama, political turmoil and impending danger.
Arlen and Jardir fans will have to take a backseat on this ride as the unifiers don’t play a major role in the bulk of this novel. They do have a significant presence early on in the story and later at the end, but the long road in the middle focuses on the other characters. Still, there’s some action with Jardir and Arlen, even some teamwork as they fight the children of Nie, as well as support from Renna. Arlen’s plan is still to bring the fight to the core, and with a tenuous accord with Jardir, they might get it done. Unfortunately with them off fighting demons, that leaves the rest of the world on their own.
A lot of attention is given to Rojer, Leesha and Abban in this tale as they each grow in new ways and deal with their own struggles. Rojer has to deal with the return of an old nemesis while his wives Sikvah and Amanvah step further into the forefront. Leesha takes steps to expand the Gatherers and help spread the knowledge she’s learned, but in turn has to deal with her pregnancy and the secret of the child’s father. Abban shows things from the Krasian camp’s point of view as he reels from the loss of Jardir and his highly placed protector, suddenly being surrounded by his foes, and needing to use all his wit and tricks to stay alive. On top of them is the large cast of supporting characters who receive some decent page time, characters like Gared, Wonda, Thamos, Jayan and Asome. In particular, we see a flashback segment for Ashia that helps shed light on her background and the ties between her, Shanvah, Sikvah and Enkido.
Without revealing too much about the story, expect several large battles between Krasia and the northerners as people vie for control of their kingdoms. Lots of demons get slayed in battles large and small, but with mimics and mind demons now in play, the stakes are ever higher. There are moments of quiet happiness for the characters, times for the readers to rejoice and laugh out loud at choice bits of dialog. However there are also great moments of sadness and tragedy. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, but Brett’s penchant for storytelling makes it a delicious journey as it is so easy to lose yourself in the characters and this fantastical world he has created. I’d give this story a six out of five it’s so good, and my only lament is having to wait for the next book.