Well it’s fair to say this one had its ups and its downs. This review may contain minor spoilers.
The Skull Throne continues right where the previous book in the Demon Cycle series, The Daylight War, left off. With Ahmann and Arlen missing, a bunch of self-entitled mini Arhmanns squabbling over who should be in charge, and Leesha still being very much Leesha. I’m not gonna go much into the setting because you’ve either read the previous books and already know, or you haven’t read the previous books and don’t want it spoiled. For the latter among you, Brett’s world is one of misery. The people of the world eke out their living during the day and hide behind magical barriers at night because night is when the demons come up from the core and lay waste to the world, killing any people they can find. But there are prophecies of a Deliverer who will unite mankind against the demons and rid the world of them once and for all. Only there’s some debate over which Deliverer is the real one.
So The Skull Throne starts off a bit slow. We get a little bit about the fate of our would be heroes (villains? I’ll get to that), and then we get a new point of view character. This book continues to throw flashbacks at us and a lot of the time they really don’t seem to matter. For this one we get Ashia, who is training to be a spear sister. That’s pretty much it. Honestly the first third of the book is so damned slow and left me wondering why this stuff was included unless it was just to break up and slow down the bits where the established characters further the story. And they do further the story about the fight against the core… a little bit here and there.
The second third of the book is slower than the first actually. We go back to Leesha and Rojer and Gared and Thamos and how they’re dealing with life in the Hollow. Then they get summoned to court and we get a
bit lot of politics and tea and sperm viability and some devious plots that really don’t seem to go anywhere at all. All the while the Krasians under the command of mini Ahmann wonder up and do a bit of warring, though not a lot really. It’s all very slow and every other chapter feels a little bit like filler.
Then the third third of the book happens and “OH MY GOD WHAT DID BRETT DO?!?!?!?!?!” Not to give too much away but shit hits the fan and the tagline starts to make a whole heap of sense. The final stretch of the book is pretty much action all the way and Brett does a bloody good job of providing ample stakes for the conflict. It all starts to get a little too real.
So a big problem with this book is the filler. But here’s the thing. It’s slow and laborious at times and Leesha needs to pull her head out of the infinite loop of arses she has it stuck in, but I never found it boring. Brett does such a wonderful job of breathing life into the characters and the world that even when they’re sitting around having a nice cuppa and chatting politics I was still invested enough to be interested. This is something quite rare in my experience. I never skip even a word when reading but even authors like the mighty GRRM make me want to with the endless descriptions of food and livery. Brett makes the characters feel alive and makes their plights feel real and because of that I found myself reading, with interest, about marriage negotiations and baby daddies. They felt like tertiary plot lines but were interesting enough to warrant full attention. That being said. They still felt like tertiary plot lines and we spent a long time on those plot lines.
I’m still annoyed with some of the super powers the characters keep developing. One in particular really and that’s Brett’s idea of auras. The idea that our experienced heroes (villains?) can read a person’s aura to the extent that they know exactly what that person is feeling/thinking. It drives me insane and often feels like it’s a cover up because Brett wants a scene to be from multiple points of view all at once. It’s RAMPANT in the previous book and almost as much in the first third of the Skull Throne. Luckily it starts to slip away as we focus our attention more on the less super powered of our heroes (villains?).
Lastly I want to mention something that I believe Brett does better than any other fantasy writer out there at the moment. He makes us care about both sides of the conflict. I’m not talking about the demons here. I’m talking about the Angerians and the Krasians. We’re given a massive cast of characters to follow with people on both sides of that conflict. We’re given charismatic paragons and arseholes on both sides. As the stakes rise and it becomes clear that both sides can’t win, we know that there will be causalities. And I didn’t know who I wanted to win. I couldn’t come down on either side of the fence so I read on with dreadful anticipation knowing that, no matter who won, someone (and myself included) was going to get hurt. More so than in the previous book I believe the final conflict in the Skull Throne was masterfully done and I both hate and love Peter V. Brett for the way he wrote it.
So there we go. The Skull Throne earns itself 4 stars. It would have been 3 because dear GOD the book is slow, but Brett pulls it out of the fire at the end and gave me a nail-biting conflict I both couldn’t wait to see, and dreaded watching.