Priest of Crowns
by Peter McLean
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Pub Date 04 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 08 Aug 2022
Quercus Books, Jo Fletcher Books
'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.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 15 members
Priest of Crowns is the excellent culmination of the War for the Rose Throne series, tying up all the threads and leaving the reader with a bittersweet ending, which you all know I love.
If you remember, the previous book ended with the immolation of the ruler and this book spends most of the time dealing with the aftermath of that. The big bad of the series is pretty obvious. If you’ve read the other books, you’ll get it straight away but it’s very satisfying to read what happens. The final battle is suitably epic but it’s what happens at the end that is the most unexpected and tragic.
I loved the ending, it’s what pushed this book up to a five star read. It’s dark, tragic and very bittersweet. Tomas gains a lot but loses more and it is fantastic to read. I love Tomas and all the other characters so the events that happen in the novel hit really hard when you’re as invested as I am.
McLean has created a wonderfully dark world, full of violence but also full of compelling and interesting characters. You can really root for them even though everyone is morally grey and would kill you if you got on the wring side of them. I love characters like that. I really enjoyed reading this series, it’s easy to digest but there’s a lot to love about it. The books aren’t too long so if you’re wanting something new to try and you like Peaky Blinder inspired fantasy that’s just as dark, funny and violent as the tv show but with a little bit more magic.
I probably don’t reveal a big secret if I say Priest of Crowns was my most anticipated release of 2022. The War for the Rose Throne series had become one of my favorite series over the years and I was super excited to see where McLean intended to take the finale. I’m happy to say I was not disappointed by the delivery at all and if you’ve been following the series thus far, then you definitely don’t want to miss the ending. Believe me. I know. And I want to talk about ALL THE SPOILERS BUT I CAN’T.
I literally read 90% of the book over a weekend, so that probably will tell you everything you wanted to know, but nonetheless, I’ll try to put my thoughts into a somewhat coherent review, trying not to spoil Priest of Crowns itself. However, spoilers for previous books might be found, so proceed with caution!
With the queen’s death, Vogel and the Queen’s Men face a problem no one saw coming: the rise of a zealous religious group claiming her to be a Martyr. Things in Dannsburg are already near to the boiling point and this doesn’t help matters at all. It also gives Vogel a new pretext under which he can get rid of people who might be dangerous. Things between Tomas and Vogel get icier by the day too, and Tomas is ready to set his plans into motion. And we know there are factions within even the Queen’s Men.
In the meantime, Ellinburg knows no piece as atrocities between the Northern Sons and the Pious Men become a daily occurrence. Once again, it’s down to Tomas to get the city under order to keep the country safe from the Skanian threat and pay the price for it.
I won’t go into further details regarding the plot, let’s just say Priest of Crowns ties up all the plotlines and events giving a satisfying closure. It has some damn powerful emotional moments, some of which still make me reeling, a healthy amount of political intrigue, more than a few (gruesome) deaths, and a couple of revelations. In short, everything that the previous books brought to the table and then some more.
The fourth book didn’t put many new people on the board, mostly side characters, some of whom proved to be an essential driver for the plot, and one who is important to me on a personal level. All I’m going to say is, go and see if you’ll find a familiar name 😉 And then there is Sister Galina, the leader of the new religious group, who used to work for the crown before becoming a cult leader. Her inclusion and the way she is used in the plot is just pure genius. I loved it. But then, I really enjoyed the addition of the religious aspect as it’s totally in my wheelhouse.
As for the older characters, all of them – who are alive yet, that is – make an appearance. Such as Johann, Cutter, Aunt Enaid, Lady Lan Yetrova, Ailsa, Mr. Shapoor, and all of the Queen’s Men and Pious Men. Bloody Anne continues to be Tomas’ voice of conscience, although it proves to be more difficult by the day. She is indeed the best friend a person could ask for. She stands by Tomas no matter what, even if she doesn’t always agree with him. But she also has the balls to tell him off when she has hard feelings. Bloody Anne continues to be one of the greatest characters in this series.
I also want to mention Ailsa with whom I had a kinda love/hate relationship. I never warmed up to her, although I tended to have my doubts as we saw things progressing through Tomas’ eyes, who clearly loves her. She was the only one who kept me guessing until the end. I saw two possible ways her character could go and McLean definitely didn’t disappoint there. I had my questions and they got answered magnificently. The right man, for the right job, indeed.
My personal favorite still remains Billy though. He got me worried all through the book with his mysterious illness. And my favorite moments were those that showed the connection between him and Tomas, as father and son. Tomas might not be the most virtuous man or even a good one for that matter, but he definitely has a soft spot for Billy, which makes him all the more human.
That said, halfway through the book I started to have very conflicted feelings about Tomas. I always liked him as a character – not that I would want to meet him in person – and I mostly did here in Priest of Crowns too, but as we got nearer to the end, I started questioning if I really do. I definitely didn’t agree with some of his decisions, and while I could see his reasoning, I wasn’t sure he got the right of it all. Now I finally understand while McLean says he is the villain because he really is. It’s interesting how much about a character’s actions you can write off until it becomes just one too many things where you start to see them differently. Just like in real life, I guess. And even so, until the very end, I didn’t really think he would do what he did. And still, it just makes perfect sense.
Reaching the end of a series is always exciting because every piece gets into place, questions get answered – mostly – and you get affirmation whether you were right or wrong about certain things. One of my suspicions I had since Priest of Lies just got confirmed, which was pretty satisfying even if it didn’t come as a big surprise. I saw it coming, but it gave me a victorious feeling because I was totally right. That’s not to say I didn’t get a surprise or two – or rather a punch in the gut or two – because holy shit, I did. Did I mention I’m still not over the book? Because I’m not, and that’s all McLean‘s fault. It’s such a shame we have to say goodbye to these characters.
As I said, Priest of Crowns is an absolute page-turner, and through the last 80%, I literally sat on the edge of my seat. I had absolutely no idea where things will land and it all came about with a BANG. Is Priest of Crowns a perfect book? No. The ending seemed a bit rushed and at places, the prose was a bit repetitive, but on the whole, I didn’t fucking care about that. And I already can’t wait to reread it in audiobook format, narrated by the most amazing David Morley Hale.
Peter McLean brings the War for the Rose Throne series to a gut-punching end with Priest of Crowns, one that will be remembered for a long time coming. One of the best books of 2022 for sure. Praise be to Our Lady.
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