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The war is over, and army priest Tomas Piety heads home with Sergeant Bloody Anne at his side. But things have changed while he was away: his crime empire has been stolen and the people of Ellinburg--his people--have run out of food and hope and places to hide. Tomas sets out to reclaim what was his with help from Anne, his brother, Jochan, and his new gang: the Pious Men. But when he finds himself dragged into a web of political intrigue once again, everything gets more complicated.

As the Pious Men fight shadowy foreign infiltrators in the back-street taverns, brothels, and gambling dens of Tomas's old life, it becomes clear:
The war is only just beginning.

352 pages, Paperback

First published October 2, 2018

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About the author

Peter McLean

38 books867 followers
Peter McLean was born near London in 1972, the son of a bank manager and an English teacher. He went to school in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral where he spent most of his time making up stories.

He has since grown up a bit, if not a lot, and spent 25 years working in corporate IT. He is married to Diane and is still making up stories.

He is the author of the War for the Rose Throne series, beginning with Priest of Bones, the Burned Man series, and numerous short stories for Warhammer.

Agent: Jennie Goloboy at DMLA

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 876 reviews
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51.1k followers
September 23, 2022
Priest of Bones is a very more-ish book, very readable. The prose is solid, the single first person character who delivers the story has a strong voice. It’s a very satisfying book to read, the plot never gets away from itself.

Basically Priest of Bones is a story of organised crime with shades of the Godfather here and there. Our protagonist returns from a horrific war with old friends, family, and new friends formally under his command. I say friends, but Tomas Peity is a leader, sometimes a priest, always a soldier, he commands respect rather than friendship and he is returning to the city he was born in to pick up where he left off, ruling the streets of a sizeable district as its crime lord.

Naturally others have moved in during his absence and heads have to broken, knee-caps removed. Things grow more complicated and the plot thickens, but essentially this is about driving out other gangs, re-establishing control, building an empire of brothels, pubs, gambling houses and the like.

It sounds quite old school. It really isn’t. The cast is diverse in terms of gender, race, and sexual preference. It sounds grim and dark … and it is … but our priest of bones is quite the humanitarian for a ruthless crime lord, intolerant of rape, violence against women (unless they are armed), child abuse, the drug trade, treating the poor badly, the list goes on. It doesn’t stop him leading an exciting life though and cutting his way through some very grimdark situations. There’s blood and shit in large measure.

Tomas Piety is a good fighter but he leads by choosing the right man (or woman) for the job, be it Bloody Anne, Billy the Boy, Black Billy, Sir Eland, Kant the Cunt, Jochan Piety - his wild brother, Will the Wencher, or any other of his crew of Pious Men. It’s fun to watch him rebuild his empire a piece at a time, ripping down someone else’s as he goes.

Given the single point of view, and the high tempo action, most of the characters remain little more than nametags, but we get to know a few much better and it’s well done.

Fantasy enters the story through the sporadic appearance of sorcerers with a trainee on the home team. The magic is definitely of the mysterious variety rather than the magic-system sort.

I found it to be a really good read. It’s not a book that stuns you with originality, powerful prose, cunningly engineered plot … it’s just very fun to read. It’s a charismatic book. I think it could do really well.

EDIT: & now there's a cover!

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Profile Image for Petrik.
675 reviews43k followers
June 16, 2019
4.5/5 stars

Peeky fookin bloindah with a powerful one more chapter syndrome.

A confession first, I’m not a fan of the TV show Peaky Blinders. Despite the well-acted performance of the casts, I gave up watching the TV series in the midst of season 2 because I was insanely bored with the snail-pacing. Yes yes, heresy right? Feel free to mock me with no fighting no fooking fighting meme. Hearing that Priest of Bones is inspired by the TV series was honestly the main reason why I haven’t given this book a go until now. Don’t get me wrong, what they’ve said about this being similar to Peaky Blinders is true; the similarity and inspirations were myriad and some elements did felt a bit too similar, especially in the first half. However, Priest of Bones, to my mind, has a significantly superior package compared to what I’ve seen so far in Peaky Blinders.

“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.”

The war in Abingon is over. Tomas Piety and his companions return to Ellinburg only to find that his crime organizations have been stolen. Seeing that the people of Ellinburg—Tomas’ people—have run out of food and hope, Tomas and his Pious Men are determined to reclaim his businesses back. Priest of Bones, the first book in War for the Rose Throne trilogy, can be defined as a grimdark gangster story in a low-fantasy world. The plot was constantly entertaining, there were many great things about this book but if I were tasked to choose one that excels the most, it would have to be its pacing. Priest of Bones is relatively a short book; at roughly 350 pages, it’s definitely shorter than the fantasy books I usually read which ranges between 500-1000 pages long. The low number of pages plus the unputdownable pacing made this book a short read that made me crave for more. I finished it in two days but I could’ve finished it in a single day; I purposely spread it out so that I have more days being inside this world. Priest of Bones belongs in the grimdark and low-fantasy genre; magic was in the book but it wasn’t too dominant to the plot and there’s no coherent rule surrounding its usage. However, I do think that the way the magic was utilized to increase the tension of the conflicts was well done.

“Sometimes a man has to balance two evils in his hands and choose the lighter one.”

The characters, especially Tomas, Billy the Boy, and Bloody Anne, were gradually fascinating. McLean has implemented a unique manner of speech to Tomas’s narration. “To my mind,” and “I can’t let it pass” were two phrases that Tomas purposely repeated throughout the book. Arguably, some people will find this style of storytelling to be repetitive; I personally think of it as a feature that adds distinction to the first-person narration. I feel like it’s a great way to ascertain that every event of the book was clearly told and perceived from Tomas’ view; it’s what he thinks, other characters may have different opinions about the events that unfolded. The characters' interactions and their banter were engaging, funny, and heartwarming at times. These characters have gone through a lot of shit at the war in Abingnon and McLean showed the damages that the characters had through their behaviors and actions rather than their internal conflicts. Billy the Boy—one of the side character—was an interesting character and his development helped in making me glued to the story. I also loved Bloody Anne. She’s such a charming character and she reminded me of Anne Bonny from the TV series Black Sails. Without saying too much, I would easily say that Tomas’s friendship with Bloody Anne, in particular, was one of the highlights of the book for me.

“There’s a comradeship in that, in drinking together and saying nothing, because no words need to be said.”

Here’s a sad fact about my reading habit this year, not only it’s been three months since I’ve read a fantasy book that used first-person perspective narration, I’ve actually read 54 books prior to this one within this year and it’s only just now that I realized only two of them were written with first-person narration. It has come to the point where first-person narration felt refreshing for me to read. In a way, that’s also why this book worked well for me; I chose to read it at the right timing. McLean’s prose was utterly readable; simple, vivid, and immersive. I was in dire need of a fast-paced reading experience that doesn’t neglect characterizations and Priest of Bones delivered what I needed.

“Men who have been through Hell together tend to stay together, if they can.”

This is one of the books that have been recommended to me so many times. Although I wasn’t sure about this novel at first, I’m truly grateful that I finally gave it a go. Priest of Bones was exhilarating and incredibly compelling; its addictive storytelling nature truly had me swiping through the pages of my kindle effectively. I highly recommend this to readers who love grimdark fantasy that never goes complete nihilistic. If you’re a fan of fast-paced gangster story, it’s crucial that you read this book as soon as possible. I look forward to reading the sequel, Priest of Lies, which luckily comes out in less than a month from now.

You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,470 reviews9,636 followers
February 16, 2019


Woot!! This one went right into my favorites list! Happy Freaking Day!!

I loved almost every character in the book!! My favorite being Bloody Anne!

"I don’t want a fucking love spell," Bloody Anne snarled at him. "I’ve paid you silver for wisdom, so you’ll have the good grace to shut up and listen to the fucking question without interrupting me again or I’ll nail you to your door with your fucking rat, you understand me?"

Old Kurt stared at her for a moment, then laughed his thin, reedy old man’s laugh.

"That’s me told, ain’t it," he said. "I’ll listen, my fine lady. I’ll listen to you."

She’s Tomas second and she’s bad to the bone!!

Tomas is a fighter, a businessman and a priest. <— just read the book!

I love these people and laughed my butt off at some of their antics! I also give kudos to the author for having Tomas kill one of his own men that was going to rape a girl and also give a beating to one that hurt one of his brothel girls! Also, there was no senseless animal killings in the book! Hell yeah! I mean I can’t say what he will do in the other books but he got my full 5 stars for a great book and the forementioned <— is that even a word!

This is a grimdark my peeps and done in a way I could fully love and not cringe or skim. Yes, there are blood and guts and stuff. Uh, I did mention grimdark. Anyhoo, I loved it and look forward to the rest of the books!!

Happy Reading!

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
October 15, 2018
Priest of Bones has been on my radar ever since I attended a book talk at SDCC 2018. It sounded so good - a heavy dose of grimdark with all the usual nastiness and morally-grey characters. But I could not connect with a single character or event in this book no matter what I did.

I'm sure the right sort of reader will eat this up and add it to their favourites list. It does seem to be garnering a lot of positive attention. But, honestly, Tomas Piety - war priest and crime lord - just bored me. He was not a narrator I cared for or could become invested in. The only character of interest to me was Bloody Anne, but she alone was not enough to hold up the narrative.

The dark themes didn't bother me (more on that further down), but I do think I took a particular (and early) dislike to the dick-swinging, beer-guzzling, woman-raping BROS in this book. Dark books should make me shudder, make me think, make me gasp... they shouldn't make me frown and mutter morons under my breath.

True to the genre, this is a dark read. I expected and welcomed the darkness, though I think some additions were gratuitous, such as the pedophilia. If you have any triggers or deep dislikes, they are probably in this book. This is not an exhaustive list but warnings for: sexual assault, pedophilia, alcohol and substance abuse, all kinds of abuse, graphic violence and torture, and child prostitution.

Tomas Piety is a crime lord who returns to the place of his birth after fighting in a devastating war. Under his command are a group of loyal soldiers who fought beside him and will now help him reclaim the streets he once ruled over. It's a fairly generic tale of gangs fighting over the streets and torturing a few people along the way. There's some magic thrown in, too, though it seems like this will be developed more in the sequels.

I think my problem was that there were several elements that make up this book and I found none of them compelling. The story of gang warfare, for one, was uninteresting and unoriginal to me. Tomas felt like any old crime boss with a little humanity towards women and children amid his ruthlessness. I couldn't tell you anything about him that makes him different. The world-building, though suitably dark and dreary, was vague. I like a bit more detail painted into my fantasy worlds.

Perhaps Priest of Bones would have also benefited from a third person perspective. We are stuck inside Tomas's mind for the whole book and everyone else feels like little more than a name, colourful as those names may be - Bloody Anne, Black Billy, Kant the Cunt, Will the Wencher, Billy the Boy and more.

Not the gripping read I was hoping for, but there's some strong writing here. Curious grimdark fans should give it a shot.

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Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,540 reviews9,835 followers
November 6, 2022
Priest of Bones is gritty, violent and highly addictive Grimdark Fantasy.

McLean's dynamic writing kept me glued to the pages until the bitter end.

The story begins when our badass protagonist, Tomas Piety, returns to his hometown after fighting in a long, brutal war.

Bringing with him a hodgepodge group of men, including his right-hand 'man', Bloody Anne, and the mysterious child, Billy the Boy.

Not far behind returns his younger brother, Jochan, with some of his men.

The two groups band together and set out to reclaim the territory, and businesses, previously owned by Piety that have been pirated during his absence.

This story has everything I am looking for when I open a Grimdark Fantasy. I want dirt. Lots of it. Dirt, grime, blood, stink, cussing, fighting and no mercy. Just me?

This book had all of those things in spades but it also had a lot more. It deals with some heavier topics that I think were handled really well; rather impressively in fact.

For example, a lot of the men returning from the war were struggling with issues relating to PTSD. In the novel, they refer to it as 'battle sickness' and it didn't gloss over that fact; it discussed it, showed what that meant amongst the men and how they helped one another.

It also examined the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse, the effects that has as an individual is growing into an adult. There are issues with grief, guilt, and sexual identity.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few that I noticed and appreciated.

All you want is more blood, and more fucking death, and it's never enough for you, is it? You've become a fucking priest of bones!

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes Grimdark Fantasy; particularly people who may like stories like, The Song of Ice and Fire series, that have a lot of political intrigue, as well as complex relationships.

This story left off in the perfect place for the second book to start and trust me, I cannot wait to get my hands on it. Well done, Peter McLean, well done!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group, for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review.

I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to hearing what other readers think of this incredibly dark and delicious story!
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
311 reviews1,330 followers
March 17, 2018
I received an advance reading copy of Priest of Bones in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Peter McLean and Ace for the opportunity.

The crime boss, soldier, and priest Tomas Piety has spent the last three years fighting a war he was conscripted into. Although victorious, it all seems hollow with the death, destruction, plague, and famine that has ravished the land. We join Tomas and his crew of trusted mercenaries as they are venturing home, warworn and looking to return to their previous lives. Upon reaching Ellingberg- the city where Tomas and his gang the Pious Men once controlled the streets he soon realises that his businesses have been stolen whilst he has been away spilling blood and guts for his Queen. With his crew of loyal military veterans at his side, he decides it's time to reclaim what is rightfully his. It is soon unravelled that there is more going on in the city than meets the eye this time and the turf war skirmishes of his previous business regime are the least of his worries. To quote the back of the advanced reading copy "The war is not over. It's only just beginning."

I can safely say that this will be the book dark fantasy and grimdark fans will be raving about at the end of this year. It is reminiscent of McDonald's Blackwing for the mercenary crew camaraderie, Puzo's The Godfather or Lee's Jade City for the crime family intricacies, and Horowitz's House of Silk for a few very uncomfortable moments.

This narrative is presented in the first person perspective as if Tomas is dictating or writing his memories. Within the first chapter, I was gripped by the voice, the flow, and Tomas' thoughts and opinions. Essentially, being inside the mind of a crime boss, we are privy to all of his views, ambitions, agendas, and secrets which none of the other characters in the dramatis personae are. This cleverly ascertained instant empathy pulled me in and even though you'd never call Tomas an unflawed person you will more than likely be on his side throughout.

There is a pretty sizable cast of characters in Priest of Bones and for a relatively short book, I intially thought there would be too many. The way it's written as if we are following Tomas' train of thought and views makes it easy to recognise, differentiate between and feel for the wide range of many different individuals within the ensemble. Many of the players including our narrator have hidden objectives, motives and a secret past existence. As the first of a proposed trilogy, not all questions regarding the characters are answered but enough nuggets and reveals are presented that it's truly enticing although often gritty and I'm excited to find out more going forwards. Especially with reference to three of my favourite characters including Tomas' second, the scarred veteran Bloody Anne, his brother the slightly disturbed but warrior berserker Jochan, and his mysterious, cunning, and adopted 12-year-old nephew Billy the Boy. There is also a character called Cutter who is described as "a professional murderer with a mysterious past" who I can't wait to find out more about in the rest of the series. I'll point out that it is a coincidence that he shares a name with an assassin in Malazan Book of the Fallen.

McLean himself described the first entry in War for the Rose Throne as being influenced by a combination of Peaky Blinders and The Godfather, but set in Tudor-era Edinburgh crossed with Industrial Revolution London. I can readily see all these influences, however; I also analysed it as having a sort of medieval Irish twang and in addition, it features lots of fantasy greatness such as deadly magicians, named personal weapons and secret assassin groups. The world building is exquisite and it mostly takes place within Ellingberg as the Pious Men are trying to rebuild their business empire and find out more about who their opposition is. Who is this Bloodhands who is just described as a very, very scary man? I'm sure a map of the city will be featured in the final edition but McLean painted perfect imagery with his lexical choices so that it felt that I was walking down the streets of the Stink or the Wheels and even feeling as if I was with the gang drinking in the local tavern before an inevitable ruckus occurred. My only negative of this story is very minor. I felt that occasionally there was slight, in my opinion, needless repetition of statements that had been said in chapters before yet that didn't take anything away from my enjoyment. An extra point for me to mention is that this book is a complete standalone and all wraps up nicely. That being said there are enough loose threads and intrigue that it sets up the next entry expertly and I will definitely be continuing this series. There is a segment in the last chapter that hints at what may follow in book #2 and it's an exciting prospect.

I'm pretty certain Priest of Bones will be one of the finest grimdark books of the year. Dark fantasy alumni such as Mark Lawrence, Ed McDonald, and Anna Stephens have already posted glowing reviews regarding Priest of Bones and I believe it will be fans of the above mentioned who will find a lot to enjoy here. Although McLean's released the Urban Fantasy series The Burned Man previously, in Priest of Bones he has presented a brilliant debut grimdark outing that is fascinating, gripping and has everything that I look for in a crime-focused novel.
Profile Image for Emma.
976 reviews978 followers
November 17, 2018
The war at Abingon is over, but the scars remain. Thomas Piety and his small band of war brutalised ex-soldiers have no more use to the Crown now the conflict has been won- they have been set adrift, one group among many let loose in a land already devastated by famine and plague. However, these may just be luckier than most, for Thomas Piety, leader of the feared Pious Men, had certain criminal interests before the war, and once again there’s hard cash to be made in Ellinburg for those with the balls to do it. First though, they have to take back what’s theirs from a shady unknown faction bent on much more than just illegal moneymaking, threatening to bring the horror of foreign wars right to the Pious Men’s doorstep. And that just won’t do. That won’t do at all.

It takes no time at all for this fight to get going, the stakes further raised by the arrival of a Queen’s Man, a deadly agent of the Crown with their own agenda. To and fro turf battles play alongside the larger issue of malignant overseas interests, building a thrilling, savage pace that lasts right till the final page. Even so, this is not violence porn. Murder is a means to an end as well as a message, but for the most part these are soldiers and when they want people dead, they push a sword through them. Oh, there’s flair and inventiveness too, but the brutal efficiency of it is all the more frightening. This world is dark to the core, but not gratuitously so. All the sadistic aspects of this life are there, whether as part of a character’s past or in contemporary Ellinburg society, but it’s set up pretty quickly, in the way Piety deals with one of his men attempting rape, that such transgressions will receive his own style of harsh justice. And that tends to be pretty final.

So while the book ostensibly seems like it might be straight up grim, it’s much more nuanced than that. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still lots of stabby fun, but its a long way from the nihilism that characterises true grimdark. The first person narrative has the feel of epic poetry, of Homer: a story of war and of ‘heroes’ returning to find their home changed, seized by outsiders. Piety talks directly to his audience and his voice has a preciseness to it, a kind of dry, distancing effect that clashes effectively with the bloody, personal nature of his tale. It has the repetition and musicality of oral storytelling, with him reminding us frequently of what has come before, ‘as I have written’, as any storyteller does to emphasise and focus attention. He repeatedly returns to one refrain: these are the times we live in. Both reiterations add a sense of rhythm and connectedness to his story, as well as highlighting himself and the present state of affairs as two interwoven strands, combining to produce an inevitably bloodstained pattern. It works to explain his own actions as well as those around him, but isn’t there to absolve him, or them, of responsibility. The introspection at the end certainly suggests this; in trying to prevent war, he has brought death and destruction on an unprecedented scale. What does that mean for his position in the future? I can’t wait to find out.

Above all, he is a practical man. He might be a priest, but he doesn’t hold to any kind of religious morality. Instead, he will do what needs to be done. He provides action based, effective solutions to problems, whether it be dealing with people or removing the competition with bloody finality. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his own ethical framework. He looks after his own. His mantra is ‘the right man for the right job. And in this book, ‘man’ means anyone. He actually has a rather enlightened attitude to women and race as well as deep loyalty to those who have bled and fought for him. None of the women are treated as lesser, quite the opposite. From Gutcutter leader, Ma Aditi, to his ex-soldier aunt, Enaid, and his second, Bloody Anne, the women are capable, clever, and frightening enough to freeze your blood solid. Cross them and they’ll soon be carving you open to see just where that sort of stupid came from. It has the same kind of equal opportunities badassery as Malazan and the tone to match. Though the reader sees everything through Piety, there’s still some scope for these other characters to shine and the small amount we learn about them all only serves to whet the appetite for more.

This is a compelling blend of historical style fiction, gangland, and magic, with a fascinating main character in Thomas Piety and a voice that's thrillingly original. I have been lucky enough to read some cracking books this year, but I have no doubt this will sit high in my best-of-2018 list.

ARC via Netgalley
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
355 reviews1,480 followers
July 13, 2021
If you would like to watch an interview with Peter McLean, talking about writing, War for the Rose Throne and more, here is a link to an interview on The Brothers Gwynne - The Brothers Gwynne

“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”

Priest of Bones is the first instalment to War for the Rose Throne, which has been constantly recommended to me over the last year by my brother, Ed, and Papa Gwynne himself, as well as many others. It seems that they know me well, because I adored this read, burning through it on Audible in just two days. This is a story that takes on the family focus and similar story to that of Peaky Blinders, but with a grand Godfather-esque conclusion.

Priest of Bones is a low fantasy read that begins with Thomas Piety returning from a dreadful and horrific war, with his crew of fighters as well as his brother’s group choosing to remain with him. The scars of this conflict shapes who they are, but their time of killing has not yet ended. Piety returns home to find that his businesses have been usurped whilst he has been away, and so he must take them back with force. With death, murder and betrayal lurking behind every doorway as he is sucked into a city of politics and power, he must decide how far you can justify doing bad things for the ‘greater good’.

“One thing I have noticed in life is that the men who speak the most of honor are usually those who have the least of it.”

One of the many things that struck me during this was how distinctive the narrative voice is. Peter McLean tells this engaging, gritty story from the perspective of Thomas Piety, a truly unique character who seemed just perfect for the tone and atmosphere Peter McLean seems to be aiming for. He attributes a different vernacular to different characters, with their own idiosyncrasies and mannerisms and sayings being embedded within their character so masterfully that you instantly understand who they are as individuals. He has obviously thought about the psychology of his creations, and that goes a long way. This is made even greater on Audible through the narration of David Morley Hale, who was great at allowing the story to evolve and alter pace, with his enunciation and speed fluctuating depending on the events going on. Most narrators keep to the pace and tone they are best at, but David just seems great at it all, giving him the freedom to explore.

Talking about Thomas Piety, he and the whole crew are just genius. The relationship dynamics appear to be organic, natural and as a whole the characters are my favourite part of this great story. They act as the core of this story, with everything else such as plot acting wonderfully to further this depth of characterisation. We have fantastic family relationships, especially with Thomas Piety’s brother, and then those with friends, allies, enemies and far more, with people more and less powerful than Thomas himself allowing for a wide array of interactions that never failed to immerse me into the constructs of this brutal world.

“Men who have been through Hell together tend to stay together, if they can.”

Usually when characters act as such a strong core to the story, and become the overwhelming focus, plot can suffer. But, in Priest of Bones, Peter McLean manages to balance it brilliantly, allowing the plot to cause the authentic character growth that readers just yearn to follow and read. The plot is great, with twists and turns that craft the gritty and dangerous low-tier gang life of this medieval inspired setting. It really is Peaky Blinders set in the middle ages, with all the tension, politics and near-death events, all building to a massive Godfather-esque conclusion that has both the authenticity of this life, as well as a certain engaging and wonderful charm, with family and friends acting as the driving point of each event and action of Thomas Piety and his closest companions.

Alongside the themes of family, politics and sacrifice, I thought it was really interesting seeing how PTSD was explored. Through an array of characters who have witnessed war, we as the reader are shown the different ways that people cope, in a way that again seemed natural, and as such was impactful and allowed you to engage and sympathise with characters to a greater extent. Peter McLean shows how for some people war drives them to make the most of life and focus on their virtues, and for others how vices can overwhelm your life.

“At first you think you want to pour out your feelings into the bottle, but you come to realise that you don’t. You just want to drown them, to burn them away with alcohol until it stops hurting.”

Priest of Bones is a fantastic debut that has it all. In this low fantasy gang story, Peter McLean has crafted memorable characters, an engaging plot and a unique urban world setting, all with the perfect prose and alterations in vernacular to suit this type of story.

Profile Image for Dave.
3,015 reviews333 followers
December 5, 2022
Priest of Bones is a fantasy novel, a beginning of a new fantasy series, that is a cross between Conan the Barbarian's world, Nicolo Machiavelli, and the Godfather. It involves battle-hardened men (and women- there is no forgetting Bloody Anne) returning home to what is left of the city back home. Tormented by battlefield nightmares and wounds that will never heal, the Pious Men have returned to reclaim their part of the city- the part they taxed and gave protection to- the businesses they ran. And, it will be a bloody mess reconquering their buildings from the rot that has taken them over. Battlefield violence, magic powers, palace intrigue, and never-ending strategy occupy.

The world that McLean gives us is stark, desperate, violent, and dark. There are no birds singing in the trees. There are no green meadows alive with the sound of music. But, he has filled this world with so much interplay, so much strategy, that you finish this only wanting to pick up the next volume when it comes out and see where he is taking Tomas Piety, Bloody Anne, and the rest of them. The characters are well-drawn and each becomes more fascinating than the next. What's amazing is he has only given us small hints at the world that this story is taking place in and there is so much more out there to reveal in future volumes in this series.

Many thanks to Penguin Publishing for providing a copy for review.
Profile Image for Gavin.
863 reviews393 followers
August 22, 2022
This was a pretty good grimdark fantasy tale. It was basically a gangster story set in a fantasy world so was not your typical epic fantasy tale in terms of scope but that worked well enough as the story was interesting and the fantasy world McLean created might have been an intimate one but for all that it was well crafted and intriguing.

The premise was good. Tomas Piety, like most other males of his generation, has been fighting in the Queen's War in Abingon for years since being conscripted at the start of the war. The story picks up in the aftermath of the fall of Abingon. With the war over the majority of the conscripts in the army have been released to go back to their lives so Thomas Piety, like many others, heads back home to restart his life. Of course things are a lot more complicated as years of war have left the local economy in ruins so both jobs and food are in short supply and poverty is abundant. Not ideal for the thousands of violent men cut adrift from their army pay packets! For Thomas Piety the end of the war means he gets to go home to Ellinburg and resume his old role as gang boss of the Pious Men. The Pious Men lord it over the Skints region of the city. Well, they did until all the Pious Men got conscripted to the army! Thomas returns home to find foreigners have seized his territory and business interests. The good news is that with jobs in short supply Thomas has managed to convince a bunch of his old army brothers to return to Ellinburg with him. His brother manages the same and soon the Piety brothers set about reminding everyone in Ellinburg that the Pious Men are not to be fucked with if one wants to keep their guts on the inside!

It ended up being a good story. Thomas was not a particularly likeable guy but he was not so awful that he become too loathsome to tolerate. He was a villainous gangster but he had a few morals and just enough charisma going for him that I felt myself rooting for him against his various enemies. It definitely helped that most of them were gangsters who were even worse people than he was! There was some added intrigue injected into the gangster elements of the story and that came from the fact that foreign agents were operating in Ellinburg and Thomas had been singled out by his countries equivalent of MI5 to root them out. It gave the story that extra edge and delivered a fun wild card element to the happenings.

Peter McLean is a talented storyteller and he has an engaging writing style so it was easy to get sucked into this story and world. The world building was good. The Ellinburg setting was pretty intimate but we got hints of the wider world via peoples memories of the war and the intrigue delivered by the presence of foreign agents in the city. This was a story low on magic but that is not to say there was none. It remained a bit of a mystery but there was still a few mages and witches on the go in this fantasy world!

I do not think Thomas Piety was a super likeable guy but he was easy enough to root for most of the time and I do think that was an important upgrade from the protagonist of Peter McLean's Burned Man series. Priest of Bones is definitely an upgrade on The Burned Man books as the tweaks I felt needed to be made to make Don Drake a tolerable protagonist to root for were made in this story with Thomas Piety. It was all done without Thomas losing any of his grit and it definitely made a big difference to my ability to invest in and enjoy McLean's fantasy story. Just as I thought it would! The other big plus this series had was the pure fantasy setting. It meant a lot of the cringey banter of the London setting of The Burned Man books was eliminated and that was a good thing for sure! This series also lacked the humour which was to be found in The Burned Man series. That was both a strength and a weakness. It was a strength as it decreased the amount of cringey moments in the story. The Burned Man did get a bit cringey when the humour went awry! It was a weakness as well though as when McLean got the humour right in The Burned Man series he got it really right and there was some truly laugh out loud moments to be had. That side of McLean's writing was not on display in this series.

On the whole this was a book with a fairly dark and serious tone but I did not feel like McLean went over the top with the violence or dark bits of the story. The balance was OK. Which is to say I was happy this was a dark fantasy story that did not end up being an overly depressing read. I like dark fantasy but I'm not a fan of misery-porn and McLean did a great job of keeping on the right side of that distinction so this ended up being a fun and enjoyable tale despite its dark content and serious tone.

This is still Peter McLean so there was still some cringe to be had. This time around it was mostly in the form of the nicknames. No one was calling Thomas, Tom Boy, which was a blessing let me tell you, but we did get hit with the likes of Bloody Anne (because she liked to kill people rather than because she was the only one menstruating on the crew), Cutter (you guessed it, he liked to cut people!), Simple Sam (he was a bit dim), William the Woman (he cried a few times), Black Billy (has was not white, obviously), Billy the Boy (he was a boy and Billy the Kid has already been ruined lol), Billy Big Baws (the gangs notorious exhibitionist), and Milli Vanilli (it was later revealed this dude was actually just called Billy but had been lying to folks to look cooler). OK, I might have gotten carried away with a few of the nicknames towards the end but you get the picture. They brought some of that trying to hard cringe that was in abundance in McLean's UF series. On the whole I did feel the cringe in this series was greatly reduced and that definitely made a positive difference. There was also less Goodkindisms in this one as McLean cut the old man technology rants and the kinky sadomasochism scenes.

I cannot say that I liked Thomas or any of his gangster friends but I was not praying for them to be brutally murdered and I was caught up in the story so I feel like this ended up being an interesting and engaging fantasy story.

Rating: 4.5 stars. I'm not sure if I should round up or down. This book was good but just lacked that special something to make it a real favourite and it had a few tiny flaws. I'll go ahead and go with the 5 star rating as despite the flaws I was caught up in the story and that is what counts most for me. It definitely helps that I've just finished reading two books in McLean's Burned Man series so know what to expect from him as an author and am into the groove with his style of writing. I do feel like I enjoyed his more for having read Drake first!

Reread Update: pretty good the second time around as well! One of those books that gets better and better as it goes.

Audio Note: I went the US version of the audio which was narrated by John Lee. The UK version was narrated by David Morely Hale. I listened to an audio sample and he sounded competent enough but he had a lower class regional UK accent so I gave him a pass. It likely fit the characters of the story but I was already familiar with John Lee as a narrator and felt I would enjoy this better with him doing the narration. I like his neutral, if slightly aristocratic, accent. John Lee gave a good performance of this story but my feel is that both the UK and the US versions of the audio ended up with decent narrators at the helm.

Audio Note: I went with the UK version of the audio this time around. David Morley Hale did a solid job. If he had a flaw he struggled with the female voices and his general character voices were a bit samey but he did feel a good fit for Thomas as a character.
Author 1 book358 followers
April 14, 2018
Absolutely sensational - What Low Fantasy should be.

Tomas Piety returns from war to see everything he has worked so hard for in his life taken from him. While he was fighting for his country and his Queen, foreigners invaded his city and took all of his businesses and therefore his throne as one of the city's most powerful crime lords. But while he once used to lead gangsters, he now leads soldiers, forged and hardened in the fires of Abington. Soldiers that he won't hesitate to use in order to bring the Pious Men back in power, and harsh justice to those who dare stand in his way.

"I looked down for a moment and gave thanks to Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows for my victory. She hadn't guided my hand, I knew that much. Our Lady doesn't help. Not ever. She doesn't answer prayers or grant boons or give a man anything at all however hard he might pray for it. The best you can hope for from her is that she doesn't take your life today. Maybe tomorrow, aye, but not today. That's as good as it gets, and the rest is up to you. She was a goddess for soldiers and no mistake."
Before I tell you what I think of this book, I'll first delve into its nature. I've seen Priest of Bones described as Grimdark, and although several of its aspects are usually seen in that sub-genre, I find its main thematic elements closer to Low Fantasy: a morally ambiguous, gritty and realistic world, a complex and flawed social order with consecutive power struggles, a limited use of magic, and a lack of heroism (or interest in it).

Priest of Bones is beautifully written and well-thought-out. While you meet a big portion of the rather numerous characters from the very first chapter, you're still able to set them apart from their distinctive personalities and traits. The purpose of such a large cast is clear in the same chapter, when a seemingly important character is promptly killed and disposed in a surprising and shocking manner. While the story is told by a single POV in a character-driven way, the rest of the cast gets enough spotlight throughout the story, making the reader care for their fate, which is rather unsettling at places due to the aforementioned purpose of their large number.

The plot is kept tight from beginning to end, and while a couple of sub-plots naturally emerge to introduce fresh purposes and motives, they don't steal much of the spotlight. The rather small portion of the world introduced in the story is beautifully portrayed and well fleshed-out, but most importantly aptly suited to the story. The magic, although scarcely used, is still there, playing a role rather than serving a purpose, which is what sets apart Priest of Bones from a number of other fantasy debuts of the past few years. The prose is smooth and easy to follow, and that combined with a flowing story, an even pace and a rising tempo, result in one of those books that you could easily read in one go. All in all, Priest of Bones is Low Fantasy at its finest, and I wouldn't hesitate to call it Debut of the Year.
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,012 reviews1,332 followers
April 15, 2020
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“One thing I have noticed in life is that the men who speak the most of honor are usually those who have the least of it.”

I have seen a lot of rave reviews for this book and it being a dark fantasy book meant that I needed to read it at some point. After finishing the book I felt a bit disappointed and maybe that is because I had high expectations!

The thing that I really enjoyed was the writing, the McLean has a very solid writing and if the writing was not so good, I would have DNFed the book but it was so quotable and well written so I would have felt bad if I didn’t continue it.

“I nodded, understanding. I didn’t know this Stone Father, but a god who had nothing better to worry about than who you might choose to fuck didn’t sound like he was worth much, to my mind.”

The story is very character-driven and so this is the determining factor in loving the story or not! I simply was not the biggest fan of Tomas Piety which the story is told from the POV of. I did care about Bloody Anne and Billy the Boy but both were minor characters so they wouldn’t make up for the larger chunk of the story.

I always had a feeling that this story is not for me but I caved upon seeing all the glowing reviews! I was excited for the fantasy elements but the problem is that this book lacked those except for a few pages! I think that part will be expanded upon in the upcoming books but I really thought the story and world-building did not reach their full potential! The plot was not bad but I am just not interested in The Godfather kind of stories! The ending was good though.

Summary: I think this is a good book that is just not for me, take this review with a grain of salt, specially if you like things like the Godfather and Peaky Blinders! The writing was very good and the story was not bad at all! I just prefer my fantasy books to be a little different! I don’t know if I will continue the story so I am putting it on hold for now!

You can get more books from Book Depository
Profile Image for Nicholas Eames.
Author 10 books5,560 followers
April 5, 2019
I listened to the audiobook and I loved it. A great, gritty story with a ton of complex characters. It's written with air-tight assuredness and perfect pacing, so that every chapter flows into the next. The climax, especially, was brilliant, and the narration was unbelievably good. Who knew there were so many varieties of 'swarthy Brit'?

The beginning of something truly great, I can tell.
Profile Image for Geek Furioso.
99 reviews3,168 followers
July 29, 2019
Nota actual: 2.5/5 estrellas

He de decir que aún no tengo del todo claro si me ha acabado gustando este libro o no.

Durante la primera mitad lo he odiado. Oh, Señor, cómo lo he odiado. He odiado la gran caterva de personajes que no me importaban en absoluto, he odiado cómo el protagonista no paraba de repetirse constantemente, he odiado el mundo de una fantasía tan baja que necesitas microscopio electrónico para ver cuánto despega del suelo, he odiado cuánto ha tardado la trama en arrancar de una santa vez y he odiado el increíblemente confuso concepto de igualdad de género que hay en este mundo. Sin embargo, durante la segunda mitad, cuando la trama ya arrancó, noté que el libro empezaba a hacerse mucho más tolerable. ¿Tal vez gané resistencia al dolor, o me acostumbré tanto a él que ya directamente no lo sentía? Quién sabe.

También ha habido cosas que me han gustado, como su trato del estrés postraumático de los soldados (algo que muchas novelas no hacen de forma adecuada), sus pequeños y grandes homenajes a los momentos clásicos de gángsters (armas metidas en una funda de guitarra incluido) y cómo la magia de este mundo se asemeja bastante a la de mi amado Dishonored. En general creo que este va a ser difícil, pero creo que merecerá la pena.

Vídeo reseña próximamente.
Profile Image for Nils | nilsreviewsit.
318 reviews473 followers
February 6, 2020
‘We fell upon them like the wrath of Our Lady.
A glorious charge, in the light of the rising sun.
It sounds so grand.
It sounds like the stuff of legends, the act of heroes. Well, we were no heroes, and we were outnumbered, and exhausted and hurt, and it was a fucking disaster.’
Priest of Bones by Peter McLean is the first book in The War for the Rose Throne series, and my god, am I kicking myself for not reading this sooner. This was a sensational read from start to finish, which solidifies my love for gangster esque, grimdark fantasy.

Tomas Piety and his misfit crew return from the war in Abingon. They should be celebrated as war heroes, they should be praised for surviving the horrors that they have seen and been through; but that’s a far cry from what they receive though. The war veterans return home to Ellingburg, a place that’s now devastated with poverty, famine and plague. Tomas Piety soon discovers that the business empire he once owned, which helped to keep his streets thriving, has now been overrun by a foreign enemy. For a man like Tomas Piety, he simply can’t let that pass.

Together with the help of his comrades from the war, Tomas resurrects his Pious Men; a once feared and respected criminal gang, to take back all that is rightfully his. What follows from then is a turbulent story of turf brawls, political intrigue and the fight for power. This is grimdark to its core. You see, Tomas has his own notion of justice, and may god help you if you’re on the receiving end of his wrath.

So it may seem as though Priest of Bones is yet another grimdark tale, full of gratuitous violence, and all the other characteristics which the genre can entail. You’d be wrong though. McLean takes the concepts of grimdark, and delivers them in a much more distinctive way, and I’m all for it. For example, in the opening chapter, Tomas Piety slays one of his men who attempts to rape a young girl. Yes this is done brutally, bloodily even, and if you’re someone like me who enjoys all those stabby stabby gory action scenes, then you’ll find it as entertaining as I did. However my point is, it is not without reason; this is not violence for the sake of violence. This was a scene I certainly appreciated, because it sets the tone for the zero tolerance towards abuse, which is a significant theme throughout.

Priest of Bones is fundamentally a portrayal of trauma, or PTSD, and how the affects of that trauma shape various characters. Battle shock affects many of the Pious Men; for some it turns them savage, others have delayed reactions, and most just want to drink away all that they have seen. The effects of the war in Abingon certainly hang heavily over the ex-soldiers. Then there are those who have suffered through childhood abuse. Truth be told, the chapters that dealt with this did make me feel uncomfortable, and it was hard to read, but it did validate why certain characters acted a certain way, and it made the retribution that much more justified. Like I said, in this book murder, bloodshed and violence. always serves a purpose.

Of late, I’ve been reading a lot of epic fantasy that covers either many worlds, or vast lands. So I thoroughly enjoyed the close-knit setting of Ellingburg, and its seedy streets filled with poverty, and corruption. The portrayal of gangland warfare within Ellingburg, unquestionably held shades of The Godfather, and Peaky Blinders. I found this so entertaining as the former, I grew up watching continuously as I had an older brother obsessed with gangster films, and the latter, I only recently started watching because of this book. What I particularly loved though was the volatile relationship between the two brothers, Tomas and Jochan Piety, which felt so akin to the brothers in Hell or High Water, which is one of my favourite movies of all time.

To find all these elements in a book, and one with such a compelling narrative voice, felt so refreshing. I usually find it takes me a while to warm to a first person narration, but not here. Tomas Piety’s voice just reeled me in immediately. From the very beginning we see Tom is not a mindless, ruthless thug. He’s a thinker, a calculated, pragmatic character, and he’s ballsy with it too. Whereas his brother Jochan is the polar opposite; where Tomas would approach a situation with a well formed plan, Jochan would approach it with carnage and brute-force. However, even a man like Jochan has his depths, and at his heart, we see that he too suffers greatly.
‘Jochan has always been wild, but there was a feral quality to his stare now that I hadn’t seen before. I could almost see the flare of the cannon in his pupils, the clouds of dust from falling walls rolling across the whites of his eyes into corners that were as red as the rivers of blood we had waded through.’
Other memorable characters included; Billy the Boy with his intriguing magical abilities, Fat Luka with his ambiguous nature, who I couldn’t quite wholly trust, and Bloody Anne who was a force to be reckoned with. Each character fights their own personal demons. They have all suffered and through their suffering they find comradeship, and essentially find hope.

However, it is Tomas Piety who now holds a firm place in my all time favourite anti-hero’s list. He’s in good company too, with the likes of Logen Ninefingers aka The Bloody-Nine, and Glokta from The First Law trilogy, and Mad Ben Stykes, from Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy, they make quite the violent Grimdark crew!

Tomas narrates Priest of Bones in the nature of an internal reflection on his life. I wholeheartedly loved this style. Even when you feel yourself questioning many of Tomas’ decisions, you still rooted for him nonetheless. He is charismatic, seemingly stoic, and we alone get to intimately witness Tomas at his most vulnerable, and see a tender side through his bonds with Bloody Anne and Billy the Boy, but we must remember that Tomas is essentially an anti-hero. He may hold to a personal moral code, but whether he is truly doing everything for the greater good of Ellingburg, or if his motive is solely to gain as much power as possible, remains to be seen. Soldier, business man, criminal, priest, who is the real Tomas Piety? That is what makes Tomas have such a captivating character psyche. Maybe ultimately, he is just ‘the right man, for the right job.’

I finished Priest of Bones contemplating the turns the story had taken, trying, but failing, to decipher what could come next, and I was left wanting more. That’s on me though, because the sequel, Priest of Lies is already released, all I need to do is pick it up.
Profile Image for Dianne.
6,766 reviews589 followers
September 18, 2018
It’s grim, it’s dark, and it had me from page one! Adult fantasy with a charismatic anti-hero with-a-heart, PRIEST OF BONES by Peter McLean is an action-packed tale of a crime lord taking back his town, one villain at a time.

Meet bad guys with a heart, a keen sense of loyalty and a very unique sense of justice as Tomas Piety and his gang finally head home when the war is over. All is not well in the streets he once “owned” and he is determined to take it back, one inch at a time, but he had not expected to be caught up in the dark political intrigue poisoning his home.

Thugs, miscreants and gangsters make up an unlikely band of anti-heroes as they slash and stab their way through their own brand of justice. Razor-taut writing, raw and unadorned, this tale and these characters have forged their way into one of my top reads for this year! Magic and mayhem abound as Peter McLean unleashes his imagination with bold characters and gritty scenes. Fantasy for grown-ups at its finest! I can guarantee I'll be back for more!

I received a complimentary ARC edition from Berkley Publishing Group!

Series: War for the Rose Throne - Book 1
Publisher: Ace (October 2, 2018)
Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Print Length: 352 pages
Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
For Reviews, Giveaways, Fabulous Book News, follow: http://tometender.blogspot.com
Profile Image for Ivan.
417 reviews278 followers
March 10, 2022
While I did enjoy it I'm not thrilled by this like everyone seems to. It's fun but there are few glaring flaws that can't overlook.

Writing is pretty mediocre. It's not bad but it's neither weakness nor strength of this book for most of the time.

I got annoyed about how much there is recapping of past things. I have memory span of gold fish but even I don't need reminding about stuff that happened bloody two chapters ago.
Second problem is that there is lot of under-utilized stuff. You would expect that in book called PRIEST of bones the “priest” part hold some importance but it's just a gimmick. Except that confessions he gets provide opportunity for easy exposition it doesn't affect the story or character in any way.

Similar goes for the world. Consensus is pretty much that this is Peaky blinders in fantasy setting but there isn't much difference in setting between the two as one might expect. I praised Blackwing less than a month ago for having contained world building but it still had very distinctive world. Here you could change a name to real world place and call it urban fantasy and there wouldn't be a difference.
Profile Image for Ed McDonald.
Author 13 books1,212 followers
December 4, 2017
TLDR: An enjoyable read for lovers of small-scale fantasy, with a diverse cast of crooks.

Priest of Bones can be effectively summarised as “gangsters in fantasyville.” The story follows Tomas Piety as he attempts to reclaim his underworld kingdom following a significant war.
I finished this book after just six days, and for a reader who only manages about 15 books per year, that’s saying something on its own. PoB is an easy read. There’s always something going on, and Mclean manages to combine two of my most liked elements in fantasy – a quick moving plot, and characters with realistic relationships. None of the character interactions felt forced. I’d have liked to see more interaction with two characters in particular, but I’ll have to wait for the sequel to see how those plots turn out.

I’m a big fan of small-scale fantasy. This isn’t epic fantasy; the events, at most, affect the population of a single city and that’s a really refreshing break from big, world sprawling journeys. The cast is actually quite large for a story of this scope, but Mclean uses a naming system that reminds me a little of Glen Cook in order to ensure that you don’t forget who is who (a problem I often have with larger fantasy books). The cast is diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexuality.

This book may get called grimdark at some stage, but I’d not place it as such. Despite his criminal intentions, Piety is a fairly moralistic character. He’s all about being good to the people – kind of so that he can exploit them – but for his time he’s something of a visionary when it comes to morality. There's a lot of violence, some of it sexual, but we're never unsure of which side of the moral divide Piety is on.

Fans of Daniel Polansky’s Low Town books, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns or dare I say Blackwing will find a number of similar themes put forward and I feel that’s the readership who will most appreciate this book.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
October 2, 2018
3 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2018/10/01/...

Hmm, my thoughts are complicated for this one. Priest of Bones by Peter McLean is garnering all kinds of praise and I’m happy it’s getting the attention it deserves, but I’m just not feeling as enthusiastic about it as I ought to be. It’s as if on some level, I know I should like this—everything about the story screams “me” and the premise sounds exactly like the kind of dark fantasy designed to push all my right buttons. And yet, I felt a bizarre sense of distance when reading this, like how when an overzealous salesperson comes on too strongly with their pitch and actually winds up turning you off from a product you had wanted to buy.

In this novel, which feels a lot like grimdark sword and sorcery meets The Godfather, we follow mob boss and army priest Tomas Piety as he returns home to Ellinburg after fighting in a brutal war, only to find his criminal empire in shambles. Someone else had moved in during his absence, using the confusion of the war to take over all his properties and rackets. Keeping his trusted lieutenant Bloody Anne at his side and his volatile brother Jochan at arm’s length, Tomas sets out to gather up his gang of Pious Men in preparation to reclaim what he had worked so hard to build.

But in doing so, Tomas unwittingly uncovers the secret of who has been bankrolling his rivals, turning his once beloved city into a hollow shell run by foreign powers. Though he is loathe to do it, Tomas agrees to work clandestinely with the Queen’s Men, a group of agents for the crown, if it means saving the kingdom from invaders.

Credit where credit’s due: Priest of Bones is action-packed and fast-paced, wasting no time in getting right into the thick of things. From my experience reading the Burned Man trilogy, I already know McLean doesn’t mess around. His prose is sharp as a blade, his dialogue acerbic and punchy. There is hardly any preamble as we are thrown headfirst into the raging turf war, with the violence escalating from fist fights to fire bombs in no time flat.

There’s a dark tone to this one, no question about that. But here’s where its entire concept also started to unravel for me. Yes, a lot of unsavory things happen in this story, including but not limited to murder, sexual assault, violence and cruelty towards men, women, children, animals, you name it. As an avid reader of grimdark, none of this is anything I haven’t seen before, and yet, something about it in this case felt…off. While I wouldn’t stay the amount of violence is gratuitous exactly, I would say it feels a bit perfunctory and done for its own sake. There’s a real sense of going through the motions when it comes to a lot of these sequences, and character actions also feel scripted like they’re only doing and saying the things they do because it’s what the reader would expect.

It was difficult connecting with Tomas, as a result. There was a lot of telling and not showing when it came to his motivations, which made him come across as disingenuous. Simply repeating something over and over does not make it any more believable, for example, as when Tomas kept insisting that he respects women because he made Bloody Anne his second and pays her more than his other men. His persona felt artificial, like the very heart and soul of his character was missing. It also didn’t help that he was such a practical man. Tomas is someone who does what needs to be done, tackling problems with an almost detached and calculating approach. There’s a marriage-of-convenience plot in this story which perfectly illustrated this, where the protagonist might have felt something more for his expedient bride, yet at no point did I actually feel convinced. While I could definitely see what the author was trying to go for with Tomas’ character, I just couldn’t get on board with it.

Nevertheless, I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book, especially if it sounds like something you’ll enjoy. And to be quite honest, while I did not love Priest of Bones, I could still appreciate it for what it was: a fast-moving dark fantasy novel of moral ambiguity and intrigue that scores high on the readability and cool factor meters—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Of course, it would have been nice if it had gone above and beyond those factors, but at the end of the day, this might just be another case of my misplaced hopes and hype.
Profile Image for Carole (Carole's Random Life).
1,729 reviews465 followers
January 30, 2019
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books.

I absolutely loved this book. This was one of those books that I was able to lose myself in for just a little while. This book first fell on my radar when it was listed on First to Read. I signed up for a copy but let it expire before I got around to reading it. As luck would have it, my local library had a copy and I was able to give it a try. Let me tell you, I should have read this book as soon as I had a chance because it was fabulous!

This was a fantasy that I found very easy to slip into its world. It is a rather dark story and you can expect to see a fair amount of blood and violence. I was hooked by this story pretty much right away. The story follows Tomas Piety who happens to be an army priest. The war is over and his group of soldiers that have looked to him for leadership still wish to follow his lead. The group goes back to his home known as the Stink where Tomas plans to put everyone to work in his businesses. When he arrives home, he finds that all of his businesses have been taken over by others and he will have to fight to get them back.

I liked Tomas right away and the more I read, the more I liked him. When necessary, he delivers swift justice but overall he is a fair leader. He is incredibly smart and is a natural leader that seems to know exactly which job would be the right fit for all of his men. He inspires complete loyalty from his men which he returns in full. Tomas is put in a position where he not only needs to reclaim his territory but must also work with a powerful group to help prevent another war. It is a delicate balancing act that he is able to maneuver with finesse.

I thought this book was really exciting. There is plenty of action to keep the pages turning but I found the strategizing to be equally entertaining. The entire book was really well paced. The characters were very well developed and I not only liked Tomas but also really grew to care for the other members of his crew. There were a few magical elements that I found really well done as well.

I would highly recommend this book to fans of darker fantasies. I was totally drawn into this wonderful story that I found almost impossible to set aside. I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!

I received a digital review copy of this book from Penguin Publishing Group via First to Read and borrowed a print copy of the book from my local library.

Initial Thoughts
This was fantastic! Easily the best book that I have read so far in 2019. It was dark and bloody and rather hard to put down. I liked Tomas and his crew. I liked being in his head as he made decisions to lead his men and when he felt like he had no control over what was going on. The more I read the more I liked this group as they tried to retake what was theirs and what was ordered. I will definitely be looking for the next book in this series.
Profile Image for Nick Borrelli.
368 reviews354 followers
October 10, 2018
Click here for my full review:


Army priest Tomas Piety has come home after three years of fighting in a war that he didn't sign up for. Before being shipped off to the bloody battlefield, Tomas was a very important man in the city of Ellinburg. Some might say he was the only man that really mattered. He is the de facto leader of a powerful crime syndicate that once controlled every aspect of Ellinburg society. Nothing happened in Ellinburg that didn't first go through The Pious Men and their boss Tomas Piety. One thing becomes increasingly obvious to Tomas upon his return to his home city, and that is things have changed dramatically in Ellinburg during the time that he's been away. The first thing that he realizes is that all of the businesses that he and his Pious Men once controlled have been taken over by another faction, seizing upon the vacuum that The Pious Men left behind. This is understandably enraging to Tomas since he's been off fighting and bleeding in a war for his Queen, only to be undercut and have his business operation taken over by a shadowy group who have their own specific motivations. These motivations are murky at best, but could soon be revealed now that a confrontation is almost inevitable between the tow groups.

The Pious Men are left with only two real options: leave things as they are and simply blend back into society as returning war heroes or engage in an all-out power struggle to take back what was unjustly (in their minds) stolen from them. Let's just say that Tomas Piety isn't the type of man to take something like this lying down and he simply cannot allow this to stand, if only to save face with his people. Tomas, along with his emotionally unstable brother Jochan and his second in command Bloody Anne must begin hatching a plan to begin to take back each tavern, gaming house, and brothel that they once controlled. Complicating matters even further is the governor of Ellinburg, who doesn't particularly relish what he knows is coming. And what is surely coming is a bloody power play that could potentially cripple the city, leaving corpses strewn across his streets. Tomas knows that he must walk a fine line so as not to run himself and his crew afoul of the law, while still somehow avenging the audacious infiltration that has taken place in his absence. In the end one true fact emerges, the war that Tomas once fought on foreign soil for three long years never ended even after their victory. Rather, it has just continued in another form on his home turf of Ellinburg. Can Tomas summon the leadership skills that he acquired during that bloody conflict to rally the Pious Men in an overthrow of the outlanders or are they ultimately just too strong and organized to be beaten? And even more problematic to consider, could these interlopers have friends in very high places that don't want them to be taken out?

I knew that I was going to be in for quite a ride with this book when Peter McLean immediately kills off one of the characters in gruesome fashion within the first few paragraphs. I thought, "okay, time to buckle in!" In PRIEST OF BONES, we are introduced to this strikingly powerful main character named Tomas Piety. The first thing that I was struck by was how Tomas is portrayed as an unforgiving and sometimes brutal leader of men, yet he has recently taken the cloth of priesthood and in so doing becomes a follower of "Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows". When he is reunited with his brother Jochan after the war, Jochan actually laughs openly at the idea that Tomas is now a priest. I knew at this point in the story that Tomas was going to be one heck of a complex character and very far from one-dimensional. With every decision that he makes and with every thought in his head, it is obvious that he is now somewhat influenced by his newly found religion. The first-person narrative is so effective and really gives you a great sense of how he sees things on a personal level.

At the same time, Tomas has lost none of his overbearing personality and brutality when it comes to his territoriality issues and claims to what he believes are rightfully his. He's a guy who doesn't take very kindly to being challenged. Tomas also has the inane ability to lead and enjoys the unwavering support of his crew through a delicate balance of harsh discipline and also praise, as he shows when he divvies out money from his private stash after The Pious Men conduct a successful raid to take back some of their lost territory. The secondary characters are so incredibly well fleshed-out and are vital to the story as with Tomas' second in command Bloody Anne. Anne has lived a very tortured life and we get a definite taste of that in a couple of scenes where she bears her soul. We also get treated to the disturbing reason why she has been given the unusual moniker "Bloody" Anne. Then there's Jochan, who tends to be a thorn in Tomas' side as he can be quite unstable most of the time. This only gets compounded when his jealousy that Bloody Anne is chosen as Second to Tomas instead of his own brother comes to a head. This little personal battle between brothers serves as a very nice conflict within the overarching conflict in the book, and is something that you have a creeping feeling will be somewhat problematic for Thomas down the road. From the start, I was drawn into the drama between The Pious Men and the invaders who had taken over their former territory. Just as an aside, I think the whole "Godfather" angle is a bit overplayed in some of the descriptions of this book, as this is still a very Fantasy-rooted story and I never once got the feeling that I was reading about Michael Corleone. It's definitely more Scott Lynch than it is Mario Puzo in my opinion. The confrontations between the two battling factions are so stunningly vivid in their descriptions, some not even involving physical violence but rather subterfuge and political maneuvering. PRIEST OF BONES gave me many moments of jaw-dropping surprise, there are twists and turns aplenty in these 350 pages. What I originally thought was going to be a Grimdark battle royal became in reality a multi-textured, mystery-infused, character-driven novel that shows you the best and worst that human nature can exhibit under extreme duress. I finished my review of Ravencry right before starting PRIEST OF BONES and I was kind of dubious as to whether or not another book could match its intensity and prose, let alone so soon after the fact.

I'm so happy to be able to state that Peter McLean has given us one hell of a story to savor that is absolutely at the lofty level of my previous read. Merely classifying this wonderful book as Grimdark, or Grindark, or Low-Fantasy does it a disservice in my opinion. PRIEST OF BONES defies classification in that it is a phenomenal story with sensational characters and should be read by everyone who enjoys bloody great books. If I didn't have such a huge backlog of upcoming reviews that I needed to finish, I would go back to page one and read it all over again to see if I could pick out anything new. Incidentally, for those wishing to pick up a copy of PRIEST OF BONES, the official U.S. publication date is October 2nd. Now that we are on the doorstep of September, it shouldn't feel like too much of a wait until release day. Grab this one as soon as it is officially available and add it to the top of your reading list, you won't regret it.
Profile Image for Tim.
476 reviews617 followers
July 12, 2019
Tomas Piety, a former businessman and now priest to the Lady, returns home from his time at war. He comes back with his crew, promising them jobs and a place to settle down, only to discover that plague and famine of taken root since they left. Not only that, but all of his businesses have been taken over by outsiders. This will not stand, for you see Mr. Piety used to be a gangster, and he’ll just have to show these newcomers what happens when people try to take what’s his.

Alright, let’s get the negative out of the way first, because there’s a lot here I want to discuss. The book feels like it has either been significantly trimmed down or is somewhat unfinished. I know it’s the first book in a series, but there are too many things mentioned that never come up again. For example, we’re told about the plague in the first chapters, and it never really comes back up. Despite the poor conditions we see in the city, it apparently it seemingly is over (despite them mentioning recent graves for plague victims at one point, I don’t think it is ever mentioned again).

There is an extremely large cast of named characters (to the extent that we are given an index in the opening) but it felt like only three characters were fleshed out (Tomas, his brother and Anne). Billy and Cutter were developed somewhat, but are obviously being saved for a future book. Some characters felt like more was planned for them, but either the scenes were edited out or they were forgotten entirely (odd given that at 331 pages, it’s fairly short for a fantasy novel). The fake knight was hurt by this in particular, as Tomas discusses him so much in the beginning, but even then he only has one or two lines of dialogue and then later on all trust issues are dropped after a minor time-skip.

I also wish that the gods were discussed more in the book. Given that our character is the priest to one of them, you would think they would play a fairly significant role, and indeed Tomas’ thoughts and dialogue are often influenced by this, but we get no sense of the personalities of the gods. In fact, I’m still not sure what the Lady is the goddess of… at first I thought it was some variation of Lady Luck or perhaps death, but at the end I’m still left uncertain of this.

Now, that we’ve got the fairly significant complaints out of the way, permit me to gush praise. This book may be flawed, but it is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in some time.

First off, it is something I’ve never seen done inside the genre. A fantasy novel equivalent to the Godfather , focusing on a criminal’s rise to power. While our cast may be sympathetic, and some goals may be noble, let’s not even try to hide this; they are NOT good people. They are murderers, thieves and get involved in most illegal activities if there is profit involved. They may have a code of honor, but that’s shown to be flexible (for example the policy of keeping the streets clean with “no drugs” goes out, and simply becomes to only sell it to the rich, and keep a tight grip on all sales to prevent it from getting out of hand).

I also love how it deals with PTSD. Our cast went through hell during the war and it is subtlety reflected on nearly every page of the book until some can no longer take it and “battle shock” kicks in. We never actually get to read the full battle; we only get brief recounts of some gruesome “highlights.” It is… unpleasant to say the least, and even our murderous cast doesn’t want to talk about they saw there. It’s done effectively throughout the book, and we see some deal with it better than others, but all are scared by what they’ve seen.

I also liked the unique aspect that our lead is a priest. While I do wish the gods would have been discussed more, I like that Tomas does take his priestly duties seriously, despite not being on overly religious man himself. He became a priest during the war, not out of feeling a calling, but because the company needed one and his captain convinced him that it was just “another way of leading men” and that’s what he’s good at. He hears confession, and offers absolution, but doesn’t really feel like his goddess gives a damn about people one way or the other. He offers absolution freely because he feels like she has little interest in what goes on, and would rather not be bothered with prayers and pleas. It’s an interesting take, as you don’t get the impression that this is a crisis of faith, but that Tomas does believe in the Lady, and this is his idea of how best to serve not only her, but the people around him.

This is a fascinating start to a series. I wish there would have been more in the way of world building (because the aspects we are given are wonderful), and the characters, though not fully developed, are all intriguing. It’s a touch on the frustrating side as I really wanted to know more about them and the world we’re shown, but even with its flaws, this is well worth a read and a great fantasy novel. A solid 4/5 stars.
Profile Image for Megan.
1,202 reviews71 followers
August 5, 2019
4.5 stars.

Okay, so yes, there are a lot of similarities to Peaky Blinders.

Yes, some of the characters have similar names.

Yes, the plot is incredibly close to that of season 1 of the show.

But you know what? I don't really care, because I still enjoyed the hell out of this novel.

Around the time I picked up the book, it'd been a while since I watched the show, and so I can't remember how much of it was identical. I know this might annoy some people, but it wasn't a problem for me. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery and all that, right?

It did take me a little while to settle into McLean's style of writing in the beginning. It's very in your face, and doesn't hold much back. If I'm honest, I did initially think that maybe I wasn't going to enjoy this novel, but I soon got into the rhythm of things, and once I did, I couldn't put it down. I literally read this in a single day.

It's probably also no surprise that my favourite character was Bloody Anne, because my God, what a woman.

To say that I'm looking forward on getting my hands on the sequel would be an understatement, and I'm very impatiently waiting for my library system to hurry up and process Priest of Lies already. I have no doubt that it's going to be just as good as Priest of Bones, if not better. Bring it on.



Profile Image for FantasyBookNerd.
288 reviews62 followers
June 29, 2022
This is my second read of Priest of Bones and I meant to talk about it the last time that I read it, but I forgot. Although, I did give it a star rating of 5, and upon reading it again, I totally stand by this. It is well worthy of five stars and more.
It Is such a pleasure revisiting this book, and I think I enjoyed more the second time round in all honesty. In terms of reading it, I did a mix and match approach to the book coz I have it both as an ebook and as an audio book, so even when the dulcet tones of David Hale narrating the story was not in my head, I still read the book with his voice in my head. It’s just such a distinctive narration that it stuck!

Anyway, onto the book itself. The story revolves around Tomas Peity, a one time racketeer, and general gang leader who returns to the town of Ellinberg after three years away at war. He returns home to find his businesses taken over by a group of strangers that turns out to have wider implications than he first thought. We follow Tomas, who had been made a Priest in the army, as he and his gang take back both the streets of Ellinberg and also his former businesses, subsequently re-establishing the Pious Men as they come to known, as the leading criminal fraternity in the town.

Now as with all good things, the book has its roots somewhere, and with The Priest of Bones it seems to lie in hard crime fiction. The prose itself is gritty and clipped and this works so well, making the story flow at such a fast pace. In fact, it took me two days to read this (again!) I just simply could not put it down, even though I had already read it.

This book is just amazing. Every one of the characters jumps off the page, even the minor ones. Not only that, whilst the book is brutal and gritty, there are some absolute perfect bits of humour in there – mainly in the form of Simple Sam who pisses in Tomas’s battle scarred brother Jocham’s brandy when he’s asleep and also farts on people’s heads. Cracks me up everytime!

The story itself is told from Tomas Piety’s perspective and charts his rise to power and the things that he has to do. Tomas is a brilliant character. Sometimes, he can get a bit sanctimonious and get on his high horse about something, but that just adds dimensions to his character. However, for a gangster, he has a stubborn streak of morality about him and he will not stand for any mistreatment of anyone that does not deserve it. In fact, for a crime lord, Tomas has such a streak of socialism about him that he would make a grown labour supporter cry.

If you haven’t read Priest of Bones, I strongly urge you to do so. The book is so good that you won’t notice you have read it till you turn the last page. It’s that good!
Profile Image for The Tattooed Book Geek (Drew). .
296 reviews617 followers
October 2, 2018
4.5 stars.

As always this review can also be found on my blog The Tattooed Book Geek: https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress...

After three years away, fighting a war in Abingon for Queen and country Tomas Piety returns home to the city of Ellinburg.

Before the war conscripted everyone of an age to fight Tomas with his brother Johan were ‘The Pious Men‘ and led by Tomas they were one of the gangs that ruled Ellinburg. Each gang has a specific area of Ellinburg that they rule with borders dividing the territories. The gangs take taxes, offer protection to those that pay, bribe the City Guard to stay out of the way and run various businesses and criminal enterprises to make money.

Upon his return to Ellinburg Tomas finds that his businesses and his territory have all been stolen from him by outsiders from another country. With veterans from the war that were part of his company and crew along with Jochan, his younger brother and his crew too offering the battle-scarred soldiers jobs, an income and a future Tomas reforms The Pious Men. Setting out to take back his businesses, his streets and reclaim everything that was his before he went off to war taking on the foreigners and other returning gang leaders alike and that’s the crux of the story. As the story escalates and builds to its explosive finale, there are, however, added reasons (and slight twists) as to why Tomas needs to consolidate his power in Ellinburg that are revealed during the course of the book.

There is more than enough action to please in the bloody battles, gangland warfare, power struggles and turf wars that take place on the streets of Ellinburg but Priest of Bones is also a very character-driven read with a great story that unfolds too.

Priest of Bones is written in the first person perspective and narrated by Tomas Piety but also features a large cast of ensemble characters. The war in Abingon was hard and harsh and it has taken its toll on those who survived, all have scars, some you can see, others you can’t and many of The Pious Men are suffering from battle shock (PTSD). Some of them are downright bad and all of them have questionable morals coming firmly from the ‘shades of grey‘ school of miscreant characters.

For those who like and look for strong female characters in their books, there is Bloody Anne. Bloody Anne was the sergeant in the company that Tomas was the priest of during the war and has remained by his side becoming a Pious Man. She can handle herself in a fight, gets the job done and is tough, she’s also a fantastic character. She’s not the only strong female character though, Tomas’s aunt Enaid an ex-soldier herself is as tough as old leather, a battle axe whose not to be messed with, likewise, Ma Aditi the leader of the Gutcutters, a rival gang and then there’s the mysterious Ailsa too.

The whole cast in Tomas’s narrative has a role to play in his tale. As we become acquainted with them and their plethora of nicknames McLean turns them into fully-fleshed characters. Offering plenty of page time and giving them their own individual attitudes and personalities. Allowing many of them the chance to shine and to showcase the various abilities that make them important to both The Pious Men and the story that McLean is telling.

Tomas, himself is an intriguing main character and narrator. Lower class, he’s neither prim nor proper and there’s no excess pomp to his words. Narrating in his own distinctive voice, peppered with foul language and using his own unique phrases and sayings. He’s a priest, due to circumstance and the war rather than any excessive religious belief. He’s a hard man who delivers harsh justice to those who wrong him and those who deserve it but there’s something more to him too. He’s a leader who looks after his family, both his blood and his crew, he looks after his people, those under his protection and takes their safety seriously, he’s fair to those who show him respect and to those who do right by him and The Pious Men, he’s not honourable as such but he has a code that he abides by.

The city of Ellinburg and its streets are the setting for Priest of Bones. We don’t get to see a vast amount of the city with the story predominantly taking place in only a couple of the quarters but what we do see is well-depicted, shows the class divide between the rich and the poor and comes to life in a grimy and gritty fashion.

There’s not much magic in Priest of Bones and its usage is very minimal but it’s there and has a role to play. There are various explosives but the fighting is done mainly with steel. Axes, knives and swords are the weaponry of choice for The Pious Men with the occasional crossbow thrown in for good measure allowing for plenty of blood-letting to occur in the battles.

One of the things that I particularly liked about McLean and his writing was how he delivers information to the reader. Alongside Tomas and Jochan only a couple of the other characters are Ellinburg natives who know the city and the ways of The Pious Men, the others don’t. This enables McLean to have Tomas explain to and tell the new crew members how things in Ellinburg are done and what the appearances, expectations and rules of The Pious Men and the politics of the city are without it ever feeling like information dumping on his part.

McLean writes in such a way that his words fluently flow and adroitly pull you in. From the first chapter, you find that you are in for a grim read and one in which the author isn’t afraid to off his characters. Priest of Bones is a dark and fast-paced book that you can devour and I found myself effortlessly reading 100 pages or more in one sitting.

In fantasy and in other genres too some books tend to be padded out with an overly long page-count and they can, on occasion feel like a chore or a slog to get through often outstaying their welcome. Priest of Bones isn’t one of them and with his book, McLean has created what feels like a short but snappy read that packs both a punch and a lot into its length.

Priest of Bones is an intoxicating blend of fantasy and gangsters that left me wanting more.
Profile Image for Micperk.
37 reviews21 followers
May 25, 2019
Imagine The Godfather with swords instead of guns, organized crime with a touch of magic, replace normal nicknames with more descriptive nicknames like......Bloody Anne, Billy the Boy, and Simple Sam. Imagine coming back from a war and your criminal enterprise has been stolen from you, like any good career criminal you'd be pissed off right? Welcome to the Priest of Bones.

The characters and their enterprise are the driving factor of this story, they're all morally grey and there isn't any good vs evil in this book. I enjoyed the MC a lot. He's a criminal boss but he doesn't condone certain actions. Which is good because a lot of the people in his gang are extremely shallow and repulsive. For the most part they were all well written and completed the feel of soldiers turned into an organized criminal gang. There are a couple of disturbing parts that either happened to them or that they a took part of. The good news is it's not really descriptive and while it's pretty dark at times it serves it's purpose of creating scarred backgrounds for the character building.

This isn't a book with an intricate plot or massive in it's scope.... but what it does have is the ability to make you feel like you're part of a criminal enterprise, it makes you feel like you're taking part in building an empire, and it does this very well. The entire story takes place in a single city, but makes you feel like you're in the middle of that city with them. You get to watch as they retake what was lost, expand power, and take critical losses. The Pious Men become your crew, their territory becomes your home, and I found myself wanting them to make their empire as big as possible.

The action is extremely well written and I never ran into any real pacing problems. The drama starts pretty much right when they get to the city and never let's up with the tension. The magic in this book isn't your Brandon Sanderson type of magic system and you'll see very little of it throughout the book. It's more mysterious, and the rules aren't explained, but it serves this book very well and adds that extra layer of curiosity to it.

This is a book I'd definitely recommend to people, but I think you should know what to expect before going into it. If you're in the market for a fast paced, constant action, darker themed fantasy book then check it out. If you're looking for an intricate plot and a huge in depth world then I would recommend holding off until you find yourself in the mood for this type of book.
Profile Image for Marielle.
265 reviews39 followers
November 4, 2018
What a wonderfully fun book to read! It reminded me in many ways of The Burned Man books, Drake and Thomas have some similarities.
Thomas and Bloody Anne are amazing characters. Thomas is quite the crimeboss, Godfather-style but has his heart in the right place.
In other reviews I read about comparisons to Peaky Blinders and The Godfather and I totally get that! Loved it and will definitly read Priest Of Lies!
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,662 reviews5,142 followers
October 1, 2018
Sometimes, you read a synopsis, and it’s like you just can’t get your hands on that book fast enough, right? That was Priest of Bones for me. I initially heard it marketed as “Peaky Blinders with swords”, and given how badly I’ve been meaning to find the time to watch Peaky Blinders, that felt like a sign that I should snatch this one right up! Antiheroes, gangsters, crime lords, and a general moral greyness on top of it all? It should’ve been a recipe for perfection!

There was a devil in me, and all my crew knew it.

Unfortunately, I vastly oversold this one for myself. I hadn’t reached the end of the first few chapters before I realized that the narrative was going to be a struggle for me, and it was to the very end. It’s not that the writing is bad by any means—in fact, I think Peter McLean is talented, and this book is going to find many readers who will love his style—but I couldn’t connect with Tomas to save my life.

Not only was Tomas impossible to attach myself to, each character in this story was wholly unlikable for me. I usually love morally grey characters and antiheroes, so that wasn’t the problem—this massive cast of characters was mostly just simplified and uninteresting. The closest I ever came to caring about anyone was Tomas’ right-hand woman, Bloody Anne, a violent, angry lesbian with a scarred face and a terrible fear of magic. She’s likable enough at times, but even she just fell flat for me much of the time. On the flip side, the worst character for me by far was Ailsa, the potential love interest, whom I wanted to throttle every single step of the way.

Harsh work, as I say, but we had done worse before.
Every one of us had done worse.

The world-building is another thing I want to comment on here, because I think it is going to be polarizing for a lot of readers. On one hand, the setting is really enjoyable; I love grimy city settings for stories, especially when crime lords and gangs are involved, and McLean’s writing is just atmospheric enough that you can feel the smog and filth of the surroundings. On the other hand, nothing feels built up enough. There’s a magic system that we learn very little about, and for there to be so much history in the city of Ellinburg, most of it seems to have been casually tossed away or swept under the rug. This is something that I suspect will be further fleshed out in the second book, but I still felt that it was worth mentioning for anyone who—like me—enjoys a lot of world-building in their fantasy series starters.

On a more complimentary note, something I enjoyed was the fact that McLean doesn’t shy away from brutal topics (as you’ll see by the long list of content warnings I’ll insert at the end of this review), but all the same, most of those issues are challenged by Tomas’ narrative. He opens the book by murdering one of his own men right off the bat for attempted rape, and that absolutely sets the tone for what an honorable man Tomas is at heart. Everything he does is for the sake of the citizens of Ellinburg and his loved ones, and it lends an interesting side of nobility to him.

My only complaint regarding the content warnings below is the endless fat-shaming regarding one of his men. It doesn’t carry any real venom, and it’s casual enough that most readers will miss it, but it is so constant; the man’s nickname is literally ‘Fat Luka’, and we can’t spend a single scene with him without a comment being made on his appearance, despite the fact that what should be the focal point is what an incredibly valuable asset he becomes to Tomas. Instead, it often felt like Luka’s triumphs were constantly overshadowed by his size.

Our Lady doesn’t help. Not ever. She doesn’t answer prayers or grant boons or give a man anything at all, however hard he might pray for it.

At the end of the day, Priest of Bones is not a bad story. McLean has some really enjoyable storytelling qualities, I loved the setting, and the plot itself is fine, if a bit unremarkable. Given the lack of attachment to the narrative, the fact that I couldn’t connect to the characters, and the gradual realization I had that I simply did not care about how the story will end, I can’t recommend it for anyone whose reading tastes match mine. That said, this is the kind of story that will have its intended audience, and if you think there’s even a slim chance you may be in that group, I strongly suggest picking up a copy and trying it for yourself.

Content warnings for sexual assault, pedophilia, fat-shaming, abuse (physical, sexual, verbal, emotional), homophobia, genital mutilation, frequent violence/death, torture, blackmail, child prostitution, alcoholism, substance abuse.

Thank you so much to Ace Books for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!


Buddy read with Kaleena—check out her review, too, for a more positive take on this story!
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