Book Review: The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Book 4 of The Demon Cycle
Publisher: Del Rey (March 31, 2015)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I’m going to be keeping this a spoiler-free review and I won’t be revealing anything that’s not in the book description…because I get it. Even after the crazy cliffhanger Peter V. Brett left us with at the end of The Daylight War, I refused to read the first chapter of The Skull Throne that he’s had on his website for the longest time. Despite my burning curiosity, I was sure I didn’t want to know how anything resolved until I had the full book in my hands.
So have things been resolved? My feelings are mixed on this. As the novel’s synopsis states, the duel between Arlen Bales and Ahmann Jardir ended after the two so famously threw themselves off a cliff. The world went from having two Deliverers to none at all and now all the characters in the book are wondering what’s become of the two men. Well, they’re not the only ones. To be honest, I’m wondering the same thing myself! Arlen and Jardir get almost no page-time at all in this latest installment, but I’ll talk more about that later.
What we have instead are large parts of the book devoted to the Krasians and the people of Cutter’s Hollow. I saw The Skull Throne as being comprised of three parts. The entire first third is focused on what’s happening in Everam’s Bounty, and once again we have the occasional flashback. Inevera still holds immense power, and yet even her hora dice are unable to tell her the fate of her husband. Now that Jardir is out of the picture, his firstborn son Jayan attempts to seek glory for himself by pillaging his way across the greenlands, and is built up to be the book’s main villain. Abban the khaffit also gets more attention in this sequel by being assigned as his advisor – playing the Tyrion to the sadistic Jayan’s Joffrey, so to speak. Indeed, at least where the Krasian storyline is concerned, I saw a lot of parallels to A Song of Ice and Fire.
Then in the second third, we have what’s happening in the Hollow. So while the Krasian storyline might have reminded me of Game of Thrones, the events unfolding with Leesha, Rojer and Co. could only be likened to season of a daytime soap opera. Not that I didn’t fancy myself some Days of Our Lives in the Hollow; daytime serials are massively profitable for a reason, following the melodramatically eventful lives of even the most minor of characters. I’ll be the first to admit that all the scandals and baby daddy drama surrounding Leesha is surprisingly addictive, and ate up this part of this novel with more enthusiasm than I expected.
Still, demon battles can only provide so much action and entertainment, and without them, it’s clear that the Cutter’s Hollow crew can only rely on emotional relationship plot lines that border on sensationalism to keep things interesting. This part of the book was enjoyable, but it did feel like very little of import actually happened in two hundred or so pages, other than to have the folk of Cutter’s Hollow bide their time and for side characters keep up their presence. On the other hand, the Krasians’ storyline sees a lot more action. Unfortunately, all of them get on my nerves. I can always seem to predict what they’ll say or how they’ll act, because even after four books the characters are still little more than stereotypes.
This does underscore how very badly this series needs Arlen in it. I did find the lack of the series main character a bit disappointing (I suppose if there’s a bright side to this, it’s that we didn’t get to see much of Renna Bales either – I can’t say I’m her biggest fan). This isn’t the first book in which I feel the Warded Man could have gotten more attention, but nothing could have prepared me for almost not seeing him at all in The Skull Throne. I used to love Arlen’s character, but instead of absence making the heart grow fonder, I’m afraid he’s just lost much of his appeal for me.
Anyway, I mentioned earlier that The Skull Throne felt like it had three distinct parts, and it’s the last of these that raised my opinion of the entire book. Arguably, the war with the demons takes a backseat in this installment, with the big battle between the Thesans and the Krasians led by Jardir occupying the center stage. This doesn’t make things any less exciting, however. The big developments came rolling in in the chapters leading up to the conclusion, and the ending had a couple of shocking twists and holy-crap-did-that-really-happen moments that I’m still having trouble coming to grips with.
There’s one more book planned for this series so we’re no doubt being set up for something big, but I’m happy to report this one doesn’t end with another rage-inducing cliffhanger. Still, there are many questions left unanswered, not to mention a lot of plot threads as yet unresolved, especially when it comes to Arlen and Jardir. The Skull Throne didn’t quite sweep me off my feet, but I did like it – and nothing’s going to make me miss the next book and the grand finale.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Del Rey Books.