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Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley


Skullsworn
Author:  Brian Staveley
Series:  Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne World
Publisher:  Tor Books, April 25, 2017
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  US$25.99 (print); US$12.99 (eBook)
ISBN:  9780765389879 (print); 9780765389893 (eBook)

Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess-assassin for the God of Death.

“Brilliant.” —V. E. Schwab, New York Times bestselling author

From the award-winning epic fantasy world of The Emperor’s Blades

Pyrre Lakatur is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer—she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. The problem, rather, is love. For to complete her trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the seven people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one who made your mind and body sing with love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre isn’t sure she’s ever been in love. And if she fails to find someone who can draw such passion from her, or fails to kill that someone, her order will give her to their god, the God of Death. Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to fail, and so, as her trial is set to begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love . . . and ending it on the edge of her sword.

"A complex and richly detailed world filled with elite soldier-assassins, mystic warrior monks, serpentine politics, and ancient secrets." —Library Journal, starred review, on The Emperor's Blades



Tracey's/Trinitytwo's Review

Pyrre Lakatur must kill seven people in fourteen days or she will die. Pyrre however, is not afraid of death- rather, she is troubled by the thought of failure. Killing seven people would be easy for Pyrre, who belongs to a religion known among the populace as Skullsworn. She is accomplished in the many ways a life can be offered to Ananshael, the God of Death. However, to become a priestess, she must adhere to certain requirements; one of which is to kill the individual she loves. Love is something Pyrre has never experienced, so in desperation she has chosen Dombâng, the city of her youth for her Trial. There she will attempt to rekindle the passion she shared with former lover, Ruc Lan Lac, who now presides as constable over the troubled city. Accompanying Pyrre as witnesses are vivacious and deadly Ela, a legendary priestess of her order, and Kossal, a gruff older priest. Her Trial hinges on the hope that Ruc will let her get close enough so they can fall in love. Then she can kill him.

Skullsworn is set in the world of Brian Staveley's Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series. Although Pyrre had a part to play in that trilogy, this standalone novel takes place years before those events. I like that Pyrre tells her own narrative in first person. It allows the reader to fully appreciate her history, motivations, and inner workings. She is a distinctive protagonist who is definitely more comfortable with her blades than her emotions. I particularly enjoyed her interactions with Ela, whose lessons are a delightful combination of philosophy, humor, and combat.

The city of Dombâng plays an integral role in the story. It still seethes under the martial law imposed upon it by the Annurian Empire centuries ago. Worship to its fierce gods is outlawed, but its people still believe in the forbidden sacrificial rituals, which leaves it ripe for rebellion. The deadly deltas and marshes that surround it are rife with a plethora of creatures that survive by preying on the weak. I really enjoyed the political intrigues and colorful, yet lethal locations that kept the action progressing in unexpected and exhilarating ways.

Because of her devotion to her deity, Pyrre's heartfelt journey of self-discovery is unlike any that comes to mind. Skullsworn kept me mesmerized from start to finish. I love the story's epilogue; it took me by surprise and left a smile on my face. Brian Staveley is both a master of the English language and an accomplished storyteller which makes this book a pleasure to read. Unique, bold, and exciting, Skullsworn is not to be missed.

Interview with Brian Staveley


Please welcome Brian Staveley to The Qwillery. Skullsworn will be published on April 25, 2017 by Tor Books.



Interview with Brian Staveley




TQWelcome back to The Qwillery again. What appeals to you about writing Epic Fantasy and are there any other genres or subgenres in which you'd like to write?

Brian:  I love the scope of epic fantasy, the chance to include the mythic, the historical, the religious, the philosophical at the same time as writing some bloody battles and backstabbing intrigue. That said, I’m writing a novella now. It’s the first time I’ve worked at that length, and the first time I’ve written anything outside the world of the Unhewn Throne, and I’m loving both the intimacy of the form and the chance to be more stylistically experimental.



TQYou've written 100s of pages in The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe. What is your method for keeping your facts straight?

Brian:  I have no method. I have random documents strewn about my computer that are only vaguely organized. Occasionally I need to go back and dig around in one of my books for some obscure name or fact. I am absolutely certain that there are better, easier, more efficient ways to do this, but no one ever accused me of doing things the easy way.



TQThe 3rd novel in The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Trilogy, The Last Mortal Bond, was published in 2016, with the Trade Paperback out last month. How did you feel wrapping up that Trilogy?

Brian:  Massive relief. A trilogy is sort of like a hockey game: kicking ass for two periods doesn’t matter if you let everything go to shit in the third. And I’ve read a number of trilogies in which this happens. I’m thrilled that most readers seem to have really enjoyed the conclusion to the tale, that I didn’t inadvertently ruin everything that came before.



TQBut, you've returned to that universe with Skullsworn which is a standalone novel. Where does Skullsworn fit temporally with The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire and The Last Mortal Bond?

BrianSkullsworn is set about twenty years before The Emperor’s Blades, and it takes place in a city—Dombang—that doesn’t appear (outside the occasional, casual mention) in the trilogy at all. It was great having the chance to flesh out the physical world, and also to take a look at the Annurian Empire from a different angle—many inhabitants of Dombang see the Empire as a sinister occupying force. They’re certainly no fans of the Malkeenians.



TQPlease tell us something about Skullsworn that is not found in the book description.

Brian:  The setting is more important to this book than any of the others. Dombang is a city built on a river delta, a city of a thousand bridges and canals, while the delta is teeming with deadly flora and fauna—poisonous plants, venomous snakes, jaguars, crocodiles. I wanted to create a location for this story that felt beautiful but also rotten, hot, and claustrophobic. That’s crucial to the political climate of the city, but also to Pyrre’s personal psychological journey.



TQPyrre Lakatur is the main character in Skullsworn. Where has she appeared in the trilogy?

Brian:  Pyrre is in her mid-forties in the trilogy. She’s a pretty significant secondary character—definitely a fan favorite—but I don’t want to say too much about her for people who haven’t read The Emperor’s Blades. I guess it’s obvious from Skullsworn itself that she is very, very good at killing people. It’s worth mentioning, though, that she’s quite a different character in Skullsworn than in the trilogy—younger, less certain of herself.



TQCan you tell us about the world in which Pyrre finds herself?

Brian:  As I mentioned above, Dombang is nominally part of the Annurian Empire—it was conquered two hundred years before the time in which Skullsworn is set—and yet, unlike most other parts of the empire, Dombang still seethes with revolution. Part of this is due to the city’s isolation. Even more is due to the local religion, which the Annurians have attempted to stamp out. The locals believe that a trinity of brutal, bloody gods inhabits the delta and keeps the city safe. They’re even willing to offer human sacrifice to those gods…



TQPlease tell us about the cover for Skullsworn.

Brian:  Rich Anderson’s cover art for the US version doesn’t depict a specific scene. Our goal was to capture a) something of Pyrre’s character and b) something of the city itself. We actually considered a few versions that had Pyrre front and center in the frame, but those struck me as wrong. Not only does she fight from the shadows, but she’s not emotionally ready to stand in the middle of a book cover when this story takes place. The Pyrre of the trilogy would happily recline straight across the cover, but she’s not there yet in Skullsworn.

The UK cover, by contrast, does a really nice job capturing the feel of the delta. There are no huge cliffs like that, but I like the ambience of the cover, the way it suggests a wild and dangerous world beyond the limits of Dombang.

Interview with Brian Staveley
US Cover
Interview with Brian Staveley
UK Cover


TQWill you be writing more stories set in The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, perhaps bringing back another fan favorite?

Brian:  Absolutely. As soon as I wrap up this novella, I’m getting back to another in-universe stand-alone. This one involves another female character that a lot of readers have grown to love, although I don’t think she’s going to be a POV character in the novel. Stay tuned!



TQThank you for joining us again at The Qwillery!

Brian:  Thanks for having me!





Skullsworn
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne World
Tor Books, April 25, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with Brian Staveley
Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess-assassin for the God of Death.

“Brilliant.” —V. E. Schwab, New York Times bestselling author

From the award-winning epic fantasy world of The Emperor’s Blades

Pyrre Lakatur is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer—she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. The problem, rather, is love. For to complete her trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the seven people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one who made your mind and body sing with love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre isn’t sure she’s ever been in love. And if she fails to find someone who can draw such passion from her, or fails to kill that someone, her order will give her to their god, the God of Death. Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to fail, and so, as her trial is set to begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love . . . and ending it on the edge of her sword.

"A complex and richly detailed world filled with elite soldier-assassins, mystic warrior monks, serpentine politics, and ancient secrets." —Library Journal, starred review, on The Emperor's Blades





About Brian

Interview with Brian Staveley
Author Photo: Laura Swoyer
Brian Staveley is the author of the award-winning fantasy trilogy, The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. After teaching literature, philosophy, history, and religion for more than a decade, he began writing fiction. His first book, The Emperor’s Blades, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award, the Reddit Stabby for best debut, and scored semi-finalist spots in the Goodreads Choice Awards in two categories: epic fantasy and debut. The entire trilogy, which includes The Providence of Fire and the The Last Mortal Bond has been translated into over ten languages worldwide.

Brian lives on a steep dirt road in the mountains of southern Vermont, where he divides his time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order.


Website  ~  Twitter @BrianStaveley  ~  Facebook  ~  Google+





Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Trilogy

The Emperor's Blades
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1
Tor Books, August 26, 2014
Trade Paperback, 496 pages
Hardcover and eBook, January 14, 2014

Interview with Brian Staveley
In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.

See Tracey's/trinitytwo's Review here.



The Providence of Fire
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 2
Tor Books, December 8, 2015
Trade Paperback, 624 pages
Hardcover and eBook, January 13, 2015

Interview with Brian Staveley
The Providence of Fire is the second novel in Brian Staveley's Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, a gripping new epic fantasy series

The conspiracy to destroy the ruling family of the Annurian Empire is far from over.

Having learned the identity of her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. Few trust her, but when she is believed to be touched by Intarra, patron goddess of the empire, the people rally to help her retake the capital city. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion from barbarian hordes compels the rival forces to unite against their common enemy.

Unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn, a renegade member of the empire's most elite fighting force, has allied with the invading nomads. The terrible choices each of them has made may make war between them inevitable.

Between Valyn and Adare is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with the help of two strange companions. The knowledge they possess of the secret history that shapes these events could save Annur or destroy it.

See Tracey's/trinitytwo's Review here.



The Last Mortal Bond
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 3
Tor Books, March 14, 2017
Trade Paperback, 672 pages
Hardcover and eBook, March 15, 2016

Interview with Brian Staveley
The trilogy that began with The Emperor's Blades and continued in The Providence of Fire reaches its epic conclusion, as war engulfs the Annurian Empire in Brian Staveley's The Last Mortal Bond

The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all--Valyn, Adare, and Kaden--come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.

See Tracey's/trinitytwo's Review here.



Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 1 - 3
Tor Books, Dec 6, 2016
eBook Bundle

Interview with Brian Staveley
Includes: The Emperor's Blades, The Providence of Fire, The Last Mortal Bond, and an excerpt from the forthcoming Skullsworn

“An enchanting union of old and new, Staveley's debut will keep you turning pages late into the night.” Pierce Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Red Rising

The emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

The Emperor’s Blades — Three siblings: Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery. An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral. At the heart of the empire, Adare hunts those who murdered her father.

The Providence of Fire — Kaden infiltrates the Annurian capital, while Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies to challenge the coup against her family. As armies prepare to clash, the threat of invasion compels the rival forces to unite. Unknown to Adare, Valyn has allied with the invading nomads.

The Last Mortal Bond — The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; capricious gods walk the earth in human guise, but the imperial siblings at the heart of it all soon understand that there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.

Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne
The Emperor's Blades
The Providence of Fire
The Last Mortal Bond

Other books in the world of the Unhewn Throne
Skullsworn (forthcoming)

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Review: Skullsworn by Brian StaveleyInterview with Brian Staveley

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