by Brian Staveley
Cover Artist: Richard Anderson
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Tor Books Hardcover / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765389879
Date: 25 April 2017
Before she was pivotal in the action surrounding the Unhewn Throne, Pyrre Lakatur was just another apprentice hoping to complete her trial. There are a very specific set of instructions and order for the kills she must collect. She is a skilled killer, but she has never learned to love. That lack may lead to failure and death.
The novel is set in Dombâng, a city in the delta of a major river. Pyrre was born there, left to die there, and made her first steps into the cult of Ananshael there. Now she will advance or die based on her abilities there. But the city has its own turmoil. The Empire’s troops and governor try to keep the peace, but others want the return of the old ways. There is something in the delta’s swamps and islands which kills and it may be that creature’s time to make its presence known.
Set in the The Emperor's Blades universe, Skullsworn is a prequel to the mainline novels. It develops the backstory of one of the minor characters from the series. As a prequel, it is a point of entry for new readers. It is also quite a bit shorter than the mainline novels. The story is told from the perspective of Pyrre.
The religion and gods in the series always seemed to have a little Egyptian flavor. Dombâng strengthened the connection for me as it seems very much like Alexandria. Then again, it is a lot like many ancient cities with different quarters, gods, and rivalries. As a fan of ancient historical stories, this is a great plus. Staveley effectively builds a world by using the familiar to create depth.
Pyrre is a killer. She worships the goddess of death. It is best not to expect her to have the same morals as the average person. But within the bounds of her strictures, she is honest.
I enjoyed the mainline stories quite a bit, but I enjoyed this prequel more. It may be the relative simplicity of following the challenges which Pyrre faced without the constant jumping between multiple points of view. It may also be the development of Pyrre, as her motivations and thoughts are revealed. The story was engrossing even though fans of the earlier novels know some of the people who will survive. That is the mark of a good story, something which keeps you guessing, even when you know the end. It might be even better for someone who hasn’t read the previous novels as they won’t have a clue as to who will survive.