ARC Review: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley


Title: Skullsworn | Series: Standalone/Spin-Off | Author: Brian Staveley | Publisher: Tor | Publication date: April 20th 2017 | Num. Pages: 304 | Genre: Fantasy | How I owned it: ARC copy kindly provided by the publisher

5 stars – A brilliant standalone to what is no doubt a fantastic world to read about

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Brian Staveley’s new standalone returns to the critically acclaimed Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne universe, following a priestess attempting to join the ranks of the God of Death.

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be a priestess if she manages to pass her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. Pyrre has been killing and training to kill, studying with some of the most deadly men and women in the world, since she was eight. The problem, strangely, is love. To pass her Trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the ten people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one you love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre is not sure she’s ever been in love. If she were a member of a different religious order, a less devoted, disciplined order, she might cheat. The Priests of Ananshael, however, don’t look kindly on cheaters. If Pyrre fails to find someone to love, or fails to kill that someone, they will give her to the god.

Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to quit, hates to fail, and so, with a month before her trial begins, she returns to the city of her birth, the place where she long ago offered an abusive father to the god and abandoned a battered brother—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


Skullsworn was the first book by Brian Staveley that I’ve read and it has made me want to read his others for definite – I’ve got the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne already lined up but this review is about Skullsworn. From what I’ve gathered over the internet this is a standalone prequel to the Chronicles as the main character Pyrre is featured in the original trilogy.

Skullsworn follows Pyrre, a priestess-in-training to the god Ananshael, a god of death. The whole concept of the story is Pyrre’s Trial to become a fully-fledged priestess of Ananshael – she has to kill 7 people in 14 days, all of whom are tied to a song including “the one you love/who will not come again.” Failure to complete all seven deaths will result in her own death at the hands of her two witnesses Ela and Kossal.

I’m going to on about Ela and Kossal for a little bit here – Ela is an incredibly motivated, true-believer in life, love and death, skilled fighter and devout priestess of her faith to her God; she’s comfortbale with all levels of intimacy and she has got a laidback view of everything which is in stark contrast to her counterpart Kossal – an aging priest with stooped shoulders and a gruff demeanour who says what he means and means what he says; he plays his flute to stop himself from killing patrons but gets irritated at their applause – it’s a catch 22 like no other. The two of these together shouldn’t work in any way, shape or form but Brian Staveley has made it work to greatness.

Pyrre’s story is one of conflict all throughout and her biggest road block is going to be that she’s never been in love. She travels back to Dombang in order to try to fall in love with Ruc Lan Lac who becomes her target – a pit fighter from her past who has been given command of the Greenshirts by the Annurian leaders. He’s a staunch disbeliever in all things myth and legend and has no patience for spiritual leanings and prefers to focus on the reality of any situation.

Pyrre doesn’t feel that she is worthy of being a priestess of Ananshael but her journey to Dombang from Rassumbur and through the Trial shows that really, she is.  We get a big blast from the past in that Pyrre recounts her first meeting with Ruc Lan Lac to Ela who finds great joy in teasing Pyrre mercilessly about the situation and about her supposed inability to love.

The writing style is perfectly bleak but brilliantly enjoyable with great humour in the banter between Ela and Kossal but they’ve also got a great dryness to their humour which gives a stark contrast. The descriptions of the delta and the Csestriim and Nevariim were full of otherworldly fear and ancient horrors, a dark fantasy of epic proportions!

The ending had twists and turns that I didn’t expect in the slightest, gave Skullsworn a perfect ending and it has made me want to get into the world of The Annurian Empire even more; the epilogue was fantastic! Expertly written and highly recommended.

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