Priest of Crowns by Peter McLean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: War for the Rose Throne (Book #4 of 4)
Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy
Pages: 481 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 4th August 2022 by Jo Fletcher
Priest of Crowns is a heartbreaking, ferociously blood-soaked, and unforgettable ending to the War for the Rose Throne.
“This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.”
After four years, Priest of Bones was published in 2018, War for the Rose Throne is officially finished. And with it, McLean has shown he is the right man for the right task of delivering the final pages of Tomas Piety’s memoir. I am not exaggerating when I continuously state War for the Rose Throne quartet is one of the most underrated, engaging, and page-turning series I’ve read. I first opened the first pages of Tomas Piety’s memoir in 2019, and even then, I already considered myself late to the series. It is an injustice and a shame how underrated this series is. The criminally underhyped status of War for the Rose Throne proved how unfair the publishing business and life are. Think about it, War for the Rose Throne was very close to being discontinued! For those who asked, that is why it is impossible to find any physical US edition of Priest of Gallows and Priest of Crowns. And I think it is the publisher’s loss to discontinue such a great series. Yes, yes, money matters most, blablabla. Unfortunately, I am admittedly a selfish reader who prioritizes reading a terrific series to completion. Thankfully, Jo Fletcher (the UK publisher) is willing to push forward with publishing the rest of the series to the end. And here we are, at the end of the bloody road.
“There’s a thing I’ve noticed about people, especially rich people: the face they present in public is often very different to their true selves.”
Seeing that this is the final book of the series, and this is not a spoiler-filled review, I will refrain from talking about the details of the plot in Priest of Crowns. I will assume that if you have read the series up to this installment, or if you have not started the series at all, you will want to read everything inside this book as blindly as possible. And I can allow that. Allow me to, however, mention some elements that were done so brilliantly in this book or throughout the series. I may sound a bit repetitive in my review, but allow me your forgiveness. Honestly speaking, there is close to zero praises about the novel that I haven’t shouted about in my past three reviews for Priest of Bones, Priest of Lies, and Priest of Gallows. If you loved the previous three books, you are guaranteed to love Priest of Crowns as well. Every strength of the narratives in the past three books is back one last time. McLean is exceptionally consistent with his storytelling quality. Deadly deceit, blades unsheathed, merciless torment, inevitable betrayal, harsh truth, and gory explosions were evident in the text of Priest of Crowns. This magnificent novel provided a dark and very fitting finishing touch to Tomas Piety’s memoir with a lot of food for thought. To my mind, the last page of this novel will direct readers to retrace Tomas’s Piety journey in Ellisburg and Dannsburg from the beginning of Priest of Bones. You will see everything in a new light, and I think you will love it.
‘No one cared what the common folk said. No one ever does, until they finally rise in fire and violence.’
If you have heard praises about War for the Rose Throne, I am pretty damn sure you will have heard reviewers, myself included, talking about the insanely distinct narration of the main character. And this is true from the first page of Priest of Bones to the last page of Priest of Crowns. Maybe even more so in the entire Priest of Crowns. So far, I have read more than 600 fantasy novels, and I can say with temerity that Tomas Piety has one of the most distinct and memorable voices in the entire fantasy genre. His manner of speech and speaking has become a character of its own. When I praise Abercrombie’s books and writing, one of the things I always appreciate from his writing is how easy it is to tell which character is speaking or which character we’re reading about without names being mentioned. Abercrombie nailed down his character voices and inner thinking superbly well. And this is the level of immersion McLean, or should I say, Tomas Piety, demonstrated impeccably in his writing, too.
‘Be very wary of an old man in a young man’s game.’
Throughout my time reading the series, there were many moments when I was fully immersed that I forgot this is a series of books written by a real author for us to read. Tomas Piety sounded like a REAL person, and I mean that in every sense of the word. McLean is a messenger to tell his story. This Peaky Blinders-inspired series infused with swords and magic never once felt like any of the characters behaving out of character. Never. If there were any, there are explanations for them eventually. Also, War for the Rose Throne is a grimdark fantasy series with profoundly deep character study. Tomas Piety always says we, as a person, always have levers that move us. Whether they are love, money, ambition, respect, power, authority, family, or something else, no human is exempt from their respective levers. This point revolving around motivation is constantly backed up by the narrative, and in Priest of Crowns, we get to witness the truth of what moved Tomas Piety the most, and it may not be what you think.
‘Sometimes a leader has to make hard decisions, and the simple fact of the matter is that sometimes, inevitably, the decision will be the wrong one. Wrong decisions have consequences, always, and this was no different.’
It’s safe to say that Tomas Piety has become one of my favorite characters in fantasy. But it is also worth acknowledging that my admiration for his character doesn’t mean I agree with all of his actions. No way. Especially NOT in Priest of Crowns. I feel this is not something I have to say as I think it should be common sense already, and I am not just speaking about this book. However, some readers still think a fictional character’s behavior, even when they’re villains or anti-heroes, is immediately representative of the author’s real views or philosophies. This is simply not true; it’s not that simple. And deluding yourself into thinking IT IS just feels incredibly childish, self-righteous, and practically begging for so many books to be banned. How can you write villain or anti-hero POV chapters without them thinking or doing questionable actions? I can think of Tomas as one of my favorite characters while disagreeing with many of his actions. I am sure readers won’t agree with many of Tomas’s actions in Priest of Crowns as it was the same for me. But it matters more to me that Tomas, or any character, feels on-point and logical with their character development and personality. How he always acts like he owns any place or environment he enters for the first time, how he struggles in choosing friends or ambition, and more. And the characterizations and development were undoubtedly executed so nicely in Priest of Crowns and the entire series. This notion is not exclusive to Tomas Piety but to other supporting characters in the entire series. Bloody Anne, Rosie, Jochan, Billy, Mina, and many more are characters I will remember.
‘To be prepared to lay down your own life to save that of someone you love is the greatest love of all. It is perhaps the very definition of what love is, and I knew Anne understood that.’
Lastly, before I close this review, I want to say McLean’s balance in handling political machinations & pulse-pounding action scenes. War for the Rose Throne is a series filled with scheming and manipulations, and none of them ever felt bored. If anything, they are some of the best parts of the series. I noted that Priest of Gallows was a book embedded with more political intrigues than any other books in the series, and in a way, that is clearly true. But not entirely correct because the entire series has always been full of that. What I really loved about Priest of Crowns, though, is the balance that McLean handled. In terms of pacing and execution, it felt like a return to Priest of Lies, my favorite book of the series with Priest of Crowns now. The set pieces of the story are constantly moved from one place to another. And devastating and tension-packed confrontations always follow where the money goes. I have so many praises for this book and series. I declared so many times on my Youtube channel that War for the Rose Throne should be titled the slump-killer, and that title feels more unmistakable now in Priest of Crowns. I never felt bored reading Priest of Crowns, not even for one page. The fatal lies we tell ourselves, the explosive cunning and its repercussion, and the unstoppable descent into chaos were all remarkably put on the pages. And everything eventually leads toward the jaw-dropping ending that will make you think of every Tomas’s action for the entirety of the series.
‘That was war, and so was this: a different sort of war, perhaps, but a war, nonetheless. Lies had replaced cannon, aye, and there were fewer soldiers on the field, but this action was no less deadly.’
Priest of Crowns is a relentlessly gripping, grim, and emotional conclusion to the War for the Rose Throne. With this series completed, McLean has moved War for the Rose Throne from my list of favorite ongoing series into becoming one of my favorite completed series. I will certainly miss Tomas Piety and his narration. So few fantasy series in the market reached such an outstanding level of distinctive narration. This absolutely suspenseful series that started clearly inspired by Peaky Blinders has transformed into its own thing since Priest of Lies, and now I am grateful to have read the series to its completion. Among other things, the words inside a great book and series are the levers that moved me. And for the rightly suitably grimdark fantasy (or dark fantasy, whatever you want to call it) reader, War for the Rose Throne contained all the right words, phrasing, and story guaranteed to satisfy our endless thirst for great books. Bravo to Peter McLean and Tomas Piety for delivering this amazing grimdark fantasy series. If you haven’t started War for the Rose Throne yet, you are missing out. Please, read this series. Especially if you’re a reader who loves morally grey main characters, gangster stories, a soft magic system, and addicting narration. You can’t go wrong with giving the page-turning War for the Rose Throne a read.
‘That was how it was done: it was all in the phrasing. The right choice of words can normalise the most insane of ideas, and fast. These are the levers that move people, as I have written.’
War for the Rose Throne: 19/20 stars
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