ARC Review: Skullsworn

 

Note: I can’t post a Richard Anderson cover without gushing about it, because THEY ARE ALL SO GREAT. Check out the info in the cover reveal, because it has some cool details and other art. I am also in love with the UK cover here (and have the UK hardcover just for that), and the cover reveal for that one is here.

From Goodreads:

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.

I should note that, if this review makes you really want to pick the book up, you can read the first handful of chapters here. The prologue sets up the entire book, so if you want an idea what it’s about, and you don’t like reading summaries, I suggest you go read it now, before reading the rest of this review.

Because Skullsworn takes place chronologically before the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, you can read it before or after. I feel like it’s best read after, because some of the reveals near the end of the book don’t pack the same punch without some of the knowledge you get from the main trilogy. I may be biased in this recommendation, however, as I almost always recommend reading books in publication order. Regardless, if you haven’t read the main trilogy, and are looking for a shorter, less intimidating entry point into the world of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Skullsworn is a great place to start.

If I were to actually make a complaint about the book, it’s that, in comparison to the previous books that Staveley has written, the tension is a little lower. I think this is because there was only one main character, and we already know what’s going to happen to her. In addition, she doesn’t care that much if she dies, since she’s already a devotee of the death god. Also, there are no empire-shaking plots going on here, merely personal ones, throughout most of the book.

The other complaint I can see being leveled at Skullsworn is that it’s much shorter than the rest of Staveley’s novels. While I would call the original trilogy epic, I don’t think that Skullsworn meets the criteria. It’s a personal quest story, and as such, it’s the right length. I feel like trying to make the book longer by adding unnecessary complications or words would have made it a worse book. I don’t have any complaints about the length other than that I’m once again out of Staveley to read, and I have to go back to waiting for the next one!

Pyrre is a very different viewpoint character than any that Brian has written before. While Kaden can attain some measure of calm, and Valyn is trained to kill, neither of them reach the levels of cold-blooded apathy that Pyrre ascends to in her devotion to Ananshael. This could make for a very boring character – someone who just wanders around and kills people – in the hands of an amateur, but Staveley is anything but an amateur. In his hands, Pyrre had wants, desires, and needs. She is on a quest, her own kind of twisted coming of age story, and while the “life or death” part of the quest doesn’t hold the same pull as it might for another character, it still makes for a compelling narrative, and gives the book a definite sense of progress. In addition, Pyrre learns a lot about herself during the book, and the lessons and her character growth are brilliantly done.

It’s not Pyrre who really sold the book for me, though. It was the ending. While I was enjoying the book throughout, as a very good book that was a quick read and thoroughly enjoyable, I’ll admit, before the ending, I was thinking I was going to give the book four stars.

And then the ending happened.

I can’t really say much other than that it was epic and way better than I had anticipated or thought possible. YOU NEED TO READ IT.

In summary, while Skullsworn follows a single character, and one who is a challenge to make interesting, it pulls this off very well. It’s the right length for the story that it is trying to tell, and the ending packs a massive punch. While I felt that the ending was even better because I read the original trilogy first, Skullsworn can be read at any time, and I think you’ll love it regardless. I give it five of five stars, and very high recommendations. Now go read it so I have someone to discuss it with!

Brian Staveley’s Website.

Skullsworn on Goodreads.

 

Con Report: ICFA 38 (2017)

Hello, all! We’re back from ICFA 38, and still recovering. I thought I’d just give y’all a quick overview of how the con went while it’s all still relatively fresh in my mind.

We arrived Wednesday of last week after a very long day. My flight left Austin at 5:35 AM, and Shannon’s flight left even earlier. I had an empty seat next me on both my flights, so that was pretty great. I also got to read a lot of A Closed and Common Orbit, which I really enjoyed, so the travel overall was pretty great (besides having to get up so early…).

In the evening, we signed in, checked out the free table, and attended the opening ceremonies, then went back to our rooms to rest and plan out which panels we would go to for the rest of the week. I saw a name I was not expecting for one panel on Thursday, and got rather excited. More on this later.

Thursday morning, I was up bright and early and went down to work out. The hotel had a really nice workout room, and after, we hit up the cafe in the hotel for breakfast. I wandered off to some very interesting panels. The first one I went to had one presenter who talked about a novel where everyone is an amputee, and one of the amputees kills all of the other amputees. One of the other presenters rewrote her paper at 4 AM that morning and ended up talking about problematic themes in paranormal romance novels (Read: paranormal erotica). Like I said, it was… Interesting.

After a quick lunch, Shannon presented at the first panel in the afternoon. Despite a relatively small crowd, I thought the presentation went really well.

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Shannon was exhausted after this, quite understandably, so I went off to my next panel alone, with some trepidation. This was the panel I was excited about, if the name I read was the correct name, and if it was who I hoped it was. The subject of the panel was defining “epic fantasy”, which I already knew was going to be a fairly futile endeavor, because everyone has their own opinions on what defines genres, but the discussion was still lively.

And the person I was wondering about, the person on the program who I wasn’t expecting to be at the con at all, showed up. He was who I thought he was.

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On the left there is some dude named Brian Staveley. He’s one of my top 5 favorite authors, and the only one I hadn’t met yet. (I finally got to see V. E. Schwab in Austin at the beginning of March! Woo!) So, uh… Understandably, I was a little excited.

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I was even more excited when I went up to talk to him after the panel and he recognized me. Me. A fan he had never met in person, and he knew who I was. It was surreally awesome, and definitely made my week.

I think there was dinner and stuff after. I can’t quite remember, because I kinda had my head in the clouds for the rest of the evening.

Friday started off with more exercise. Seriously, it feels so good to work out early in the morning. You’re more awake and active for the rest of the day, and I love it.

The first event was a Steven Erikson signing. (I know I went to other signings at various times, but I had the most books for Erikson, so that’s the one I remember.) I had started the first Malazan book at the beginning of this year before the train that was Oathbringer hit me, and I was really enjoying it, and expect to love the series as a whole, so I was excited to meet Erikson and have him sign my copies of his series.

There was a free luncheon on Friday, where they gave out some really cool free books. Tip for if you ever go to ICFA: Go to all the luncheons and dinners. It’s worth it for the food. It’s also worth it for the books. Combined, it’s *really* worth it, and I wish I’d known ahead of time to sign up for the Thursday luncheon as well.

I know I went to several panels on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other such literary things, but they’re all kind of blending together by now. A lot of the papers presented were really interesting, so it was definitely worth going, though!

In the afternoon, I attended a reading with Nick Mamatas, John Chu, and Fran Wilde. All of the readings were excellent. Chu read part of a short story he’ll have in an upcoming magazine, and Wilde read all of her own story. I was really glad I went, and kinda wish I’d made time to see some of the other readings earlier in the week.

That night was the flash play section. It was unbelievably fun, and if you go to ICFA, you have to go to the flash plays. It should be required for everyone. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time. The best part is that the authors themselves are also the actors, so I got to watch Max Gladstone pretend to be drunk, declare himself a sensualist, and then get into a mock sword fight and accidentally break his sword.

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Staveley sat next to me during the play, and after, invited me to come out to the balcony to hang out and chat with people. He introduced me to several people, including his editor, Marco Palmieri. (Who also sorta knew who I was from Twitter!) I really appreciated the introductions, and got a bit outside of my comfort zone, talking to new people and stuff. It was a good experience.

Saturday started off with a very special signing. Staveley was there, signing none other than Skullsworn, his next book. His editor had them printed 2 weeks earlier than normal just so he would have copies for ICFA, and I was unbelievably excited to be able to pick up a copy early, and have Staveley AND Palmieri sign it.

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(Yes, there is actually a picture with me prominently in it. That’s how excited I was.)

I know I went to several other interesting panels that day, but the only one that sticks in my mind was the last one–a humor panel featuring Max Gladstone and Andy Duncan. It was, well, humorous.

The day ended with one final dinner, with more free books (eep), and then a party out on the terrace, where I got to talk to several more people, make more connections, and even talk to Staveley a bit more. We got him to agree to do an interview for our blog when Skullsworn is released, so look for that in a few weeks!

Travelling home was… A chore. We visited the free table every day, the bookseller’s room at least twice, and picked up books at the luncheon and the dinner. We had to transport all of this back to Austin.

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Yes, the boxes are also full of books. Mostly the books we brought with us to get signed.

I ended up checking a 50.0 pound bag and another that was around 40 lbs. I likely carried another 40-50 pounds around the airport, between my backpack and the overloaded tote bag I was using. Shannon was also carrying a bag of books, and put as many as she could fit into her carry-on luggage.

All of the books (and people) made it home safely, but I think that next time, I’m going to go ahead and ship back a box of books. Getting everything through the airport and home was backbreaking, and after a long weekend (I was up really late Friday and Saturday night forcing myself to be sociable), I would have liked a slightly easier trip home.

I did manage to read all of Skullsworn on the trip back (I finished Closed and Common Orbit sometime during the conference), and absolutely loved it. Having a good book to enthrall me on both legs of the journey made the travel seem so much shorter than it actually was.

All in all, ICFA was a great experience, and meeting Brian by surprise definitely made it exceed all of my expectations. My takeaways from the con would be this:

  • The panels are all pretty great, and don’t be afraid to try out some of the more interesting ones.
  • The readings are awesome too, especially if you go and watch authors who read with voices, and have any kind of acting background.
  • Go to all the luncheons and dinners. You’re not saving much money regardless because the restaurants around the hotel are so expensive, and you get really good food, plus free books, and it’s a great opportunity to network.
  • Don’t forget to check the free tables, and check them often. If you’re the kind of person who will pick up books on a whim, or has a long list of books you want, expect to bring a lot of books home, and likely need to ship some of them.
  • The flash plays are required.
  • Don’t be afraid to hang out with the cool people and talk to them. They weren’t at all afraid to talk to me. 🙂

I’m not sure if my schedule will allow me to go back next year, but I definitely enjoyed my trip this year. Thanks to everyone who put this conference together and made it such a memorable experience!