“Men who have been through Hell together tend to stay together, if they can.“
Priest of Bones by Peter McLean was a dark, gritty, action packed read that had me glued from the very first page right to the end. If anything it reminded me a lot of Peaky Blinders due to themes such as class, betrayl, revenge, family, and most importantly loyalty.
The story focuses on the character of Thomas Piety a soldier, priest, and crime boss and leader of the Pious Men. Tomas and his crew of mercenaries have returned from fighting a war which they had been fighting in for the past three years. Although the war was won, the after effects have left many feeling hollow inside due to the cycle of violence and a plague which ravaged many of the lands.
The events that took place during the war at Abingdon for one send chills down your spine.
“The rain felt good on my skin clean and fresh. There had been thing clean or fresh at Abingdon, nothing but fire and dust and hit nd death, men dying of wounds and burns and the bloody flux. What we would have given for a cool rain, there.”
Thomas and his close knit crew decide to return to Ellinberg which is the city where Tomas grew up and also where the Pious Men once held a stronghold. However, upon his return he finds Ellingberg in a right old mess with many living poorly and his once profitable businesses have been taken over. Thus, Thomas along with his trusted crew members must now go about reclaiming the stolen businesses and return Ellingberg to what it was before.
This won’t be easy of course as Thomas and his men have only just returned from the war. There are also many things going on behind the scenes that Tomas soon uncovers.
As I said at the beginning this was a book I really really enjoyed. I found it to be a fast paced and full of intense on the edge of your seat moments. The skirmishes that occur are brutal and reminded me a lot of Vikings and The Last Kingdom. What adds to the intensity are the political elements that occur throughout the story.
Thomas is asked by a Queen’s Man who are dangerous and extremely intelligent special agents of crown arrive to work for them. They want Thomas to stop an attempted takeover of Ellingberg by a group of mysterious individuals from across the sea
One aspect that I felt the story does superbly is how trauma and the impact of trauma shapes many of the characters in the story. PTSD and in this case known “Battle Shock” has left many characters either feeling hollow or full of rage. The war and especially when the war took place in Abingdon had a really long lasting impact over those who faught in the war.
“At first you think you want to pour out your feelings into the bottle, but you come to realise that you don’t. You just want to drown them, to burn them away with alcohol until it stops hurting.”
I found many of the various characters to be really interesting especially Thomas who is the main narrator of the story. I found him to be a fantastic leader and the way he is able to inspire his men was brilliant. Although part of a crew of soldiers and killers, Thomas would rather think before he acts. By doing this Thomas is able to lead his crew towards success and riches
Also, despite him being murderous gang leader, you do sense he has morals and wants good for the people of Ellingberg. Then he says something to remind us that he just wants to get what is his out of them i.e. money or whatever skill they have. I also found him to be highly intelligent and although he is ruthless, he is ruthless when it is justified. For example, at the beginning of the story he swiftly kills one of his crew members who attempts to rape a young woman.
The other crew members of Pious Men were also well developed and very interesting. Bloody Anne for example who during the war, was Thomas’s sergeant and now second in command due to her being extremely loyal, smart, and rational. I absolutely loved Bloody Anne for her charm and how badass she was.
The women in this novel are superb. Peter McLean does a fantastic in making the women in this novel a force to be reckoned with and equal to the men. From characters such as Aunt Enaid who is Thomas’s and Jochan’s aunt to Ma Aditi, the leader of a rival gang. All of the women would make any man pish himself in fear of what they will do if they cross them.
There are characters such as Jochan who is the opposite of Bloody Anne and Thomas. Jochan is Thomas’s brother and in all honesty is a loose cannon with so much rage and anger inside of him that it made me worried. He’s always ready to fight and kill, but his backstory along with Thomas’s makes you understand why he is so mad at the world. It was really heartbreaking.
But I really loved their relationship. They love each other and would do anything for one another. But at times you do think one of them is going to kill the other one off. There’s a lot of build up and tension as to which brother will kill first
Other examples of interesting characters include Cutter who is Jochan’s right hand and pretty nifty when it comes to assassinations. Fat Luka the cook who is suffering from battle shock, and also Billy the Boy. Billy is a twelve year old magical kid that you don’t want to get on the bad side of lol. He reminded me of the kid from the Omen.
When considering the setting, it gave me vibes of midieval Birmingham and felt very much confined. You have bakers with their wee shops, midieval crack houses, gambling houses for those who canny control themselves, and places to help fill the void of other urges the citizens of Ellingberg have. It’s not somewhere I’d want to find myself that’s for sure. Ellingberg is extremely seedy and corrupt that I’d pack my bags as soon as I get the chance. That’s if I make it out 😅.
All in all, Priest of Bones was superb and it was such a fun read. Thomas Piety and his crew kept me glued to the story and that ending has me contemplating what’s next! I for one am excited and I can’t wait to read book two whenever I get the chance. It’ll be some time until I do sadly🥺.