The Skull Throne

Author: Peter V. Brett

Series: Demon Cycle #4

Subgenre: Fantasy

The Skull Throne is the fourth novel in the bestselling Demon Cycle by American author Peter V. Brett. While maintaining the excellent standards of writing quality and pacing that I’ve come to expect from this series, it is the first book to actually feel like a middle book in terms of plot. I can’t shake the feeling that writing a quintet turned out to be just a tad too much length for the story, and so now in the fourth instalment we finally get a bit of filler. That said, this is still a tremendously entertaining and well-written novel, and Brett writing filler is better than many other published author’s climactic third novel of a trilogy.

The Skull Throne of Krasia stands empty.

Built from the skulls of fallen generals and demon princes, it is a seat of honor and ancient, powerful magic, keeping the demon corelings at bay. From atop the throne, Ahmann Jardir was meant to conquer the known world, forging its isolated peoples into a unified army to rise up and end the demon war once and for all.

But Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, stood against this course, challenging Jardir to a duel he could not in honor refuse. Rather than risk defeat, Arlen cast them both from a precipice, leaving the world without a savior, and opening a struggle for succession that threatens to tear the Free Cities of Thesa apart.

In the south, Inevera, Jardir’s first wife, must find a way to keep their sons from killing each other and plunging their people into civil war as they strive for glory enough to make a claim on the throne.

In the north, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn struggle to forge an alliance between the duchies of Angiers and Miln against the Krasians before it is too late.

Caught in the crossfire is the duchy of Lakton—rich and unprotected, ripe for conquest.

All the while, the corelings have been growing stronger, and without Arlen and Jardir there may be none strong enough to stop them. Only Renna Bales may know more about the fate of the missing men, but she, too, has disappeared...

The Speculative Post's Review

Setting

Characters

Plot

Writing Mechanics

Genre

So the tl;dr version of this review, for the people who’ve already read the previous three books is a nice succinct “Yup, still great. Go read it.” With three novels under his belt, Brett is definitely in his stride, and everything’s building towards his grand fifth book finale, and no part of this instalment is anything less than the high standard of quality he’s already established. It’s just...I guess he needed to have an actual middle book somewhere in the middle, and this is it. Usually the publisher’s blurb about a book, if it’s accurate at all, just sort of describes some of the starting points of the plot of the novel, but in this case, it’s basically the entire plot of the novel.

That’s not even really a criticism of the plot. Everything makes sense, everything followed from what came before it, I guess my feeling is just that everything took one step towards resolution. Nothing especially new was added, and nothing especially big got resolved as a result of it. Each of the previous novels would have a few big reveals, a few things get fully settled, whereas this just sort of bridged our way to the finale. I wonder if at some point in the development of the story, Brett considered this and the upcoming final book to be the final book of a quartet, but it got too bulky and needed to be split into two smaller parts. That would certainly explain my weird feeling that in spite of all the things happening (small h), nothing much Happened (large H).

The Daylight War left us on a hell of a cliffhanger, and while we find out what happened there pretty much straight away, all we did was sort of meander around the top of the cliff for a while and then suddenly go hang off it again at the end of this book. Now, going into the finale, you want to set up a pretty big cliffhanger/sudden revelation but this one also was completely sudden without anything really leading up to it or giving any inkling that it was coming. Just you get to the end of the book, and go “Oh, ok, so I guess that’s what book 5 is about then,” and so now we wait for everything to be resolved in the last book.

Now, before you go getting the crazy idea that I didn’t like this book, or that anything was actually bad about it, let me sing some praises. Brett is a fantastic writer. I like all his likeable characters, I dislike all his dislikeable ones. Even the relatively minor characters have some nice sketches of depth around them that let you feel like you really get what they’re about. By four books, the cast of secondary-ish characters are well established and have their own stuff going on. That’s probably my favourite part of the Demon Cycle storyline: that the people who aren’t Jardir and Arlen have things going on that aren’t just about Jardir and Arlen. That ended up being part of the downfall for me about large stories like The Wheel of Time, where everything ends up having to be about Mr Protagonist. Here, between the internal family issues Inevera has keeping Jardir’s sons in line while he’s missing, and the developing stories about Leesha and Rojer, there’s an actual world going on around the main story events. Brett manages to show us that world without actually detracting from the main story too, which is easier said than done.

Altogether, I come back to my tl;dr version from the top of this review: Still great, go read it. The magic system is still one of the best and most original I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, the plot itself is engaging and has an equally original take on the ‘chosen one’ trope that I really like. While this particular instalment felt more like passing time until the finale, if the only criticism of one book out of five was ‘not that much happened, but everything that happened was awesome’ I think we’re in pretty good shape. I’m definitely excited for the final volume and heartily suggest this series to pretty much everybody.

Dan received an Advance Review copy of this novel from Del Ray via NetGalley

April 2015 Book Releases

by: Janea A. Schimmel

ed. by: Marnie Peterson & Gayle Cottrill

Well, spring is already here, and in my neck of the woods things are starting to warm up. A new release list is just another sign of great things to come right? This month there’s a little something for everyone from Space Opera, High Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Alternate History to keep you entertained.

Returning Contenders:

Debuts:

Returning Contenders:

1. Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove

Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Genre: Alternative History

President Herbert Hoover has failed America. The Great Depression that rose from the ashes of the 1929 stock market crash still casts its dark shadow over the country. Despairing and desperate, the American people hope one of the potential Democratic candidates—New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and California congressman Joe Steele—can get the nation on the road to recovery.

But fate snatches away one hope when a mansion fire claims the life of Roosevelt, leaving the Democratic party little choice but to nominate Steele, son of a Russian immigrant laborer who identifies more with the common man than with Washington D.C.’s wealthy power brokers.

Achieving a landslide victory, President Joe Steele wastes no time pushing through Congress reforms that put citizens back to work. Anyone who gets in his way is getting in the way of America, and that includes the highest in the land. Joe Steele’s critics may believe the government is gaining too much control, but they tend to find themselves in work camps if they make too much noise about it. And most people welcome strong leadership, full employment, and an absence of complaining from the newspapers—especially as Hitler and Trotsky begin the kind of posturing that seems sure to drag America into war.

2. The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu

Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Series: Tao #3
Genre: Science Fiction

Many years have passed since the events in The Deaths of Tao. The world is split into pro-Prophus and pro-Genjix factions, and is poised on the edge of a devastating new World War. A Gengix scientist who defects to the other side holds the key to preventing bloodshed on an almost unimaginable scale.

With the might of the Genjix in active pursuit, Roen is the only person who can help him save the world, and the Quasing race, too.

And you thought you were having a stressful day…

3. Vengeance of the Demon by Diana Rowland

Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Series: Kara Gillian #7
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Demon summoner Kara Gillian is on the wrong side of the law, and there's evidence to prove it. Too bad the courts don't accept "fighting demonic forces" as justification for murder and mayhem.

Yet Kara has problems that go way beyond her legal woes. When the enemy demonic lords spur their human accomplices into high gear, master summoner Katashi aggressively pursues their goal to establish a permanent gate between Earth and the demon realm. To hell with the consequences for humanity.

The line between ally and enemy blurs as Kara gathers the remnants of her posse to prevent a devastating demonic incursion, but a shattered trust may cost them the war and put Kara behind bars. With treachery rife, and her loved ones in danger, Kara must call upon the essence of who she truly is in order to rally back from a crushing loss.

And if she can't, the world is going straight to hell.

4. Window Wall by Melanie Rawn

Release Date: April 14th, 2015
Series: Glass Thornes #4
Genre: High Fantasy

For nearly two years, Cade has been rejecting his Fae gift, his prescient Elsewhens—simply refusing to see or experience them. But the strain is driving a wedge between him and his theater troupe, Touchstone, and making him erratic on stage and off. It takes his best friend Mieka to bully Cade into accepting the visions again. But when Cade finally looks into the possible futures, he sees a royal castle blowing up, though his vision does not tell him who is responsible. But he knows that if it is in his visions, he can take action to stop it from happening. And when he finally discovers the truth, he takes the knowledge to the only man in the Kingdom who would believe him: his deadly enemy the Archduke.

5. The Architect of Aeons by John C. Wright

Release Date: April 21st, 2015
Series: Count to the Eschaton Sequence #4
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

The epic and mind-blowing finale to this visionary space opera series surpasses all expectation: Menelaus Montrose, having forged an uneasy alliance with his immortal adversary, Ximen del Azarchel, maps a future on a scale beyond anything previously imagined. No longer concerned with the course of history across mere millennia, Montrose and del Azarchel have become the architects of aeons, bringing forth minds the size of planets as they steer the bizarre intellectual descendants of an extinct humanity. Ever driving their labors and their enmity is the hope of reunion with their shared lost love, the posthuman Rania, whose eventual return is by no means assured, but who may unravel everything these eternal rivals have sought to achieve. John C. Wright's The Architect of Aeons is the latest in his millennia-spanning space opera.

6. The Machine Awakes by Adam Christopher

Release Date: April 21st, 2015
Series: Spider Wars #2
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

As humanity fights a destructive mechanical enemy, a government agent finds a conspiracy far closer to home in this far future space opera set in the universe of Burning Dark.

In the decades since the human race first made contact with the Spiders—a machine race capable of tearing planets apart—the two groups have fought over interstellar territory. But the war has not been going well for humankind, and with the failure of the Fleet Admiral’s secret plan in the Shadow system, the commander is overthrown by a group of hardliners determined to get the war back on track.

When the deposed Fleet Admiral is assassinated, Special Agent Von Kodiak suspects the new guard is eliminating the old. But when the Admiral’s replacement is likewise murdered, all bets are off as Kodiak discovers the prime suspect is one of the Fleet’s own, a psi-marine and decorated hero—a hero killed in action, months ago, at the same time his twin sister vanished from the Fleet Academy, where she was training to join her brother on the front.

As Kodiak investigates, he uncovers a conspiracy that stretches from the slums of Salt City to the floating gas mines of Jupiter. There, deep in the roiling clouds of the planet, the Jovian Mining Corporation is hiding something, a secret that will tear the Fleet apart and that the Morning Star, a group of militarized pilgrims searching for their lost god, is determined to uncover.

But there is something else hiding in Jovian system. Something insidious and intelligent, machine-like and hungry.

The Spiders are near.

7. Pirate's Alley by Suzanne Johnson

Release Date: April 21st, 2015
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #4
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Wizard sentinel DJ Jaco thought she had gotten used to the chaos of her life in post-Katrina New Orleans, but a new threat is looming, one that will test every relationship she holds dear.

Caught in the middle of a rising struggle between the major powers in the supernatural world—the Wizards, Elves, Vampires and the Fae—DJ finds her loyalties torn and her mettle tested in matters both professional and personal.

Her relationship with enforcer Alex Warin is shaky, her non-husband, Quince Randolph, is growing more powerful, and her best friend, Eugenie, has a bombshell that could blow everything to Elfheim and back. And that's before the French pirate, Jean Lafitte, newly revived from his latest "death," returns to New Orleans with vengeance on his mind. DJ's assignment? Keep the sexy leader of the historical undead out of trouble. Good luck with that.

Duty clashes with love, loyalty with deception, and friendship with responsibility as DJ navigates passion and politics in the murky waters of a New Orleans caught in the grips of a brutal winter that might have nothing to do with Mother Nature.

War could be brewing, and DJ will be forced to take a stand. But choosing sides won't be that easy.

8. Depth by Lev A.C. Rosen

Release Date: April 28th, 2015
Genre: Post-apocalyptic

In a post-apocalyptic flooded New York City, a private investigator’s routine surveillance case leads to a treasure everyone wants to find—and someone is willing to kill for.

Depth combines hardboiled mystery and dystopian science fiction in a future where the rising ocean levels have left New York twenty-one stories under water and cut off from the rest of the United States. But the city survives, and Simone Pierce is one of its best private investigators. Her latest case, running surveillance on a potentially unfaithful husband, was supposed to be easy. Then her target is murdered, and the search for his killer points Simone towards a secret from the past that can’t possibly be real—but that won’t stop the city’s most powerful men and women from trying to acquire it for themselves, with Simone caught in the middle.

9. Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal

Release Date: April 28th, 2015
Series: Glamourist Histories #5
Genre: Alternate History, Fantasy

The final book of the acclaimed Glamourist Histories is the magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen walked on the darker side of the Regency…

Jane and Vincent have finally gotten some much-needed rest after their adventures in Italy when Vincent receives word that his estranged father has passed away on one of his properties in the West Indies. His brother, who manages the estate, is overwhelmed, and no one else in his family can go. Grudgingly, out of filial duty the couple decide to go.

The sea voyage is long and Jane spends enough time unable to perform glamour that towards the end of the trip she discovers that she is with child. They are overjoyed, but when they finally arrive at the estate to complete what they expect to be routine legal tasks, they realize that nearly everything they came expecting to find had been a lie. Also, the entire estate is in disarray, with horrifying conditions and tensions with the local slave population so high that they are close to revolt.

Jane and Vincent's sense of peril is screaming out for them to flee, but Vincent cannot stand to leave an estate connected with his family in such a condition. They have survived many grand and terrifying adventures in their time, but this one will test their skills and wits more than any they have ever encountered before, this time with a new life hanging in the balance.

10. The Shattered Court by M.J. Scott

Release Date: April 28th, 2015
Series: A Novel of the Four Arts #1
Genre: High Fantasy

The royal witches of Anglion have bowed to tradition for centuries. If a woman of royal blood manifests powers, she is immediately bound by rites of marriage. She will serve her lord by practicing the tamer magics of the earth—ensuring good harvests and predicting the weather. Any magic more dangerous is forbidden.

Lady Sophia Kendall, thirty-second in line to the throne, is only days away from finding out if she will be blessed—or perhaps cursed—with magic. When a vicious attack by Anglion’s ancient enemies leaves the kingdom in chaos, Sophia is forced to flee the court. Her protector by happenstance is Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, a member of the royal guard, raised all his life to be fiercely loyal to the Crown.

Then Sophia’s powers manifest stronger than she ever imagined they would, and Cameron and she are inextricably linked in the process. As a witch unbound by marriage rites, Sophia is not only a threat to the established order of her country, but is also a weapon for those who seek to destroy it. Faced with old secrets and new truths, she must decide if she will fight for her country or succumb to the delicious temptation of power.

The Debuts:

1. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Series: The Dandelion Destiny #1
Genre: High Fantasy

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, soaring battle kites, conspiring goddesses, underwater boats, magical books, as a streetfighter-cum-general who takes her place as the greatest tactician of the age. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.



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