REVIEW: Peter McLean – “Priest of Bones”

 

An expert mix of grimdark fantasy and gangland epic — 5-Stars

PRIEST OF BONES by Peter McLean

 

My initial feelings about sliding into Priest of Bones went something like this:

It was like walking into an old familiar bar. The hour was late. All the patrons had gone for the night except for the old drunk slumped over a table in the corner. I hung my coat on the hook by the door and saw the regular bartender was gone. In his place behind the bar was Peter McLean. Curious.

As I approached the bar, McLean starts setting out shot glasses in a row. He doesn’t ask me what I’m drinking. He selects a bottle at his leisure and begins to fill the shot glasses. Slowly. Deliberately.

“Where’s the regular guy?” I ask.

McLean only shrugs, filling the row of shot glasses with one hand while he pushes the first one my way without looking up. “Have a seat,” he says. In a tone that suggests we have business to discuss, I just don’t know what that business is yet.

With equal parts curiosity and reservation, I have a seat and throw back the first shot. McLean stops pouring and kinda gives me a sidelong glance at that. “No rush. Feel free to sip. We take our time here.”

That was when I started feeling like maybe I knew what was up with this one. I put my elbows on the bar and picked up the next shot glass. I sipped at this one. I said, “All right. You have my attention.”

And it went from there.

Priest of Bones tells the tale of a crop of street prince gangsters, swept away from their homes to war as conscripts — just like every other able-bodied man of their generation. We meet up with Tomas Piety and his Pious Men on the day they return home from the war, intent on one thing – reclaiming their dominion over their streets that has slipped in their absence. With their ranks bolstered by fellow veterans, they set to the bloody work of it — and soon find themselves swept up in events of far greater consequence than a gangland squabble for control of the streets.

McLean’s tale of sword-and-sorcery and swaggering fantasy gangsters is high on patience and rich on atmosphere — an expert mix of grimdark fantasy and gangland epic that I could slip into like pulling on my old leather jacket. The underlying themes of war-weary veterans and hard-bitten gangsters are grimly authentic and written with admirable artistry and care.

Priest of Bones is patient, deliberate, thoughtful storytelling with emotional punch that hits you in all the right places. It’s gangster chess with elements of political intrigue and above all else — heart. Black, broken, beloved, and otherwise.

An enthusiastic 5-stars, and I look forward to the next installment in the series, “Priest of Lies.”

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