THE SKULL THRONE picks up immediately after THE DAYLIGHT WAR and its literal cliffhanger ending: Jardir and Arlen have tumbled over the edge and disappeared. And like that, Krasia and the Hollow are left without leaders while in the midst of chaotic, dynamic revolutions. As people rush in to fill the vacuums left by absent leaders, those revolutions risk stalling, imploding, or being attacked from outside forces.

Jardir claimed to be the Deliverer, so two of his sons—and the only recently united Krasian tribes—must decide which individual is worthy of taking up that mantle. On the other hand, Arlen refused the title of Deliverer. Instead, he sought to unite everyone against demons, despite the invading Krasians to the south and the meddling royals to the north. Can either strategy survive when Jardir and Arlen disappear? How will Krasia and Thesa evolve as they continue to interact? And meanwhile, the demons gather and plot. THE SKULL THRONE is a dark, political entry in The Demon Cycle. Bonds will be tested, and many will be broken. People will rise, and others will be cast down.

Okay, a clarification. Arlen and Jardir haven’t completely disappeared. Brett posted the first chapter of THE SKULL THRONE on his website ages ago, and it revealed that not only have they survived, but they have declared a truce to capture a mind demon and have it lead them down into the Core to the take the fight directly to the demons. Although Arlen and Jardir only have a few chapters in the book, they are some of the most striking. They are both incredibly powerful, and while they agree on the need to fight the demons, their contrasting world views and complicated history of friendship, betrayal, and rivalry make their conversations and confrontations crackle with tension, and readers will wonder how long this temporary alliance will last.

In Everam’s Bounty (formerly Fort Rizon, now the heart of the Krasians’ expansion into the Greenlands), Inevera’s dice say neither of Jardir’s sons—Jayan the powerful and arrogant warrior or Asome the cleric with even more ambition than his older brother—can hold the Skull Throne in their father’s absence. Even worse, unless the rivalry can be channeled into a more productive direction, they risk igniting a civil war among the Krasians. Although the two sons are interesting characters, I much more enjoyed the scenes that featured Inevera, Abban, and Ashia (Asome’s wife and a sharum’ting, a female warrior charged with guarding Inevera). Inevera and Abban began life as hagglers in the market, and their keen eyes, quick minds, and pursuit of power have helped them succeed; and yet they both also display the same petty jealousies and grudges. I also enjoyed exploring the conflict between Ashia’s desire to be a lethal fighter while also struggling satisfy the Krasian cultural demands of women (wombs, not warriors).

As the Krasians continue to expand beyond the desert in preparation of the final battle, the Hollow swells with refugees. The city expands seemingly unchecked, and so does its reputation for fighting the demons. Accordingly, the royals in Angiers seek to regain some control over the area by sending in Count Thamos, making Gared Cutter a Baron and marrying him off to a woman of noble blood, and perhaps even wedding Thamos and Leesha Paper. As much as Leesha has come to love Thamos, she knows the truth about her unborn child’s father will break him. On top of that, she must organize the herb gatherers and help them spread knowledge of medicine, wards, and demon fighting beyond just the Hollow. And once the Hollowers answer a royal summons to Angiers, I particularly enjoyed the interplay between the royals who look down on these yokels from the sticks and the Hollowers who look down on these dandies who refuse to go out at night and fight demons.

Because major players are largely absent from this book, and it focuses on more political aspects, I could see some readers comparing it with the worst parts of George R.R. Martin’s A FEAST FOR CROWS. But I think that overlooks a lot of the book’s wonderful elements. For example, the book explores the impact of Jardir and Arlen. They are so focused on the fight against the demons that they have left quite a bit of turbulence and wreckage in their wake. All the compromises, the sacrifices, and the insults come back into play in this book. Those who can’t let past injuries go often suffer more when seeking revenge. All these consequences are a testimony to the breadth and depth of Brett’s world- and character-building. This is a very rich world, and THE SKULL THRONE examines it on a detailed level.

But the story is not completely negative. Both the Krasians and the Hollowers are also making positive changes as the cultures interact. For example, the Krasian women are finding new roles in their society, as are their clerics. And among the Hollowers, Rojer’s marriages to Krasian women bridges the divide between cultures and exposes Hollowers to Krasians that don’t wield a spear and send them fleeing into the dark.

I think a more accurate comparison is not A FEAST FOR CROWS, but The Empire Strikes Back. The world is very broken, and the final 100 pages of THE SKULL THRONE pack quite a few gut punches. It’s dark and sad, but complex and engaging (And I’d expect the final book—tentatively titled THE CORE—to feature the return of the Jedi, er, Jardir…and Arlen.). But until then, all I can do is recommend this book to readers. I tore through this volume, and many nights I would stay up late to read just another chapter…or four. I can’t wait to see how this diverse cast of characters takes on the demons once and for all.


By Eric Christensen

Like many lawyers, Eric Christensen no longer practices. Instead, he works as a writer and editor. Hooked on speculative fiction from an early age thanks to nerdy parents, he writes for fun when not writing for clients. Otherwise, he’s reading, running, or watching movies in Washington, DC, where he lives with his wife, Laura, and his dog, Blue. You can find him on twitter at @erchristensen or online at eric-christensen.com

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