A businessman of sorts before the war, he and his associates collectively known as the Pious Men who ruled the streets of their neighbourhood in Ellinburg, when Tomas Piety was conscripted he never thought to see the horrors of the siege of Abingnon or to become a priest of Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows before his return.
The war over, at least officially, for Piety the battle continues; a leader by default, he takes his duty and his responsibility seriously and cares for the men and women who he came to command following the death of the captain; bringing them home with him to Ellinburg he plans to find them food, shelter and employment.
In Piety’s absence and that of them men of the rival gang and their principal, Ma Aditi and her Gutcutters, Ellinburg has changed, his drinking houses and his brothels under new ownership and a sinister power rising in the streets, one which threatens to take over the underworld of the city with a view to seizing real power, the first foothold in another war which there are neither resources nor soldiers to fight.
The first in Peter McLean’s War for the Rose Throne sequence, Priest of Bones is as fast moving and sure-footed as a stallion and as bloody as the battles from which Tomas Piety has returned, a man who knows the men and women under his command and leads them wisely according to their strengths, among them his right-hand woman Bloody Anne, Fat Luka, Simple Sam and Billy the Boy.
Only an illiterate boy he may be, but Billy is more than meets the eye; said to have been touched by the goddess, he knows things he should not, but at least he is relatively harmless, unlike Piety’s younger brother Jochan, dangerous, unpredictable, violent and even worse when he’s drunk, which is most of the time.
Like Piety, McLean’s strategy is built on the knowledge of his characters and his careful deployment of their strengths in their morally questionable campaign to reclaim what was formerly theirs, the two sections of Priest of Bones taking place over a matter of weeks separated by an interlude of six months, a period of great and rapid change in Ellinburg, a quiet war for dominance in the streets which sporadically flares hot and bloody, very bloody.
Piety a brutal and damaged man who had hoped to leave the life of a soldier behind but finds the war has followed him, he is grudgingly forced to accept unasked for help and that the end goal justifies whatever means were used to arrive at it as homes and businesses are raided in the night and bodies are dumped in the river, but he is also an understandable man who is loyal to those who have earned a place by his side or who pay taxes in his territory.
He did not choose this life nor to go to war, but what he did choose was to be a survivor and to do his best to make sure his company would also endure though the cost be heavy and paid in blood, the list of dramatis personae which prefaces Priest of Bones already depleted before the first chapter closes in a bombastic and exuberant read which bodes well for the subsequent volumes and ill for those who cross the Pious Men of Ellinburg.
Priest of Bones is available from 4th October from Jo Fletcher Books