Skullsworn – Brian Staveley

Synopsis: Pyrre Lakatur is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer—she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial.

The problem isn’t the killing. The problem, rather, is love. For to complete her trial, Pyrre has ten days to kill the seven people enumerated in an ancient song, including “the one who made your mind and body sing with love / who will not come again.”

Pyrre isn’t sure she’s ever been in love. And if she fails to find someone who can draw such passion from her, or fails to kill that someone, her order will give her to their god, the God of Death. Pyrre’s not afraid to die, but she hates to fail, and so, as her trial is set to begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love . . . and ending it on the edge of her sword.

Holly: This was like.. come, Corey & Holly. Sit down. There is a story you need to hear. A story you are going to fall in love with. Read it. Experience it. LIVE IT.

And we did.

And we loved it.

We fucking LOVED IT.

Corey: YES! It was very considerate of Brian Staveley to release this book so soon after we finished the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy! And featuring a Grimdragon favorite, Pyrre!! I felt like her role in The Last Mortal Bond was a little underwhelming, so to get an entire book devoted to this delightful character is just….it’s amazing. From the first page to the last, this book was just an absolute joy to read!

Holly: It was unbelievable! Goddamn. The possibilities for more stories told within this world Staveley has created are endless!

He truly is such an incredible writer. The juxtaposition of his almost lyrical words paired with this intensely brutal violence. I especially love the luscious fight sequences. They are like beautifully choreographed dance numbers!

Incidentally, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division came over my headphones right before the Epilogue. I just thought that was quite poetic. THIS BOOK IS MAGICAL!

Corey: It really is magical! Staveley’s writing is just gorgeous here, without ever being overmuch. As a prequel/standalone novel set in his elaborate fantasy world, this book is just such a huge success. It’s this steamy, sprawling, exciting adventure story that feeds the larger mythology of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, without feeling quite so heavy as those books feel. I think getting to go back and see a younger & less self-assured Pyrre Lakatur is just fucking fascinating. To be able to read this and connect some dots, and really understand more about this brilliant character, her belief system, and the path she was on from a very young age….it was just everything. It’s a book I’ll cherish. I think one of the standout elements is watching the dynamic between Ela and Pyrre, and seeing what a profound impact Ela’s influence had on Pyrre later in her life, regardless of how occasionally prickly their friendship was.

Holly: Sex, music, swimming naked with killer crocs, taking on jaguars, facing God-like creatures that were thought to just be a myth, even more music, the themes of love & death throughout. What more could you want in a fantasy adventure?!

How about incredibly badass characters, especially the strong females that are present here. Pyrre already having been a favorite, but also ELA! Strong, sexy, intriguing, self-assured, charming, crazy skilled ninja priestess assassin. She is fucking insane. I loved her so much!

As you mentioned, I think the relationship between Pyrre & Ela was quite profound. Ela provided the lighter side to Pyrre’s seriousness. Their chemistry was fantastic! This is another reason why I would suggest reading this after the original trilogy. It’s cool to see how Pyrre came to be, having those pieces fall into place & form the character she is. Yes, this could be read first & would give you an introduction into Staveley’s writing. It’s a much quicker read, lighter in scope. But still just as glorious! You could also read this as a standalone. But why would you want to? You are going to want to read ALL OF the Brian Staveley, trust me!

Corey: Yeah, absolutely fascinating to explore the themes of love and death, as seen through the eyes of these priests and priestesses of death. Their relationship with death and with killing is certainly….atypical. But also strangely beautiful and comforting. And watching Pyrre basically fumble her way through the love story elements was delightful. Because again, we know her as this incredibly forward & sly woman, completely at ease with who she is, what she wants, and how to get it. This trip into her past really only enhances all those great qualities about her, because we know now she wasn’t always that way.

Holly: This was told as a first person POV, as opposed to the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy which was third person. The narrative of Pyrre really made it feel that much more intimate & helped to draw you into her character in a different way. We are able to see what she sees; feel what she is feeling. It added another element to her story, where we learn about her background. How she wasn’t always the experienced & confident assassin that we came to know in the trilogy.

Another important part of this story is the secondary characters. The deadly duo of Ela & Kossal. Such nuanced, full characters in their own right. They are Pyrre’s Witnesses for the Trial. And they were everything, especially in their scenes together!

Corey: YES! The witty banter between Ela & Kossal was priceless!! Especially when you factor in the idea that one could or would kill the other! Let’s not forget the enigmatic Ruc Lan Lac, the object of Pyrre’s sometimes-bumbling affection. He’s a little rigid and militaristic…well, he is a soldier after all. But there’s something really intriguing about him, and there’s no small amount of sexual tension between he & Pyrre.

Holly: To say that this book is sexy is an understatement! The tension between Ruc Lan Luc & Pyrre certainly added some heat! They originally met years before in a fighting pit & then.. well, some things happened. Years passed without them so much as having seen each other. But Pyrre figured Ruc was the best possibility for the “love” portion on her journey to kill seven people in fourteen days & become a priestess.

Yes. Right. This is a love story, of sorts. An adult, steamy, mature, fucked up, messy, funny, violent, passionate love story. It is about understanding the concept of love & realizing what that means to each individual. Whether it is love of a deity, a friend, a partner or finding the strength it takes to love yourself from within.

And for Pyrre, there is another layer of having to find someone to love so that she can kill them. Which, damn. Talk about stressful! It’s about her relationship with Ruc, but also her devotion to her religion. The love that she has, that her fellow devotees have, for Ananshael.

Corey: All the elements really come together in such an effortless way. A completely unique love story, some badass action sequences, quite a bit of gallows humor…it’s just pretty damn perfect. I also think the pacing and the length of Skullsworn are two of its biggest strengths! It’s captivating from the opening line to the last & just compulsively readable. Brian Staveley is just immensely talented, and the fact that he’s currently working on even more stories in this world is just as exciting as it gets!

The Grimdragons Rating: 5 swirling, whirling, badass priestess assassins!

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