Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
Gather round little corelings! Anybody that knows me can attest that I raved about The Painted Man (or Warded Man, depending on your location), and I debated The Desert Spear but I ranted about The Daylight War. Due to my dwindling affection, I was hesitant to take on The Skull Throne ARC but my curiosity won out in the end. Glad it did, because The Demon Cycle is back in business.
My major gripes in the past were the lengthy nonessential flashbacks, the florid fantasy porn and some character developments that seemed incongruent to the actual characters. The first two have been toned down in Skull Throne and the third is rectified with more solid and considered character building. There were a couple of flashbacks, but they were concise and become integral to understanding the actual plot progression. Surprisingly, there really isn't any 'sticking' scenes at all, just a few lead ins. It doesn't dim the passion between the characters whatsoever, though the soapish nature that crept into Daylight is put aside. I am not sure if Mr Brett simply decided the character progression was better served in a different direction, but it is a pretty big turn around in all respects. I give him props for making the positive changes that has elevated my opinion of The Demon Cycle back up to where it was when I first read The Painted Man.
The characters themselves feel much weightier. There was a noticeable sense of personality containment, that they were acting concisely like themselves rather than throwing traits about simply to achieve a plot point. Sure, they are gloriously humanly messy, multidimensional as all good characters are, but not dissociative identity disorder messy. It allowed me to empathise more fully, which I think is what makes a great character. There are a few that are still teetering on the edge of thin, but I think that is mostly down to how little time they are featured in the book.
As with the previous installments, The Skull Throne is split over multiple points of view within the two main contingents, The Hollowers and The Krasians. The Hollowers are ordered back to Angier, which is obviously a contentious issue for both Leesha and Rojer and much anguish ensues. The Krasian contingent are in Everam's Bounty where Inevera and Abban are struggling to hold fort after Ahmann's disappearance, again with much anguish ensuing. There really isn't a whole lot of room for joyous occasions as the series ramps up to 11 and the end game comes into view. There is one other group, but you are better served reading the book than me giving anything away on that one!
Let me say, hands down, Leesha shines. I became disillusioned with her during Desert Spear and Daylight War, as there were times her actions made me frown due to their inconsistencies, but she makes a major come back in Skull Throne. I found myself enjoying her strength and struggles, rather than cringing away from her. Her progression is steady, but beautiful. Another one that came out of the woodworks was Ashia. She just radiates an aura of a powerful Krasian womanhood that I found fascinating. I honestly think it was her lack of scheming that made her character stand out, as previously it seemed the only powerful Krasian women were the ones hell bent on psychological manipulation.
The plot was particularly well paced, which I think was improved due to the dial back on the flashbacks. Skull Throne highlights the consequences of the various character's past actions and decisions; how they have affected those around them as well as the progression of magic within the world. And by the end, the consequences are massive. Heart thumping, adrenalin pumping consequences. The crescendo is near perfect! Not everyone is coming out of this one intact and some rather unexpectedly take their leave down the lonely road.
A few mysteries from the past are wrapped up nicely whilst more pour in. It was a never ending stream of dangling an answer and then pulling the rug out from under you with more questions. Which I enjoyed immensely! The last chapters were amazing. There were hints in hindsight, but I affected some very wide eyed expressions as things unfolded, along with some evil giggling. Cliff-bloody-hanger!
There were some annoyances, hopefully a few, such as some wrong words being used (spellcheck anomalies I think?!) will be rectified before publication. Some of the point of view changes were awkward and it took me some time to figure out that there was in fact, a change. That may have just been some dodgy formatting in my eARC, but I am not sure all of them could be explained away. I think some more attention was needed when rapidly changing characters to help keep the reader (or me at least) up to speed, without the confusion.
Night, the Hick Hollows diction makes my eyes feel like they are being sandpapered. It's not the language so much as the unusual word construction. It's clumsy and jolts you out of the flow of the narrative, which by the end becomes grating. I still can't get used to it and I still believe there are better ways to express language particulars than with choppy half words!
Apart from the few negatives I can conjure up, I cannot express how much improved this instalment of The Demon Cycle is (in my opinion of course!)! If you were at all worried about continuing with the series due to any of the initial concerns I had, just check The Skull Throne out, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised! Possibly overjoyed, as I was! I certainly came out on the other side excited to read #5.. Which was the biggest downside to the eARC, cause I now have that much longer to wait!