Not only did I like this book, I appreciated it. I think it's an important and timely release that serves as a warning sign and reminder of the horror from whence we came, and the danger of following in its footsteps.
We're in a state of regression. In addition to the pandemic crippling our economies, the world's collective mindset seems to be facing backward, leaning into the old behaviors that divide us. While social injustice, disgraceful political leadership, and basic intolerance of our neighbors continue to plague us, we are once again on the road to repeating the same acts of horror and suppression that we claimed to have overcome in the past century. It is times like these when artists' voices are more important than ever. Writers, musicians, comedians, filmmakers, and countless others all have the opportunity to share new ideas to remind us where we came from and where we need to go during these dark and challenging times.
Enter: Priest of Gallows. Surface level, this is another hugely entertaining read; an excellent addition to the Tomas Piety saga, who has one of the most distinct narrative voices I've encountered in literary fiction. McLean's writing hits like a two-bottle brandy hangover: easy to digest, but leaves a sour aftertaste once settled. Spending time in Piety's head is a blast: a no-bullshit, street-smart gangster with PTSD and family issues, he's nearly impossible to rattle, and keeps his thoughts and emotions closely guarded. Joining Tomas as he ascends the ranks of the rotten core of central government carries plenty of dark humor and vile acts of treachery. Great stuff.
Digging a bit deeper, it's plain to see that this is not a subtle story. McLean is firing warning shots with heavy-handed metaphors throughout this story. It almost reads like a history book. The city is set in Ellinberg, which sounds like a portmanteau of Berlin and St. Petersberg. Piety's story centers on his ascension through the Queen's Men -- essentially, the KGB -- who uses a Gulag-like torture chamber in the basement of the 'house of law,' reserved for whoever the hell the government wants to throw in there, regardless of guilt. I'll wager a guess that head torturer Ilse is a proxy for Auschwitz SS monster Irma Grese.
Dieter Vogel, Piety's boss and head of the Queen's Men, has come into power in a years-long plan similar to the Hitler he emulates. There is a group of peaceful, educated magician scholars, recognized by their seven-pointed star - symbolically close to the Star of David - who take on the role of the Jews, and become targets of genocide by Vogel's pure racism, ignorance, and hatred. Fellow Queensman Iagin is the Goebbels-like head of propaganda, while all the internal civil unrest is blamed on the neighboring Polish-like Skanians.
There were a couple of times these metaphors went over the top. There was a reference to a wall being built, and a word-for-word repetition of a popular groan-inducing phrase was touted by Piety that was far too on-the-nose. Another example was when Piety was noticing that the more indoctrinated he was becoming in his KGB-like role and the worse his actions were becoming, the more his excuses sounded like a Nazi who was 'just following orders.'
Not only did I like this book, I appreciated it. I think it's an important and timely release that serves as a warning sign and reminder of the horror from whence we came, and the danger of following in its footsteps. It's also a hell of a good time, and serves up a damn fine cliffhanger for the end of Piety's story. There's a lot of ground yet to cover, and some exciting revelations and dangling loose ends have me lined up and ready for the conclusion. But first, the liquor store is calling. I'm fresh out of brandy and I can't let that pass.
Review by Adam Weller
1 positive reader review(s) in total for the War for the Rose Throne series
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