Tomas Piety, a foul-mouthed army priest who recently promoted himself to captain after the death of the former captain, is on his way home with his second-in-command, Lieutenant Bloody Anne, and some of their soldiers. The war is over and Tomas is looking forward to returning to Ellinburg, his hometown, where he owns several small businesses such as taverns and brothels.
Actually, to call Tomas a businessman is slightly generous. In fact, he’s a mob boss and much of his wealth comes from selling protection to those who are weaker. He can be savage when necessary but, generally, he’s a nice guy who cares for the people he feels responsible for, including the citizens of his town. The men who work for him in Ellinburg are known as the Pious Men and Tomas has invited his remaining veterans to join them. (I’m not sure why they didn’t go back to their own hometowns.)
When Tomas and his followers arrive in the grimy town of Ellinburg, they discover that another gang has taken over the Piety businesses. The Pious Men must re-claim their territory and dominance in Ellinburg. They will have to deal with other gangsters, secrets, betrayals, some soldiers who are mentally unbalanced, and a boy (the youngest of their number) who has some emerging magical powers.
Of all the Pious Men, only Tomas realizes that they are not just fighting a rival gang. There are outside forces that are moving on Ellinburg and Tomas must ally himself with mistrusted government agents if their city and country is to maintain its sovereignty.
Fans of “grimdark” and/or epic fantasy that features seedy cities and criminals as protagonists (such as Scott Lynch’s GENTLEMAN BASTARD and Steven Brust’s VLAD TALTOS series) are likely to enjoy Priest of Bones (2018), the first in Peter McLean’s WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE novels. The world-building is quite good and, though the narrative is sometimes repetitive, the plot moves quickly, is fairly exciting, and is often disturbing.
Tomas is a likeable crime boss, despite the fact that he’s brutal, foul-mouthed, owns brothels and an opium den, and does not seem to understand the grammar rule about nominative and objective forms of personal pronouns. (At least I hope these are Tomas’s mistakes and not the author’s or the editor’s.) Most of the other characters are similarly grey and none of them feels safe or above suspicion.
I look forward to finding out what happens to the Pious Men in the sequel, Priest of Lies. I’m listening to John Lee perform Penguin Audio’s edition. John Lee is awesome. I highly recommend this version for those who want to read Priest of Bones.