Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

Priest of Lies by Peter McLean

priest of lies peter mclean book review eric lewis the heron kingsSwapped out the sword on my desk with a new antique.


In my review of Peter McLean’s first book in this series, Priest of Bones, I said I kind of hated Tomas Piety. I still do, and his “wife” even more so, but this time around I feel much more satisfied with how things go for him and his band of criminals. What was simply set up and implied in the last book is brilliantly paid off here, with interest.

The first book covered gang leader Tomas Piety’s return from war to retake his rackets in the industrial city of Ellinburg from other syndicates, only to get pulled into a darker cold war between a foreign power fronting as a rival gang and the Queen’s Men, the crown’s shadowy enforcers. Priest of Lies begins a few months after the end of Bones, where five hundred more or less innocent people were immolated by the Queen’s Men to keep the city of Ellinburg out of the hands of the foreigners. The mood is set right away, with Tomas in a deep despondence. When outwardly it seems he should be at the height of his power, he is in fact being used as a puppet in the same way he himself uses others. The architect of the massacre has forced Tomas into a sham marriage while ordering him about like a common hired thug. Oh, the irony.

There is a brief expository reintroduction to the story and its characters, just enough to remind you what’s going on in case it’s been awhile. There is some humor at the start with a parody of a nagging wife but with vastly more dangerous implications. Tomas cannot enjoy his victory but must continue to battle the foreign-backed gang under the guise of taking even more territory. When his wife/handler insists on gathering up anyone gifted with magical abilities to use in the fight, the plot thickens and they are called to the capital city, where Tomas confronts new enemies in a society whose rules he doesn’t understand.

This book is a little bit less Peaky Blinders and a little more Godfather Part 2 compared to the last one. It shows in graphic detail the notion that the higher up you go, the crookeder it becomes (I know that’s from Part 3, whatever, it has its moments). The legitimate rulers are no better than the gangsters, and in many ways much worse. I get the same sense in some parts of Michael Corleone at his lowest, when grand plans come back to haunt him and he begins to suspect his closest allies. In this at least, there is some satisfaction.

I love series that slowly grow in scale like this. I know it’s a vestigial adherence to video games with their stepwise questlines and boss fight progression, but the sense of growth is so satisfying, and it’s used to great effect here. You go from the provincial city, now to the capital, then to…what? How high will the lowly crime boss rise? What will he turn into and how many innocent people will pay the price for it? The short, action-packed chapters keep the pace barreling along to the final (meat) explosive conclusion, but I felt they could be longer in some places, just to give the reader a breather. The voice is clear but very affected, and one might start to get tired of the constant refrains of “to my mind” and “years to him.” But I know that’s intentional. These are the thoughts of an intelligent but classically uneducated man.

In grimdark fiction you got no call to expect good guys, only bad and worse. But one thing I absolutely hate, can’t stand is unacknowledged hypocrisy. In this volume, McLean throws me a bone or two, and at least a few chickens come home to roost, and the truth that violence never truly comes without consequence is laid bare. The attempts to humanize Ailsa fail for me, but importantly, not for Tomas, though he acknowledges the cognitive dissonance in his feelings. Speaking of which, McLean’s depiction of PTSD is something the reader won’t soon forget, and adds a searing layer of realism over the whole saga and this volume in particular.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I can say I felt completely vindicated in my opinion of Piety, and I will definitely read on when the next volume comes out, if only to see if he gets his fucking comeuppance.

Review of Priest of Bones

Peter McLean’s website:


Pairs well with: Perrin Black Ale


I’ve been wanting to talk about this one for awhile. If you read my other reviews you’ll see that I prefer the dark stuff. But even I can get tired of all the heavy stouts and porters during the summer months. Here is the antidote. Perrin Black Ale (5.8% ABV, 25 IBU) has those malty, chocolatey, coffee flavors but in a very light body. It drinks like a blonde or even pale ale, with only the barest hints of hops detectable and not too much carbonation. The color is thus very deceptive. The aroma is slightly bready but again very light, almost undetectable with a head that doesn’t linger. This beer goes down easy with the flavors I love but without the stomach punch I usually have to take to pay for it. It’s not quite sessionable, but it holds up over the day if called upon to do so. This is what “great taste, less filling” is really like. Like Tomas Piety, it appears to be something it not quite is, so it goes well with Priest of Lies.



heron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel