Skullsworn by Brian Staveley


“Give to the god the one who made your mind and body sing with love.”

— Brian Staveley, Skullsworn

    Skullsworn is a stand-alone story set in the same universe as The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne written by Brian Staveley. Although having failed to get around to read the original trilogy that laid the foundation to Staveley’s popularity, I can still confidently confirm that Skullsworn remains a beautiful introduction to a great talent in the fantasy world and can easily be read without worrying about the potential references it could have to The Emperor’s Blades, The Providence of Fire or The Last Mortal Bond. This new tale features Pyrre as the main protagonist and recounts her Trial to officially arise as a priestess of Ananshael, God of Death. Presented with a song that unveils the very requirements to become a priestess, Pyrre embarks on an adventure in her hometown of Dombâng in hopes of completing the challenge under the eyes of two Witnesses, long time priestess and priest of Ananshael: Ela and Kossal. While the song instructs Pyrre to bestow death upon seven specific individuals, Skullsworn exposes us to the ramifications of love, and the deadly edge to it.

    The story is told in the first-person through the eyes of Pyrre as she slowly, but surely, attempts to complete her Trial under the watchful eyes of her two companions. Feeling a complete devotion to the God of Death, Pyrre’s thoughts and actions transpires with a relentless love for the concept of death and the work of her God in the every day life. Blinded by this faith to her one and only God, Pyrre believes that killing comes easy for her, but that the real challenge remains in the last verse of the song which requires from her the unknown: love. Within fourteen days, she is to fall in love and to take the life of her beloved, and nothing frightens her more than to realize the colossal task that reigns upon her. It is in hopes of finding that special someone that she and her Witnesses set about to Pyrre’s city of birth.

    Although her journey remains action-packed from cover to cover, I had issues with her personality, and her character as a whole. In fact, I honestly had trouble caring for her character at times. She emanates with this very cold and disconnected personality, and, through her thoughts, attempts to disentangle her limited comprehension of love in a very rational and down to earth manner. I believe it’s the very premise that a person is to fall in love within two weeks that caused me to feel a little bit perplexed by the character’s development. I guess my own conception of love muddied the waters and struggled to appreciate the story that was conveyed. However, the progression of the story, and ultimately, the conclusion made me realize that the whole point of this adventure is to draw a character who basically never truly understood love and who was going to find out the underlying layers of it the hard way.

    While my ability to connect with Pyrre remained hectic throughout the story, the supporting cast succeeded in doing a much better job in holding onto my attention. It is impossible to go on without giving Ela the spotlight in being, in my opinion, the most bad-ass character in this tale. Her much older and wiser personality—around her 30s—glowed with a free-spirited, spontaneous, sex-and-alcohol addicted drive. While the banter between most of the characters in this book felt rapid, sharp, witty and aggressive, Ela radiated with the most entertaining dialogues of them all, and almost always had the last word in every discussion. Her retorts were repeatedly filled with humour and made me chuckle at times. On the other hand, Kossal remained the much older and quieter Witness who seemed to live within a bubble ready to explode with anger and disdain for the world. In the end, the chemistry between the characters were absolutely genuine and stayed true to each character’s personality.


    Skullsworn‘s forte lies in its world-building however. This is one story that heavily, and marvelously, strives in telling a story set in a unique world filled with its own history, myths, religions and people. The detail is incredibly rich and poetic, as Brian Staveley’s writing is majestic and endlessly lyrical. I strongly believe that the main attraction of this story is in the complex and authentic world that the author draws up for us. The details in the landscape, in the myths that forged every society and in the traditions and customs of every religion and village, all come full circle and give life to a world filled with festivities and dangers. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about all the gods that once existed and the ones that still shape the life of countless mortals. Brian Staveley has a minute and compelling way to integrate information on the world and keep readers mesmerized by its mere complexity.

    Skullsworn is filled with lots of blood and killing, but love remains the core of this story. Even around the roars of jaguars, the slithering of snakes, the deadly patience of crocodiles and the sinister eyes of spiders (!), Brian Staveley interweaves Pyrre’s journey to understanding love in all its shapes and forms. Driven with a deep desire to become a priestess of Ananshael, her strategical and logical reasoning will not help her decipher love. During this Trial, her understanding will come hit her like a hurricane and deliver a stunning finale to this epic stand-alone story. It is with a brilliant stroke of the pen that Staveley blends theological discussions, artful action sequences and in-depth analysis of love and death in a giant ravishing pot of epic fantasy. Learning about the pantheons of gods that exist in this world and how they served the people in their decision-making, as well as how they helped build villages with individuals subscribed to various competing faiths was a thrill to learn about. Complemented with the constant bantering and verbal sparring between the characters, Skullsworn is a compelling world that will only feed your desire to read more of this world. Upon completing this story, I know what the gods ask of me now.

Next stop, The Emperor’s Blades.


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38 thoughts on “Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

    1. Thank you sir! I couldn’t resist this when I got the opportunity to read it. I’m definitely looking forward to trying out the Emperor’s Blades too; if the world-building is as strong as this one, I have a feeling that it’s going to be a blast. Thank you for reading, I appreciate it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Good to know that Skullsworn can also be read as a stand-alone! The worldbuilding sounds without doubt fantastic. Excellent review; I’m glad you enjoyed this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Would’ve been pretty messy if I couldn’t enjoy this as a stand-alone. I really HATE not reading books in the proper order (I normally prefer publication order). Turned out that this one could easily be enjoyed for what it is, and will probably (will have to confirm in the future) give fans of the original trilogy a good dose what they craved for. And yes! The world-building is really where all the fun is at. So much time was put into it, it’s nice to see that it didn’t feel like it was just info-dumped, and actually felt crucial and entertaining to learn about. Thank you so much Yvo for reading!! I appreciate that!! 😉

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      1. I can relate to that; I always try to read books in the proper order as well…Fans of the trilogy will definitely enjoy going back to the same world again. Especially if the worldbuilding is that good! I have a weak spot for well developed and detailed worldbuilding, so I will definitely keep this author in mind for the future.

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    1. Awn, thank you so much Kim! ❤ I was surprised I never heard about The Emperor's Blades or even this author too. I only found out about the trilogy when I heard about this stand-alone, and this is a pretty recent trilogy too (the trilogy came out during 2014-2016), which greatly surprised me. 😛 Hope you enjoy this author's books though!

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  2. I think this is the second review I’ve come across for the book and like yours the other review mentioned the issue with connecting to the character as well… I love the sound of marvellous worldbuilding and killing and blood and all that jazz, and even though the love concept is kind of upside down (?!) I think itmight just suit me like a fist in the eyesocket because I’m a bit dead inside as well so I might just relate 😀 bwahahahaha! Fabulous review!

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    1. That’s interesting.It’s reassuring to know that it wasn’t just a “me” thing. I actually rarely find myself in front of a character with whom I can’t connect, but it was nice to see that in this book, it didn’t hinder the experience much at all. The world-building is definitely the best part of this book, and I can only imagine how much more epic it must be in the original trilogy.

      Hahahahahahaahahh you got me cramping with your analogies! 😛 The idea that someone has to fall in love within a set amount of time and ALWAYS finds themselves thinking about it in order to complete a challenge just seemed ridiculous to me. It sort of kills the whole idea of love right there, ya kno? 😀 Then again, I think the whole process was pretty interesting and enlightening, especially for a character that has lived to become a priestess of a death god.

      Thank you so much for reading, and for them kind words, Liz! 😉 I’m sure there’s nothing dead in ya’!


  3. Great review! A fantasy book I haven’t read though I have read Staveley’s Unhewn Throne trilogy and really enjoyed it, a quality trilogy.

    Pyrre is a minor character in that, can’t really remember much else about her but yours is the second review I’ve read for Skullsworn that praises the world building while finding Pyrre a hard character to like/care about at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, sir! There’s something really gratifying to know that I’ve read a fantasy book that you haven’t read. 😛 But damn, you’ve already went through the whole trilogy?! It’s good to hear that it’s worth my time. I definitely want to pick up the first book in the future.

      It’s odd to know that the author went with a stand-alone story featuring Pyrre, instead of another character that was… more loved? by the community. I hear the world-building is just as impeccable in the original trilogy, but it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who finds Pyrre’s character hard to connect with. Doesn’t ruin the whole experience though! Do you plan on checking this out or do you prefer leaving your trilogy experience unscathed?

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      1. The choice for Pyrre was a weird one, taking a very minor character in the trilogy and giving her a whole book. There’s definitely better characters to have chosen for a standalone, not necessarily better, that’s the wrong word, sorry but more loved, lots would have loved a prequel story featuring a famous Kettral unit from the trilogy.

        The world building is definitely great in the original trilogy.

        Yeah, I’ll check it out at some point, pretty sure I’ve got an ARC somewhere of the book.😂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, what a review! I love the originality of this book! Like you, I would probably have issues connecting with the main character I think but it’s awesome that where the book is lacking, world-building and a good secondary cast fills in and make it better!

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    1. Ahhaha! Thank you so much Donna! I really appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts on this with me! 😉 It really was a good thing that there were other great things in this book that compensated for the impossible (?) task of connecting with the main character. Rare, but definitely awesome!


  5. Great review for this book Lashaan, I love how you don’t need to read the original series to understand this one, probably something that allows a lot more readers to get into the world and get a taste of the authors writing style.
    Now you’ve read this book do you plan to give the original trilogy another try? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Beth! It’s definitely great that it can be read as a stand-alone. It will probably also give all those die-hard fans of the original trilogy a good dose of what they’ve been craving for. I definitely plan on trying out the original series next. No reasons not to now! 😀

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  6. Amazing Review! I haven’t read The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series either but I really want to read Skullsworn because it sounds awesome. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Now i’ll definitely give this a shot! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Raven! 😉 I knowww right? That blurb, although I remember reading it fast because of how much I hate blurbs with too much info, had so many key words that just hooked me quick! I know for sure that I’d love to give the Chronicle a shot now that I’ve read this, especially if it might be even better than this stand-alone story. 😛 I do hope you enjoy it when you get the opportunity to read it!

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    1. I agree. I’ve rarely come across those in the past months, but this one really stood out for me. However, the world-building and.. well.. everything else really succeeded in making me overlook my inability to connect with it. Hopefully the original trilogy has a more.. relatable.. protagonist.

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  7. I cannot help but feel that maybe your failure to fully connect with Pyrre was actually a sign of very solid character development. It sounds as though she is a very disconnected individual, with lacking a concept of love and all. I imagine it would be truly hard to find anything relatable about her?

    I am kicking myself because I almost jumped for this one, but passed since I had not read the original trilogy. I was afraid that even as standalone it might alter my experience not having any working knowledge of the established universe. Now I am convinced I just missed a great opportunity with fantastic world building.. sigh. I swoon over world building 😉

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    1. That is indeed right! It’s what got me to enjoy the story in the end; I assumed that it was all part of her character and how she’s discovering something that was foreign to her at the beginning of the trial: love. It’s just that I couldn’t “care” for her faith or fate in this story, even if I took into consideration her “disconnected” personality, you know? I can’t tell if it could’ve been done better, but it still felt like something was lacking to make her character more interesting throughout the story. However, everything else was pretty stellar, especially the world-building. In an ideal world, I’d probably would’ve went through the main trilogy before trying this stand-alone, but I can definitely console you on the idea of going through with the stand-alone first, before the trilogy. In fact, I hear a lot of people find it weird that Pyrre got a stand-alone story since she wasn’t very pertinent in the main trilogy. It MIGHT make someone who LOVED the trilogy find this stand-alone story less fascinating or compelling because of how it focuses on someone who’s less “exciting” in the main trilogy.

      Thanks for reading, Danielle! Appreciate it a lot!! ❤

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      1. It certainly makes it easier to approach the standdalone if she wasn’t key in the main series. There is less concern of missing more pertinent info 😉 So the real question is.. where t start.. where to start? I am actually leaning towards this one because my commitment issues have me concerned about all of these series I keep picking up!

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      2. Bahahahaahh I know what you mean!!! One of the biggest bookish realizations I had was how I’d start so many different series by reading their book 1, but realized how hard it is to fit in a sequel into my TBR! #bookwormstruggles

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  8. It seems like the character was a very modern rendition in a fantasy setting which by its nature is more conservative? At least that is what book bloggers have been saying lately… I just love fantasy! It’s cool this is a standalone, a good place to start, though I agree I like starting at the beginning typically. Fascinating the twisted look at love… really you make the book sound so good even when you have problems like relating to the main character…! Such a great review, I always enjoy and learn a little, hehe.

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    1. Definitely not wrong to check this out before the trilogy (although I’d always recommend the publication order first)! People who are truly intrigued by the blurb and sound of this one can dive into it without any worries if you ask me; which is wonderful. 😀 Ahahaha There were way more pros than cons in this one. I had to share the shortcomings though, in case some people weight them more than other things, for example. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoy this one if you EVER decide to pick it up out of curiosity. 😀

      Oh, and fantasy is AWESOME!! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve seen this one around lately and was so looking forward to it! Besides promising an amazing fantasy story, it also delves into the unexpected innocence of love – an interesting and stark contrast, indeed.
    I’m worried I won’t connect with the main character either, but I usually get along just fine with cold and unfeeling types. They are usually very interesting and intriguing to read. I hope it’s the case!
    I’m also so glad I can read this before I do the rest of the series and not be spoiled/feel lost because I don’t know certain stuff. Yay!
    Another wonderful review, Lashaan, and thanks for providing those details! They always help a lot 🙂


    1. The way the author tackles the theme of love is definitely methodical and delivers a nice solid ending to make the overall exploration really good. While at first the very cold and distant protagonist might seem off, it really does end up being a good thing for the development of both the character and the story. It’s hard to hate the direction it took as it might have actually have been the best course of action.

      Definitely a true stand-alone spin-off story. Whether it’s this spin-off that interest you or the original trilogy, there’s no wrong decision in where to start! Hope you get the opportunity to read it, and if you do, that you enjoy it!

      Thanks again for reading, Sophie! Always such a pleasure to hear what you have to say on the book or the review! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! ^^ I’m really looking forward to reading this one. It seems to have everything I would want to find in a book.
        You’re welcome, the feeling is entirely mutual! Thank you so much for your ongoing support, Lashaan! Means a lot! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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