Book Review: “The Skull Throne” (The Demon Cycle #4) by Peter V. Brett

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Man, have I been through a lot with Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle. I loved the first two books tremendously, passing them along to everyone I knew, and eagerly anticipated the release of the third installment, 2012’s The Daylight War. And I hate to say it, but I was so let down by that book – for a lot of reasons I won’t go into. But The Skull Throne has re-energized my enthusiasm for the series! So without further adieu, let’s get into it!

The Skull Throne is a slow burn, but the gradual build-up makes Brett’s action sequences all the more satisfying. And one of Brett’s great talents is his ability to write compelling prose, whether it’s a thrilling demon battle or a particularly tense cup of tea. As the plot becomes more and more intricate, we see much less of certain characters – Arlen, Renna, and Ahmann are almost completely absent from this tome, which I know will disappoint some readers. But hopefully that disappointment won’t last long – character development and backstory have always been strengths of Brett’s, and he doesn’t disappoint here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that no player is truly “minor” in the world of the Warded Man.

Brett has long been an outspoken advocate for gender equality in the “nerd” community, from fantasy novels to comic books to gaming and more. His voice is a welcome addition to the ever-growing chorus of fans clamoring for more publishers and creators to make equality a priority. What I especially love about him is the way he conveys these values through his writing. As a lover of fantasy novels and a book reviewer, I’m often faced with the reality that many of my favorite authors and books have sexist undertones. It’s often not malicious – some of these same authors even speak out themselves for equality – but these trends are deeply, deeply embedded in society, and it takes a lot of effort to expel these entrenched values from narrative.

That’s one thing I don’t have to worry about with the Demon Cycle. Peter V. Brett doesn’t have a single “strong female character” but dozens, all given ample development time through the course of the series. It’s made abundantly clear in this installment that women have at least as much (if not far more) influence over events than men. And they are women from all walks of life – villagers, royals, warriors, healers, politickers, princesses… the list goes on. Though I didn’t count, I’m left with the impression that there just might be more female than male characters in this book. And that’s a good feeling to have.

I will admit there was one thing that rankled me about The Skull Throne – there seems to be a pervading interest in fertility that, for me, gets old after a while. There is what I would consider to be an excessive interest in sex, marriage, and pregnancy – from both men and women. While I understand that these aspects are vital to a story like this one (heirs must be made, thrones secured, and sex always makes things a little more interesting), it was just… a lot, for me. It seems as though every other word was “sticking” someone or a comment on their “paps.” I’m willing to admit that this isn’t necessarily a fault with the book – it could just be a personal preference of mine. And likely, since it’s not my cup of tea to begin with, I probably noticed it more than some others would.

In the end, The Skull Throne leaves you wanting more – and what else can you ask of a fourth book in the series? I’ll be looking forward to when the next installment is released!