The Skull Throne

By Peter V. Brett

I’ve been following this series since a coworker dropped a copy of The Warded Man on my desk back in 2010, and I’ve enjoyed each installment since then. The Skull Throne picks up where the last one left off, with Arlen and Jardir having just faced off in single combat. Both men end up surviving their duel, and grudgingly come together to look for a way to infiltrate the Core, to find a way to finally end the demon threat. Meanwhile, the Krasian occupation of the greenlands continues, and Jardir’s sons seek to push further and capture Fort Lakton. There’s intrigue culminating in a coup attempt, a lot of battles as the Krasians clash with the greenlanders, and both fight against the corelings. Enough is shaken up in this book that I can honestly say I’m not sure how things are going to end.

One thing that’s interesting to me is that as long as I’ve been reading this series, I never really thought very much about the gender or racial portrayals in it, even though they’re not particularly difficult to notice. I did think about it this time, but I wasn’t really sure where to come down on either. The Krasians, for example, are pretty clearly patterned on Muslim Arabs, while the greenlanders are the typical Europeans that you see in most fantasy novels. The differences between the two cultures sets up a lot of the conflict in the series as a whole, but rather than casting the Krasians solely as the antagonists, or as monolithic, Brett seems to go out of his way to show a certain amount of diversity in the different Krasian characters, as well as giving complex backstories to the central Krasians, Jardir and Inevera, and making their motivations understandable, even while their methods are not excusable. Too, the greenland cultures aren’t shown in particularly good light, either; the entrenched class structures and sexism of feudal societies also form a backdrop for some of the central character tensions. I’d be tempted to say that Brett seems to deal with the cultural stuff fairly well in that regard, but I can’t help wondering if he’s trading too much in certain stereotypes in his portrayals.

Similarly, there seem to be a number of strong female characters, with a pretty diverse range of backgrounds and personalities. On the other hand, a lot of the agency that women in this world effect comes through their sexuality, or their skill at healing, or working behind the scenes. There is a lot of stuff that made me uncomfortable in terms of specific women being portrayed as desiring a certain type of subservience to their husbands, but then much of that also explicitly gets commented on by other characters. I really wasn’t sure what it all amounted to. These types of questions are something that come up a lot with genre fiction and particularly with fantasy, working as it does with a pseudo-historical milieu, and while Brett certainly doesn’t seem to be any worse than average for fantasy writers, that’s not a particuarly high bar, and I’m not really sure he does a lot better. But I’d love to hear from other people of color and from women to get their reactions.

All that said, I’m still planning to pick up the last book, which will likely be out some time in 2018. I’m not sure how it will all wrap up, but I look forward to finding out.

Started: 6/28/2015 | Finished: 7/1/2015

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