Publisher: Panic Volcanic
Publication Date: 10th August 2011
REVIEWED BY ROBERT
If I have one complaint about this novel, it’s that the writing sometimes gets in the way of the story.
Priest channels a lot of 80’s style fantasy; think along the lines of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant or The Black Company, and you’ll have some idea of what I mean. Colville’s a great writer and builds his world well. There’s little in the way of exposition, instead you’re shown the world through its various characters and their interactions. So, what’s Priest about?
Heden is a cleric, an agent of the church. Years ago, he and his friends went around vanquishing evil and doing good. Now, years of doing good have left Heden with what we would recognise as PTSD. Some of his former party are dead and he’s not on the best terms with those who are left. That hook alone is what makes Priest worthwhile reading.
As a main character, Heden has his faults and at times they make him both unlikeable and difficult to relate to. I found this refreshing, not every character – even the protagonist – needs to be either of those things in order to draw me to a novel. Read Mark Lawrence if you don’t believe me.
Colville’s characterisation is spot on, while the novel also suffers from some pacing issues and perhaps being overly terse to be engaging all the time, I wanted to keep reading. Part of that has to do with it being a mystery at heart. Giving nothing away, Heden has his self-imposed isolation in a closed down tavern he bought years before interrupted. Sent into a mystical forest called the Wode, he’s there to solve a murder. Colville describes Priest as a hardboiled fantasy, wherein the stakes are always rising for the protagonist. In that Colville succeeds, creating interesting tension and subverting expectations for the reader more often than not.
I couldn’t work out what was going to happen, and nor did I expect the ending which was delivered. Heden’s character arc is paid off and it leads neatly into its sequel, which I have also read and enjoyed. The journey there is a little ‘off’ at times. Even if I didn’t know it, I’d be able to work out Colville is an avid D&D player and at times that does work against the story he’s telling in Priest. At times the novel can’t avoid the pitfalls of its conceit: a reluctant hero, a quest only they can undertake, a mythical forest, etc. It is very 70’s and 80’s and while the novel avoids many of them, it can’t all the time. I have no problem with that, in fact its sense of adventure, except for a few points here and there, makes Priest a fun and pulpy read. Marrying it to a more modern sense of prose and characterisation means it doesn’t always walk that tight rope effectively.
If the novel has one weakness, it’s that it’s trying to work with so many influences from both modern and older fantasy, wrapped in a mystery with its chapters almost episodic in nature. This does set Priest apart in many ways and I enjoyed both this novel and Thief, its sequel, but understand it won’t be for everyone.
I doubt people will have read a novel quite like this, and criticisms aside, as a complete work Priest is a solid fantasy novel. Colville borrows from a lot of places, twists and moulds tropes to fit into the world he’s built (the worldbuilding is excellent).
At times, Priest almost overstays its welcome and in the hands of a less competent author it may very well have done, but it doesn’t, and I will re-read it down the line.
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A Fantasy Novel.
After years spent in the inn he bought and never opened, Heden is drawn out, and sent into a dark forest to investigate the death of a knight.
Nothing is what it seems. Why was Heden chosen for this mission? Who killed the knight and why? Why won’t anyone talk to him? As the Green Order awaits Heden’s final judgement, he finds his morality, perspective, and sense of self are each challenged and then destroyed.
Perhaps nothing, even right and wrong, can survive in the haunted wood.
Matthew Colville is a writer and designer in the video game industry. He lives in lovely Orange County, California with four cats. Which is really like two cats.