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The Skull Throne

The Skull Throne - Peter V. Brett When I first started reviewing Brett's Demon Cycle, just a couple of years ago, I made comparisons between it and the series that brought me back into fantasy, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. They're not really comparable series, but I found similarities between the two, particularly through the way Brett's series seemed to be trying to follow some of the thematic elements of Martin's. That following continues here, in a story that's rich with betrayal and grand battles.

The story continues to be compelling, and full of characters who are easy to either love or hate depending on their role in the story, which is due in large part to Brett's skill at characterization. The two main characters of the series thus far -- Arlen and Jardir -- are largely absent from the story, with Brett focusing on the tensions between Krasia and Cutter's Hollow instead. We don't get any new, major characters introduced here (though Ashia gets further development through a flashback scene), and in fact, we don't see a significant amount of character growth in this volume. Instead, the story follows our existing characters as we see where their choices have led them, and again, this is very much in line with Martin's series, as well.

The thing is, the scope and complexity of Brett's series can't even come close to matching what Martin has created. The political machinations in Westeros are so much more complex, due in part to the various kingdoms that are vying for power across the country. Armies and battles are important, but even more important are the means by which the characters manipulate the system to gain power. Alliances are made and broken among all those kingdoms. In the Demon Cycle, the story has just the two societies, Krasia and Cutter's Hollow, and the battle for power is more about strength and numbers than politics.

There's also a complexity of character in Martin's series that seems to be lacking in Brett's. It's clear to me that Jardir and the Krasian society are intended to be, if not the antagonists, at least the misguided heroes, and Arlen and the Cutter's Hollow residents are the protagonists in the Demon Cycle. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Brett's characters are one-dimensional, but when it comes to taking sides, it's obvious which way the reader is supposed to lean. In Westeros, your sympathies change as you learn more about the characters, and it's never clear who the winning team is supposed to be.

I'm aware that it's unfair to compare the two series, but when the similarities are that clear (and since I started down that road with The Warded Man), it's hard not to. Brett's series isn't any less interesting or compelling or readable; Martin's series just offers so much more. Where A Song of Ice and Fire makes you think, the Demon Cycle just feels more like entertainment.