SPFBO Review | Priest – Matthew Colville

About the Book

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.

370 pages (kindle)
Published in 2010
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent as part of the SPFBO.

I put off reviewing this book for a while because, honestly, I’m kind of stumped by it. I really, really enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, but there are some aspects of it that just bugged me. But I enjoyed it so much I feel bad for not liking parts of it – if that makes sense. So I decided to push off writing the review until I couldn’t avoid it anymore.

Priest is interesting, because it unashamedly pays homage to a lot of fantasy influences that have come before from Lord of the Rings, to The Name of the Wind, to Harry Potter, and more. We even have a bit of homage to some current grimdark authors. Really, the list goes on. It’s a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed reading a book that was so comfortable being influenced by, and paying homage to so many of the authors and books that have given the genre so much.

Normally a book that is so obviously influenced by others would bug me, but I actually really enjoyed this one. I could tell that Colville genuinely loves the genre, and he’s not really taking away from the books I’ve mentioned, or borrows from them. He more or less bounces some ideas off of them. It’s obvious where those ideas come from, but they are 100% his all the way and I absolutely loved that level of passion that transcended his book.

Priest plays on a few tropes, from a priest (obviously) protagonist with a mysterious-ish past, some King Arthur style knights, a seductress and more. The synopsis says that not everything is what it seems to be, but sometimes that trying-to-not-be-obvious thing is so obvious that it kind of defeats the purpose of that statement. Some of the scenarios are unbelievable and felt pretty forced and contrived. Sometimes certain scenes felt longer than necessary and rather wordy.

The priest, Haden, is an interesting character, and the rather episodic feel of the novel kept things fresh and moving quickly for me. However, I can see where some readers will find the episodic nature of the novel trying. That’s going to be a personal preference thing. The issue I did see with the episodes is sometimes Haden sort of changed his personality based on the situation. Sometimes he’d be super wise, the next moment he’d transform into some grimdark sword welding badass, and then he’d feel kind of like Dumbledore. You just never really knew who he would be next. It was kind of fun, but it got a bit trying as well. I wanted Haden to be who he was, and instead I felt like he was changing personalities like a person would change clothes.

Where Colville really shines is his characterization, and his world building. There is a lot here, and there is a lot going on, but his characters felt like they were really three-dimensional (despite some of their more unbelievable moments). This book has just about every kind of epic fantasy creature you can imagine in it, but Colville manages to make them all his own, and it was really quite fun to see what he would march out next.

This felt less like an epic fantasy and more like a homage to some genre-loves mixed with a nice detective story. It’s fast moving and the episodic nature was really fun. The characters shine, and the plot is addicting. There are issues here, like I’ve mentioned above, but Colville does a lot that is quite good as well. His characters are fantastic, his world building is wonderful, and I absolutely adored how much passion I felt in this book. All in all, this is a strong SPFBO contender, and I’m glad it was a finalist so I could read it.


3/5 stars
6/10 SPFBO score


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