#SPFBO 2017 Finalist | Pilgrimage to Skara – Jonathan S. Pembroke

About the Book

It has been nearly two decades since Pell Wendt abandoned the power and prestige of Collum. Ruled by the semi-divine Ajudicar, the city had been his home all his life, but no longer. Spurned by the woman he loved, the former pathfinder, adventurer and criminal walked away from his life of escorting promising youngsters to the shrines of power, and retreated to his farm in the Sogras, to live a life of bitter and brooding rejection.

Now, House Kettiburg has reached out with a an offer he can’t refuse: a pilgrimage to Skara, a mythical and dangerous shrine far out in the barbarous Outlands, for the supplicant Keilie – the daughter of the very woman who rejected him.

Trapped by the love his heart cannot deny, Wendt agrees to the pilgrimage and finds himself embroiled in intrigue and betrayal, with far-reaching implications for himself, Keilie, and the tattered remains of the human race.

289 pages (kindle)
Published on July 28, 2016
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This book is a finalist in the SPFBO.

This book has been hugely polarizing so far, and unfortunately, I’m one of those people who is going to probably land on the wrong side of this debate. Pilgrimage to Skara just missed the mark for me. Maybe I read it when I was in the wrong mood. Maybe this is one of those books that just didn’t jive with me for whatever reason. You can’t win ’em all.

First, I should say I love gritty, raw, dark books. Hell, I had my book, which is currently in submission, rejected by a publisher due to too much “casual savagery.” And I’m PROUD of that. Guys, grimdark, dark in general, really does not bother me in the least. It takes a hell of a lot to make me think, “maybe this is too dark.” It’s not the dark elements of this book that bug me.

If you go for this book, you should probably be a member of my tribe. This isn’t a light and fluffy story. It’s dark. It has dark themes, dark discussions, dark things happen, and they happen unapologetically. Some situations will make readers uncomfortable, and that’s okay. Life doesn’t need to be flowers and chocolates.

With that being said, you’re probably wondering what about this book didn’t really do it for me, and I’ll have to sum it up with the execution.

Events pretty much start out with a bang. Things get going pretty instantly. The main character is an ornery bastard, and that’s okay, but his eyeballing his companion, his sexual comments and the like kind of rubbed me wrong. I don’t mind being uncomfortable, but occasionally I felt like this dude’s comportment gravitated into gratuitous.

I enjoyed the worldbuilding, and I liked how things unrolled as the group traveled. This is a journey/epic quest book, and I’m kind of over this sort of thing for now, so this aspect of the book just missed the mark for me due to me being in a different spot with the books I read right now. Not a mark for or against the book itself. I liked the monsters, I really enjoyed the understated magic system. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the magic, and how it impacts people, the world, etc. That was very well done.

I also love the fact that Wendt is an old gunslinger, literally. The Old West feel to the world building was refreshing. I really do enjoy that sort of thing.

A lot of the things that happen are talked about, but they happen offstage. You know they happened because the events enter conversations. Again, this is a plus or minus. There is plenty of action in this book. Things happen. Battles are fought. Lives are in danger, but it seems like a lot of meat never really enters the frame, if that makes sense.

I did feel like the characters lacked development, likewise for the elements of the story itself. For example, it’s fine for Wendt to be a grumpy, horny bastard, but if that’s all there is to him, he stops interesting me. And it seems like a handful of the characters sort of flirt with that one-note territory. Maybe I’m just picky. However, it did make this book feel lopsided. Lots of very cool ideas, diminished a bit by some uneven execution, and characters that just, I don’t know, almost tried too hard and ended up being too much.

The plot was pretty simple, easy to follow, but predictable. I was never really surprised by anything that happened. Readers are told a lot of what goes on, as I’ve mentioned above, rather than allowed to experience it, and that really made me feel almost no emotional investment in what is happening. Parts of this book felt pulpy. There were some typos, some grammar errors.

So, Pilgrimage to Skara.

This was a book that had some great ideas, and some lopsided execution. It’s worth reading if you’re into grimdark, but honestly, it left me rather underwhelmed.

2/5 stars


Trigger warning: I should mention that rape makes an appearance/is talked about in this book, and that can be a trigger to potential readers.

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