Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tough Travels – High Priests

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: HIGH PRIESTS

HIGH PRIEST is nearly always evil, either on his own account or on behalf of the dark lord.

From the imagination of Steven Erikson, first debuting in Deadhouse Gates, we have Iskaral Pust, High Priest of Shadow. He's a bearded old man with a hawk-nose and tattoos covering his skull. Completely mad, he likes to speak his thoughts aloud . . .  all the time . . . even when he's thinking the worst of the other people in the room. He has a strange fetish for keeping his cavernous temple free of spiders, which makes a lot of sense once you discover that his wife is a witch who likes to transform herself into spiders . . . and who is just as mad as he is.

Terry Pratchett brings us High Priest Dios, one of his darker characters, from Pyramids (an early Discworld novel). Most of his priests are silly characters who believe religious-ness is just a tiresome part of the job, but here they have a natural tendency to be evil. "It's a fact as immutable as the Third Law of Sod that there is no such thing as a good Grand Vizier. A predilection to cackle and plot is apparently part of the job spec . . . most high priests have been serious, pious and conscientious men who have done their best to interpret the wishes of the gods, sometimes disembowelling or flaying alive hundreds of people in a day in order to make sure they're getting it absolutely right."

Although Andy Remic made her as much of a General as a Priestess, there's no doubt that Orlana the Changer was a large part of what made The Iron Wolves so much fun. The very embodiment of supernatural evil, she clawed her way back up from the underworld to become something of an evil Priest-Queen, worshiped by the unholy hordes she creates. Just check out the way in which she's introduced: "It was death. It was birth. It was fire. It was rape. It was exquisite murder. It was cheerful suicide. It was acid in her veins. Poison in her heart. Sulphur in her soul. A sincere abortion. A child’s coffin. An army of necrotic lovers. A giggling genocide. All of those things, and yet none."

More recently we have Uinian IV, Chief Priest of Intarra, from The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley. Accused of the murder of Emperor Sanlitun, he's a man who has gradually been building his forces for more than a decade. To make matters even more complicated, the goddess he serves (Intarra) is the patron goddess of the royal family, making Uinian IV an even more obvious suspect in the assassination. I'll avoid any spoilers here, but there's a dark secret to the man, and a reason he's so eager to demand his trial by fire.


  1. I have that last one on my iPad. Think his next book comes out the beginning of 2015.

    1. It's worth the read, Alex - I'm anxiously awaiting book 3 already!

  2. I have The White Tower from Remic on my kindle, ought to see what happens next some day.

    Best part of Pratchett is three of us could have included him and each picked a different priest.

    1. I've been waiting for a chance to weave Pratchett into these travels, and Pyramids was perfect. You're right, though, he has a lost to choose from.

  3. THE EMPEROR'S BLADE has been peaking my interest for quite some time now

  4. Oh wow, Iron Wolves and The Emperor's Blades totally slipped by me. Though reading Providence of Fire now, I'd like to think I would remember by myself at some point :)

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum