In fantasy series, the 2nd-to-last book always seems to be the weakest installment. Usually, authors have the spend the majority of these books setting things up for the grand finale. Big events are usually kept at a minimum before the final battle. While The Skull Throne does this somewhat, Peter V. Brett toned it down compared to many other authors. Most of this novel is spent getting all the ducks in a row for the last book, but it is not without excitement. Minor characters see their development beginning to wrap up and the loose threads of side plots start being sewed up.
The biggest difference between The Skull Throne and the previous three books is the lack of flashbacks. Readers know everything they need to about the major characters at this point. A new character introduced in this book gets some flashbacks, but that is it. Everything else is focused on the present and advances character development. Mind you, it is more character development than plot that is advanced in this book. While the key main characters and a few others are off doing…things…most of The Skull Throne focuses on everyone else. The Daylight War is still in effect with humans warring on humans, but the demons are just about done sitting still.
That being said, the characters that this installment does focus on get some good development. Leesha has been a bit of a hectic character but really finds her footing too. Rojer also gets a lot of focus, which is great since he did not receive much in the previous book. But these events do make The Skull Throne feel a bit slow at times. There are less demon butt-kicking scenes and more to do with politics, strategy, and people’s love lives. Not quite the same excitement of life-or-death battles, but these are things that need to happen narratively, which Brett understands.
While the action is scarcer, it is also more intense. At the start of the series, the demons were basically just animals. Animals that are very hard to kill, but essentially just vicious, hungry animals. Now, they are strategizing. They are beginning to move like armies and fight like soldiers, testing the mettle of the humans who have grown overconfident as they have become drunk on the power of magic. They know their ancestors have fought this war before, more than once, and failed to vanquish their enemies. The final book will show whether they can accomplish what the heroes of their myths and legends could not.