Before we begin, I want to be clear about two things. 1. I have been anxiously awaiting this book since the second I finished Blood Song (about two years). 2. I never thought I would be writing a negative review for this book, but I am.
Tower Lord is the second installment of Anthony Ryan’s A Raven’s Shadow series. While I enjoyed reading this book, it left me feeling underwhelmed and disappointed, especially in comparison to its predecessor. I really felt like Ryan was attempting to mimic and capitalize on the Game of Thrones fever that has gripped the fantasy literature scene as of late. The story itself was solid enough, but poorly paced, and the characters were all far too similar and cliched. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, alternating between four characters: Vaelin, Frentis, Lyrna, and Reva. I found the pacing of the story to be a bit weak, and the ending to be especially disappointing. These negatives are somewhat offset by the rich, vibrant world that Ryan has constructed. Ultimately, I would recommend this book with caution.
The cover art is certainly well rendered by a talented artist, but there is little compelling about it. It is simply the image of an armored man’s torso as he readies a bow. There seems to be an alternate cover image inside the ebook version of the book, it is much simpler but I prefer it to the cover Ryan/Penguin chose to go with. I wouldn’t have picked this book up on the merit of its cover alone.
Something to consider while you read my criticisms: I feel like many, if not all of my criticisms stem from the high bar set by Ryan’s debut novel, Blood Song.
1. In the first book all the characters were strong, Vaelin being the most impressive. His brothers and masters were all compelling, interesting characters with their own personalities. In this book all the characters were weak reflections of each other; each one of them was a reluctant hero, but also a strong warrior and respected leader with their own internal monsters. There was very little difference in the flavor of each character; it was like listening to an whole choir sing the same note with no variation or harmony to be had.
2. The pacing and overall story of the book was weak. The entire first half was spent traveling from place to place and building up to the second half. The entire second half was more traveling from place to place and endless war, characters being aghast at the cruel acts of a slave nation, and gore. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for plentiful action scenes, but I can only read about “clouds of arrows” and “flashing swords” so much before it begins to feel repetitive.
3. The book was full of little connections here and there that felt forced and made me stop reading the story in order to research the connection. For example, a minor character shows up in the beginning of the book, makes a mistake and ends up in jail. Later in the book this character shows up again in a mildly more important role. The second I saw his name I recognized it but did not know where from. I had to stop reading and search his name in order to confirm where I’d seen it.
4. This may just be memory, but the prose felt several tiers lower in quality than in the first book. There were multiple times that I had to stop and read a specific section over a few times to actually understand what Ryan was trying to say. On top of this, some of the word choices for specific situations, while not incorrect, felt confused and ill-made to me. Both of these issues are things that should have been picked out and cleaned up in an edit or a rewrite.
5. Vaelin Al Sorna. This complaint probably should be grouped under characters or story, but Vaelin is the reason I, and I suspect many others, picked up this book in the first place. He was one of the most compelling characters I had ever read. Over the course of Blood Song I watched him grow, honing his own skills, discovering himself, and struggling with harsh truths of the world around him. At the end of the previous book Vaelin was a reborn man, a man with noble goals and the ambition to achieve them. In this book he is only present in roughly one fourth of the book, and completely lacks the same vitality and tenacity that drew me into his character in the first place.
6. The ending was incredibly abrupt and leaves the reader with no closure. I know the end to the entire epic has yet to come, but I do not feel that an book should have such an open ending.
1. While I had a great deal of complaints about the book, I did enjoy reading it. This may have been due to my excitement for the book, or a number of other reasons. But in the end, the book kept me reading from the beginning to end, and I’d like to think that wasn’t just because I wanted the book to be awesome.
2. As I mentioned earlier, Ryan has spent much time conceiving of and building the different cultures and societies that exist within his world. The Volarians, with their slaves and Marxis- like society, were quite reminiscent of communism to me. The Free Realms (consisting of Renfael, Nilsael, Asreal, and Cumbrael) seemed to represent capitalism (with varying cultures and religions within the realm itself), the Meldeneans represented a seafaring pirate society (Jack Sparrow, maybe?), and The Lonak, Seordah and Eorhil all represented more naturalistic cultures, similar to Native Americans. His world and the multiple cultures that exist within are really one of the high points of the book.
1. There was a drastic change in the style of storytelling. The first book was told completely from the point of view of Vaelin, and I loved that. Ryan skillfully developed Vaelin, while showing you the depth of the people surrounding him. In this book, I feel like he was trying to tell a larger story by telling individual smaller stories that would eventually coalesce into the larger story, unfortunately this never really happened for me. Due to my own personal tastes, I did not like the shift.
2. I feel like the addition of the two strong female leads was forced on Ryan by his editor(s) in an effort to broaden the book’s ability to appeal to more people (therefore earning Penguin more money.). Reva’s ability to pick up skills that took Vaelin years to develop and hone felt forced, cheap and unnatural to me. Overall, I feel like the forceful addition of the two female leads damaged the story.
When Vaelin unmasked Barkus as The One Who Waits, the orders thought that calamity had been averted. They were wrong. War and destruction are alive and well within the Nation of Volaria, and the Volarians intend to spread their cultural virtues, sinking their teeth into as many nations as possible. Through the course of the story we follow four different main characters: Frentis, Lyrna, Vaelin, and Reva, each of them playing smaller parts in a larger story. Vaelin, the new Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches, Lyrna, the Princess of the Unified Realm, Reva, a fanatical religious assassin, and Frentis, a slave assassin. None of their destinies are set in stone, everything is fluid. But in the end, will their actions be enough to save the Realm?