Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tower Lord Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Anthony Ryan
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: A Raven's Shadow Book Two
Pages: 624

Buy on Amazon!

(Spoilers for Blood Song are below).

It’s hard to believe this is by the same author that wrote Blood Song. Tower Lord isn’t just a sophomore slump, or the second part of series that struggles to capitalize on what made the first book so good, it’s a catastrophe that’s avoided by the slimmest of margins which only results in this book being just plain bad.

Vaelin returns to narrate in this book, but is joined by three other narrators – familiar faces in Lyrna and Frentis, and a new face in Reva. From the get go it’s clear Ryan struggles with cultivating unique, non bland personalities for all of his characters. The narrators are all super powered in some way, or rather three of them kick serious ass, and one of them is serious smart. It’s hard to believe, at times, what they could ever struggle with?

In Blood Song, Vaelin al Sorna was a young man caught in the conflict between a greedy king and an ambitious religious order, all whilst trying to conceal a rare magical gift that he had. In Tower Lord, this conflict seems to have fallen by the way side as Vaelin’s story is focused on returning to the realm after his imprisonment by the Alpirans.  A lot of the Vaelin parts in the story don’t even make him feel like the same character he was in the previous book.  He was madly in love with Sherin, now he barely spares her a thought and doesn’t even bother to look for her.  Vaelin wants to rescue Frentis, but he forgets about that when asked for a favor from the king.  He learns very little about the Blood Song or how it works. Worst of all, Vaelin has no internal conflict.  He doesn’t have to question any of his decisions – like he did with Janus and his Order – and it makes for quite a boring story.  Considering most people probably picked up Tower Lord to find out what happened to Vaelin, I’ve got to imagine a lot of people are going to be disappointed by this.

Reva is a young religious lady with some combat training that has been tasked to kill the Darkblade aka Vaelin.  She fails spectacularly at accomplishing this, and thanks to the Blood Song she ends up under Vaelin’s tutelage for awhile learning how to fight and learning about his personal story. In the early going of the book, this relationship makes Reva the most promising of the non-Vaelin narrators.
As soon as Vaelin is out of the picture, it’s clear just how flawed and unnecessary of a character she is.  Vaelin and Frentis have already established themselves as combat prodigies, why does the story need a third ass-kicking machine? She is also unwittingly a potential heir to a Fief, why does the book need another politically minded narrator when there’s Lyrna? How does she go from basic trained assassin, to ass kicking machine with only a few training sessions with Vaelin?

It feels like the author will do anything to try and get readers behind Reva, and she ends up becoming a contrived mess. He tries to make her interesting by having her dabble in politics which turn out to be incredibly shallow and dimwitted.  He tries to make her interesting with plenty of action scenes, but these again raise the question of her quick rise to being a badass. He tries to make her heroic as she leads an army in a battle, but it resembles the Battle of Pelenor Fields in Lord of the Rings and feels like a cheap copycat. If that’s not enough Ryan also decides to cater to the LGBT crowd by making her a lesbian – which is conveniently mentioned at the end when the author doesn’t seem to know that he should do with the character at this point in time.  By the end, Reva looks like a mass assemblage of fantasy cliches.

As bad as Reva gets, there is no narrator that is worse than Frentis.  Frentis had potential to be developed into a meaningful character, but that opportunity is squandered to the point where even redeeming him as a somewhat readable character feels hopeless.  Since the end of the failed Alpiran invasion, Frentis has been magically bound to an unnamed, centuries old witch. She controls his actions with her mind, forcing him to her will at the expense of unbearable physical pain. Together they go on a cross country journey killing various influential people. When they’re not killing people, this unnamed witch spends her time raping Frentis and telling him how much she loves him. These scenes which I can only assume were likely created to invoke the horrors of enslavement and sexual abuse, are more likely to give readers a wet dream than a nightmare.  The dialogue and constant fucking could easily make the cut for a sleazy porn … except this isn’t giving readers any of the benefits of porn.

Verniers also returns to narrate in-between each of the parts.  Like Frentis, he is also enslaved, allowing readers into the minds of a general who’s planning an invasion of the Unified Realm and his wife whom like Frentis’ unidentified woman also likes to make passes at Verniers. A solid character for the first book is still decent in the sequel, but the similarities to Frentis’ terrible story just rubbed off on me in real bad way.

The best of the new narrators is Lyrna.  Lyrna was a dynamic character in Blood Song, and for the most part continues to be so in Tower Lord. Her story struggles in the beginning, before starting to come together in the middle, and then starts to weaken again towards the end.  Sent as an ambassador to obtain peace with some tribal people, herself and her envoy find themselves in danger as they’re attacked by dissenters.  Lyrna is the character that changes the most, and actually has a single story that can be put together into something that’s even remotely interesting by the end of the novel.  That being said, even she struggles.

The most memorable scene of the book occurs about 2/3 of the way through.  That scene by itself encouraged me to finish the story, because up until that point, I was just about ready to give up. It’s well done, exciting, and it had everything that made the first book so enjoyable and then some.  One great scene does not forgive the first two thirds of the story. The last third does pick things up, and may be enough to encourage people to pick up the final book in the future. As of right now, I’m undecided, but I’m not too motivated to do so.

Score 4.7

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