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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars California dreamin', 13 May 2005
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Burning Tower (Hardcover)
"You don't know about me without you've read a book called" . . . Huck Finn's opening to his autobiography is particularly appropriate here. This book can't be enjoyed, almost not read, unless you have completed "The Burning City", its predecessor. For starters, your first question will be "what time period does this take place in?" A little research reveals you'll be many thousands of years off - in the wrong direction! Appearing at first like one of the standard post-nuclear holocaust fantasies, it turns out to be many millennia in the past. Niven and Pournelle have violated a guideline of trilogy writing. If you pick up this book assuming it's a "stand-alone" novel, you will be sadly disappointed. If you start it as a fantasy adventure story, you will find much excitement, adventure and, of course, travel. What's a fantasy story for if not to go on quests in distant lands? Well, that's not quite the case here.
Location questions are dispelled by the maps provided. The story takes place in Southern California. In what's now called the Los Angeles Basin, there exists a multi-layered society. There are Lords and Ladies, Lordkin, who seem to be minor aristocrats, and the kinless - the bottom of society. As with today, bushfires are a matter of concern in this arid environment. A fire sets off this story in revealing the rivalry within the aristocrat clans and threats from other clan groups. Ameliorating this rather medieval scene are the merchants' wagon trains. To keep commerce flowing, wagon trains are pretty much left in peace, except by bandits - and "terror birds".
The terror birds, which almost elude physical description, become the core of the story. They seem to be an archaeopteryx with an attitude. Having attacked the merchants' wagons, they've also destroyed whole villages and besieged a town. Having upgraded from solitary attacker to group assault, the birds are clearly becoming a serious threat. Are they being guided using magic? Lord Sandry joins the Feathersnake caravan to find out. He encounters the gypsy beauty queen Burning Tower [you never learn the source of the name] and romance flares. Oh, yes. As a virgin, Tower is allowed a "bonehead" - a unicorn - for a mount. It's all quite genre stuff. Sandry, the Hero of this tale, doesn't have a quest. He's just riding shotgun for the commercial travellers. Still, he's allowed some heroic activity with a bit of help from his [girl]friends.
The framework of this fantasy fable is that "there's gold in them thar hills". Gold is one of the sources of "manna" [magic] that makes things happen in this rather disjointed tale. So is petrified wood. The problem with magic is that once introduced by an author[s], there are no limits to its use. Magic is available to certain types who use others as pawns in power struggles. In this bizarre Southern California environment, it is gods who wield that power most significantly. Unless they are turned into myths, which depletes their prowess. Magic, like gold in a later age, is being depleted. Dire predictions for the future permeate this story, and the result will surely be depicted in the next volume. However, i will not be learning the accuracy of the predictions. I haven't yet worked out how Atlantis found it's way to the Pacific Ocean before sinking, as this novel implies. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy from fourteen thousand years ago in California, 9 Feb. 2011
R. F. Stevens "richard23491" (Ickenham UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Burning Tower (Paperback)
This sequel to The Burning City is a curious mixture of myths from the native American legends, some facts gleaned from archaeology, and outright fantasy. I think the fantasy wins hands down, but there is enough of the real geography for us to be able to work out where it all takes place, and the authors help us with this in an after-word.

Burning Tower is the heroine, and the object of our hero Sandry's affections, so on the top level it is a boy chases girl story. But the economics, politics and the magic are tangled into a fantastic epic where one is never quite sure who might survive. The ending is satisfactory, but leaves a door wide open for a third book.

I felt it lost track in a few places, and was less effective than the first book, which I thought was worth a genuine five stars, and in a couple of places I even wondered if perhaps authors Niven and Pournelle should have stuck to Science Fiction. I strongly suggest one reads the Burning City first to best appreciate Burning Tower. Further reading in the same universe as extra background could also include The Magic Goes Away Collection partly by Niven with assistance from several other excellent authors.

Overall, I am glad I bought this book; it made excellent reading for the plane and coach journeys on a recent holiday.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 25 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Burning Tower (Paperback)
Not one of their very best, but, as usual, well written.
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Burning Tower
Burning Tower by Jerry Pournelle (Hardcover - Feb. 2005)
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