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The Raven Tower Hardcover – 28 Feb 2019
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I've been reading fantasy my whole life. After all these years, it's a delight to read something so different, so wonderful and strange (Patrick Rothfuss, author of THE NAME OF THE WIND)
A powerhouse epic of humans and gods at war, deeply imagined and profoundly thrilling. There are echoes of Shakespeare and Le Guin in The Raven Tower, but its strange dark brilliance could only have come from Ann Leckie (Lev Grossman)
A gripping story that's one part mystery, one part a new history of the world, The Raven Tower is an incredible fantasy, told by one of the most unique voices I've had the privilege of reading (S. A. Chakraborty)
The Raven Tower is a unique, intricate fantasy set in a fascinating world of gods who are at once formidable and vulnerable. Original and powerful - I loved it. Highly recommended for fans of N. K. Jemisin or Guy Gavriel Kay (Django Wexler)
Earthsea's elegance meets Sanderson's clever magic in this talon-sharp saga of divinity and revenge. Ann Leckie is unstoppable (Seth Dickinson)
A triumph of the imagination, The Raven Tower is the first fantasy novel by Ann Leckie, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. Gods meddle in the fates of men, men play with the fates of gods and a pretender must be cast down from the throne in this breathtaking fantasy masterpiece.See all Product description
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It is written well as you would expect from this author, but the style, intermingling an origin story with another storyline just didn't catch my imagination. That is probably more an indictment of my taste than the author's style, and I would never criticise someone for trying something a little bit different.
I have read a review which compares the plot to Hamlet and I can't really disagree with that, and like Hamlet I found it very hard to sympathise with any of the characters.
This is a very clever book and I think the author knows that, but for me it is a bit too clever for it's own good.
Only 4 stars as it could be the start of a series
THERE. WILL. BE. A. RECKONING.
My First Law of Book Reviewing is that the best books, the ones that really wow me, that keep me awake till the small hours and have me tired on my train the next day, are the hardest to review. There are lots reasons for this, sometimes different ones for different books. Sometimes the book is so good I'm just speechless. Sometimes the book simply is the best expression of itself. There's probably a way to express this mathematically but for me it comes down to, what can I say about this that doesn't actually take away from the unique, wonderful edifice the author has made?
That is certainly true of The Raven Tower, but as if if things weren't already tricky enough, Ann Leckie also does things in the book.
She does things to her protagonists.
She does things to her setting.
She does things to the reader.
And frankly, she does things to the genre. To be too clear about these things would reduce the impact of the book in ways that the term "spoiler" doesn't even begin to capture. So I have to be very circumspect now, and so this is a hard review to write, but I have to try because I do want you to read this book.
The first thing to say is, I think, that The Raven Tower is not at all what it seems.
The package may appear familiar. There is a land - Iraden - with a ruler ("the Raven's Lease") bound to die for his god. The heir, Mawat, hurries home to take his father's place. There are enemy armies in the South, beyond the Silent Forest, and strangers in the capital about who knows what business. Iraden's gods (the Raven, the Silent) have turned elusive. We even have a map, showing a vaguely Mediterranean-like geography, with the capital city of Iraden, Vastia, sited on the channel where the Shoulder Sea connects with the Northern Ocean.
Almost as the story begins, however, Leckie begins to do her things.
Who, exactly is, narrating? Not Mawat or his lieutenant, Eolo. Rather, the narrator seems to be addressing them (specifically, Eolo.) "I first saw you" the book begins "when you rode out of the forest". The story continues to be told to "you", despite the fact that "you" are often the subject of it. It's as if the narrator is, at some later time, recounting what he saw and inferred of Eolo's reactions, thoughts and history. Not entirely omniscient, but privy to a great deal of information, this narrator is also aware of other characters, other events - but what they choose to tell is selective.
So - and I think it's safe to be plain about this - Leckie is doing is adopting a very unusual viewpoint. In places it's not quite first person (when the narrator tells their own history) in others it's not quite second person, and indeed when they are telling Eolo about the doings of some other individual, it becomes not quite third person either. That sounds very tricksy and clever but it really isn't, I think it reads very naturally but it does give the whole book an air of distance, a very particular tone. This narrator has a clear and reasoned style, and the way Leckie tells the story enables many issues to be addressed - reasoned over, debated - which would often be ignored in fantasy.
For example, a central theme here - unsurprisingly, given the importance of those elusive gods - is how gods can do what they do, what their limits are, and what dangers they face. A god may "speak something true", altering the universe, but had better be careful that he, she or they can back up their statement or they risk draining their power and ceasing to be. And that takes us to the nature of language, what can be said and what can't. All things absolutely germane to the story being told here, which may begin with a blast on the horn of epic fantasy, as it were, the Kingdom in peril and all that - promising politics, backstabbing and treason - but gradually transitions to something much more complicated, less a horn solo than a fugue exploring variations on the nature of reality, the long term - and I really mean, long term - history of the land, the development of trade and above all, the interconnectedness of things.
Here we see the development of life, the arrival of humankind, the gradual evolution of interdependence between peoples, nations and gods and the drive for power. Leckie is actually using an enormous canvas, and the story she's telling is far from straightforward. Indeed, exactly what story she is telling is one of those things I don't want to say too much about. I will just say that while that horn of epic fantasy never falls completely silent, by the end of the book it's as though it has fallen into the hands of quite different musicians and when I realised what had happened I gasped at what Leckie had actually done.
(Sorry if that sounds convoluted but I am trying to give an impression of this book without telling you any secrets).
The Raven Tower is a breathtaking achievement, really, a really distinctive book that simply demands to be read. Marat and Eolo are colourful, engaging characters and Leckie realises them well, rooting their backgrounds in the reality of the world she's created (Mawat a born leader but headstrong, worrying the nobles that he might take after his domineering father; Eolo with his own secrets). That world benefits from the "deep time" perspective we're privy to - it's a fantasy world with fossils. A place where shallow tropical seas have converted to limestone hills. Where the nutritional needs of humans are investigated by gods in scientific terms alongside demands for blood sacrifice. This feels like a real world where things work, for the most part, as you'd expect, and where they can be understood. It's a world where things develop, rather than being stuck for thousands of years in a sort-of Iron Age.
Reading this book felt at times as though Leckie was reconstructing fantasy itself while she span her story, as though she was reconstructing it by spinning her story. I thought that was brilliant though I'd expect some will be uneasy with what she's doing - change can be difficult. It's also great fun and in places - especially the dry dialogues between The Myriad and The Strength and patience of the Hill - (two of the other gods encountered here) actually rather funny and even touching, as a friendship builds over literally millions of years.
I really can't recommend this strongly enough. You just have to read it.
The Raven Tower establishes a world of powerful gods and the people that worship, and request help from, them. The story’s narrator is a god, and Leckie weaves together aspects of the god’s personal history with the current attempts of warrior Eolo to figure out what’s going on with the usurped ruler of Iraden. The main challenge Leckie faced is the writing in second person, something she succeeds at. This makes the book a refreshing and stimulating read, and goes well with the compelling narrative she crafts.
All in all, this is an excellent introduction to a fascinating world of gods and mortals, and while the trope has been seen before it certainly has had some fresh air blown into it by Leckie and some new power dynamics examined. All in all I recommend this book highly and can not wait for the next instalment