Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan is the second book in the Raven’s Shadow series. Vaelin Al Sorna, one of the greatest and most renowned warriors of the realm, has returned home, utterly disgusted and sick of battle. He alone knows the treachery and lies that the fighting has been built upon, and that knowledge haunts him and keeps him from glorying in the fame and notoriety that he once envied. The successor to King Janus’s throne names Vaelin Tower Lord of the Northern Reaches, and he looks forward to the quiet peace of the cold north. Yet peace is not found so easily, as Vaelin soon will find out. Friends and enemies seek him, and there are other dangers to the Realm that have not yet reached fruition but are growing in both ambition and confidence.
In the first book, I felt that Vaelin was a very hard character, but after having known him for so long now, he just seems like a man that has seen too much. He’s really been affected by all the action at the end of Blood Song, and now we see how he struggles with himself and with how he views the realm. Tower Lord was once again written in Vaelin’s point of view, but there was also an addition of many other character’s POVs which I enjoyed a lot! It took some getting used to, and because I was listening to the audiobook I found myself just a hair confused as to who the narrator was occasionally, but overall I loved getting the heightened complexity that adding these POVs created.
Frentis in particular gained a lot of character development. He too has been tainted somewhat by life, and he is much darker than his initial personality in Blood Song. Anthony Ryan’s dexterity and ability to craft character progressions is really apparent in both Vaelin and Frentis’s transitions, and the entire experience lends itself to making them seem more real, more relatable, and much more explicitly human.
Other characters that had their own moments were Princess Lyrna and Reva, a new character. I am always curious to see how females are represented in Science-Fiction and Fantasy novels. Unfortunately, they are usually rather clichéd and fit the archetypes of virgin, mother, crone, or seductress. However, being able to see these women in action clearly shows that they defy their genre by being truly well fleshed-out and dynamic female characters-Particularly Princess Lyrna. Reva is a trained assassin (!) that swears to get revenge on Vaelin for perceived injustice to her and her family. Her story was one of my favorites and I was happy that it intersected with Vaelin’s so much.
It has to be said that I was a little disappointed that the POV’s had such little to do with one another. My favorite kind of epic is where the different strands of character and plot finally weave together to bring everyone into the same rope…but that was not the case in Tower Lord. Each character was well defined and carried with them a new understanding of this world in general, but I would have liked to see more interaction on a character level, besides from Vaelin and Reva. Still…this is only book two and I may get to look forward to seeing my favorites playing together yet!
The World of the Unified Realms
Ryan has a true mastery of storytelling that makes these books both easy to read and to listen to. I am a big fan of epic fantasy, but if there is one fault of the genre it’s in making the books too long for their own good. While Tower Lord was lengthy, I got the general sense that it was another building block book, thus worth the vast amount of text. I felt that a good percentage of the story was spent on laying the design work for what would come in the future. While this was really cool, it also caused the story to drag somewhat, and for me to be yearning for the more action packed scenes that I had most recently finished in the ending of Blood Song.
Still, the description and reflection were nice, and I was really happy with the expansion of information on the history, magic, and mythology of this world. I particularly enjoyed the new focus of the Volarian Empire. Right from the beginning, we are treated to a vision of the attacks on their “Unified Realms” and the story only gets more dramatic from there. I enjoyed the expansion of the world immensely, as I am always more interested in understanding the entire world than just a few choice characters. The interplay of people with magic and with war was as fun to “watch” as it was to see the intense battles in the last book.
I swear to god, Ryan needs to stop it with his crazy mind-bending twists that come right at the end of his books. Despite the world-building drag, right around ¾ of the way through the book you feel like you’ve just jumped on a roller coaster of activity and then Ryan pulls the track out from under you, sending you careening off into space. The plot and mystery is so well handled that you barely even realize that you’ve caught on until it’s too late and people are dead, honor is lost, and destinies have been forever altered! On second thought…no never stop Mr. Ryan!!
I enjoyed the siege passages in this tome immensely and it reminded me of some of the greats of the past like Helm’s Deep, or the Siege of King’s Landing, though I thought better written than the latter… (gasp!). Overall, Ryan does an impeccable job playing with your heartstrings, because while many of our favorites live to tell further tales in future books, I found that there were a lot of painful deaths of some of the secondary characters who had found their way into my heart.
Tower Lord differs from its predecessor in several key ways, but still maintains the pace, great story telling, and character development that I appreciated in Blood Song. Stephen Brand was again, an excellent narrator and proved to be thoroughly enjoyable and dynamic in his abilities to create highs and lows in the story through his fluid and emotional voice work! The Raven’s Shadow series is quickly growing into one of my recent favorites, and has me on the edge of my seat for the next installment. Simply put-epic fantasy readers, you have found your match!