The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Published: February 2019
Page count: 416
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Plot at a Glance:
For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.
But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.
It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.
I was in the cutest little local bookstore earlier this month when I came across The Raven Tower in the employee recommendations section. To be honest, the cover was so striking and gorgeous that it caught my eye almost immediately and after checking out the premise on the inside dust jacket, I put aside another book I was interested in reading (I promise I’ll come back for you one day little abandoned book baby!) and snagged this one instead.
If there’s one subset of the fantasy genre that can hook me like no other, it’s stories involving the Gods or ancient/immortal beings and the way that mortal characters play against their influence. It’s like watching one great, cosmic game of chess where the stakes are high and the odds are usually stacked outside of the POV character’s favor.
However, despite its premise and that gorgeous cover – seriously, it sells itself! – the novel itself is hampered by some odd stylistic choices that a fair amount of readers are going to struggle with. Namely: the shifting Point Of View (POV).
The story is told entirely from the POV of the God of Iraden itself, an omniscient and furtive being that knows all and sees all throughout the realm. Because this figure is reciting events in the present as they occur, but is also speaking directly to a character (Eolo) that exists in the world, the story is told in second-person perspective. The god speaks to “you” as though you are Eolo, informing you of your own actions taking place in real time within the world. He sees you when you’re sleeping, and he definitely knows when you’re awake.
Basically, the call is coming from inside the house Eolo.
For some readers this choice might be an interesting way to immerse themselves in a story. Unfortunately for me, this plot device grew old really quickly – especially when it becomes clear that Eolo can’t actually hear the God at all.Also, because the God of Iraden chooses to exert zero of its will upon the world, characters are doing what they would have done anyway, and coming about decisions on their own without any sort of divine intervention. It begs the question: why frame the novel within the voice of the divine, if there’s no purpose to it?
Personally, I think the story would have been stronger had the God’s actual existence been left up for reader interpretation. There’s always the thematic context of faith and belief in the almighty to consider when a story is framed around the archetype of the Gods. In Leckie’s story the existence is simply too concrete. Faith shouldn’t be a given in literature. We’re told to believe because the story is told from the perspective of the god, but without any of the context as to why or how this matters to the characters.Ironically, by setting up the narrative this way, I felt like a lot of punch was drained from the plot.
Another casualty of the way the story is told is unfortunately the characters. The only one remotely fleshed out in any way is Eolo, but even that is underwhelming as his one defining characteristic happens to be his gender identity.It’s great to see that sort of representation in a fantasy genre novel (seriously, we’ve come so far!) but aside from that the characters are all pretty thin. Mawat is angry at his dad and his birthright as the Raven’s Lease – but we don’t know anything about him beyond that.
The other characters in the novel end up lacking so much purpose that they’re instantly forgettable too. Even a cast of additional, smaller Gods of the realm ends up being boring and under-utilized.
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there are subplots exploring interpersonal machinations at work between the human characters in the story. If you enjoy political or familial dramas set in the context of ascension to a throne or birthright, you might find a lot to interest you here. Leckie takes her time though, establishing these characters within the world and filling readers in on a lot of backstory about the two major cities she’s designed for this world.
The going is slow, but the mystery of what was going on and how Mawat’s problems in particular would be solved kept me turning pages until the end.
All in all, this wasn’t a terrible read! I think Leckie faithfully adapted Hamlet as best she could into her debut fantasy novel. And while I wasn’t sold on the way this story was told, I was hooked enough by the subplots and mystery between the human characters to see it through to the end.
🌟🌟🌟= 2.5/3 stars! Rounded up, because I’m back from hiatus and feeling generous!
Have you read this? What did you think of it?