Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan
As with Anthony Ryan‘s first book, Blood Song (My Review), there’s much criticism hurled at Tower Lord. Shortly after the book came out I noticed many readers expressing their disappointment with the book. While I (again) do agree that the criticism isn’t just taken from empty air and some things definitely don’t work as well as in Blood Song, the overall enjoyment of the series is not hampered by this second book. I liked it as much as the first book and while some things I enjoyed reading about are obviously missing, other’s add some depths to the story.
Missing are the training sequences, which comes as no surprise. Vaelin has grown into a man to be reckoned with, a man who can shape the destiny of whole realms, and so has no reason to train anymore. There’s a small substitute, where Vaelin trains someone else, but those scenes are not near as sprawling as in Blood Song.
With one of its main features missing, the story changes in more ways. Instead of staying with Vaelin as the only POV character, the narrative gets split across a few more important characters, many of whom were not in the first book and make their first appearance at the beginning of Tower Lord. Not all of them are as enjoyable to follow as Vaelin’s POV, but I think they were needed. Why? Because the setting gets much larger and we finally get a better view at what Vaelin and his comrades are fighting against.
The introduction of a large empire that makes a play at world domination came out of nowhere for me and I’d have liked some more foreshadowing to its appearance in the first book. As it is, they are introduced like a hammer on the head, screaming “Here we are and now you’re doomed!”. That’s especially a problem because of the intermissions. We know these from the first book, but this time I found them especially jarring. Not only because they introduce the enemy empire in a way that made me question what I’d missed in the last book, but mainly because they spoiler interesting twists for a siege in the last part of this book. The siege is one of the best parts of Tower Lord and could have taken great advantage of the twist mentioned if it had not been spoilered on the very beginning of the book.
We learn more about the enemy empire and the ominous presence behind it through the eyes of a woman similar to the bandit Vaelin defeated while saving his brother in Blood Song. She holds power over one of his brothers and together they make a murderous pair. Watching them make their way towards Vaelin is interesting, but I couldn’t quite believe her affection towards the brother under her control. It made her seem weak, not the ageless murderess she’s build up into. It gave her a human part that she didn’t actually seem to possess.
Overall, the story is not quite as good as the one of Blood Song, which I attribute to Vaelin’s part. It’s lacking for most of the book, as he seems to be the wise warrior tired of fighting. The warrior that can’t even draw his sword anymore and simply does the bidding of his weak king. Only in the last third does his story step up again, when he’s become the Tower Lord and has to deal with invasions. There, his newfound wisdom comes as a blessing and makes him a much more dangerous opponent, one of strategical and tactical awareness.
What I found the biggest weakness of the second book of the Raven’s Shadow series is actually Vaelin’s Blood Song, which seems overpowered. The Blood Song basically tells Vaelin what to do perfectly and Vaelin follows its bidding to the letter. That means his storyline lacks tension, as it’s obvious very early on that his ability will always tell him what best to do to deal with the growing danger and even makes him into a deadly warrior that can kill hundreds. No, that’s not a wrong number, not even much exaggerated.
The ending is solid, holding surprises and defangs some of the criticism. It makes you want for more, too. This book is just the beginning of a great war, with the main characters finally in their designated positions. They might have grown in experience, but experience often comes at a price. For some, that price is very high. Anthony Ryan builds the story up and stops at a great place, with the factions poised to pounce on each other and all-out war only a book away.
Concluding: Despite all the criticism, I loved it as much as Blood Song. And that’s much more of a compliment than one might think. The series is shaping up to become something established for the fantasy genre that will be recommended for years to come. If the next book(s) can hold the quality. I’m not really worried about that though, as Anthony Ryan has shown he’s able to repeat with Tower Lord what he started with Blood Song.