The Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan ( Raven's Shadow - II)

When I had finished Blood Song last year, I was super excited about Anthony Ryan's entry into Epic Fantasy. The book was an absolute delight - a rousing tale of action, adventure and fantasy featuring an unforgettable hero thrust into a prophecy set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world - I know that sounds like a boring traditional epic fantasy book blurb - and perhaps it is ( the traditional bit but nowhere near boring!!) - but the handling of the sprawling political sparring, religious faith and resulting conflicts had been excellent - all drawn up with Vaelin Al Sorna as the singular foil through which the reader sees the world around. Near flawless in the execution of a flowing narrative that just captivates and immerses the reader into Vaelin's up bringing, trials and the final battles into which he's tricked into serving his mad, scheming King - that was the chief reason why the book was such a big hit. It had everything going right - a sympathetic central character in middle of a turmoil, secondary figures who endeared themselves through their brave selfless acts, an epic magic system ( in the blood song and the art of the Dark!) even a little bit of unrealized romance that never reached its potential and a prophetic villain in the one who waits.

Tower Lord, the second book in raven's shadow series takes a completely different direction. The archetypal hero narrative takes a back-seat as the number of POVs burgeon. We have 4 major ones - including one of my favorites from the last book, Frentis. Added to that are new characters like Reva and some old, Lyrna - the fiery spirited princess of the Unified Realm, where the action takes place for the most of book-one. The world building that was deftly done in the first book - revealed in a slow tantalizing manner - all of a sudden takes front seat - as the larger world beyond the Unified Realm is revealed to us. The extra POVs mean the narrative is slow-burn and sprawling - and takes a lot of time to build up to a certain level of satisfying tension that will hook you in. There are tons of action sequences, epic battle scenes and set pieces yes - but it all happens in such a scattershot directionless manner that you're left waiting. Waiting for some big conflict that will tie in all the different seemingly unrelated narratives into one single big epic battle. And yes - it does happen. towards the last thirds of the book where Anthony gets back into his groove, pitching us into the middle of a heart thumping tightly woven act that was a hallmark of the first book.

So Vaelin, the broken conflicted hero who has discovered his Blood Song magic - returns to the realm to find that things have changed dramatically after the Alpiran wars. He's a legend now - not by choice and feared, respected and revered in equal measures by people all over the realm. He has returned to search for Frentis whom people believe died in that last stand of the wolfrunners. And then soon deputed by the new king Malcius to be the Tower Lord of the Northern reaches of the kingdom.

Frentis however is still alive - taken captive by Volarians ( Another empire with world domination ambitions!), slave to a beautiful mysterious assassin without a name - whose power binds him to her and bids him complete many a destructive mission - random killings and assassinations as directed by his cruel mistress. Lyrna is on a journey to seek the alliance of a race called the Lonakim, billed as savages living on top of a volcanic mountain and raiding the forests outside the Realm. Her journey comes around a full circle as she successfully signs up thier support for the kingdom but only returns back to the horrors that befall - as the Volarians bid a massive attack on the capital city. Into the fray comes Reva, a young girl who hopes to avenge her father's killing and retrieve his sword from the Darkblade, Vaelin as he is known in these circles. A curious turn of events leads Reva to forge alliance with Vaelin - and rebuke her priests teachings. But as Vaelin seeks to go to the North, Reva seeks her own fortune at Cumbraelin - her father's dukedom, now ruled by her uncle.

Now these four POVs are studded with an extraordinary number of secondary characters. Who flit in and out of the pages without much impact. Davoka, the feral Lonak warrior lady who should have amounted to being something central and spectacular sadly remains in the shadow of a lost princess Lyrna and then later, a harried Frentis fighting to keep the Realm soldiers alive in the face of the Volarian schemes. It takes effort from the reader to keep track - in fact, I really was annoyed by the sheer number of new characters who would waltz into either Vaelin's or Lyrna's life.

Getting to know Vaelin again was a comfort. However, this time his hands are tied. Most of the time, he's negotiating alliances with different races to stand up against an attack by the dreaded Volarians. A pale shadow of the deadly warrior from book one. Sure he is still conflicted and torn by the demons of his past but he's assuredly coming into his own. and stepping into the larger-than-life shoes of his legacy.

Frentis was indeed the most refreshing character in this book for me - the horrors of slavery at the hands of his enigmatic but cruel mistress and then redemption in the later half almost reminds you of Vaelin from book-one but not quite enough. Lyrna is a washed out drugged version of her former self - wherein Blood Song had her matching her ferocious intelligence with the daring and selfless bravery of Vaelin, book-two sees her adrift and clueless most of the time. (Until the last act !)

Reva - breath of fresh air. Slightly unbelievable in terms of her tremendous character growth through the book - from a frightened, abused girl, prisoner to her misguided zealous beliefs to the fearless, scheming and clever leader of men at the siege of cumbraelin by the end of the book. But hell yes, she kicks ass and then some. A character I look forward to hearing more about in book-three.

As the 3rd book title suggests (Queen of Fire), is the focus shifting away from Vaelin to Lyrna now, is something that I ponder. not for long though ( Hooray! I got an ARC for the same - that is releasing in the US today !!)

Anyways in conclusion, Tower Lord is a much more complex and ambitious book than its predecessor. While the sweeping narrative expands the world like never before, the tight focus on the prophecy of the One who Waits ( now known as the Ally!) has faltered, perhaps angering a loyal legion of fans. I am not one among them. I liked it. Yes it has its faults - slower and much of the understated humor from book one is slowly evaporating in face of the life-death situations the characters are put in. But ultimately it's a rewarding experience - Anthony Ryan's consummate and highly entertaining storytelling skills excel here as well - making reading this tome a breeze. His focus on action scenes is even more razor sharp now - with intimate one-on-one combat scenes that freeze your brains to sweeping battle scenes that gets your heart racing. The story ends on a cliff hanger that calls for book three immediately - and fortunately for me, its HERE! 


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