Michael J. Sullivan’s Tale of Brotherhood
(and lots and lots of bloodshed).
Book Review No. 2 (contains quote, no spoilers)
Book: The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan
Series: The Riyria Chronicles
Genre: Adult Low Fantasy/Alternate History
Completion Date: December 25, 2017 (I think)
BookmarkedOne Rating: 5/10
Content for the Sensitive Reader: Lots of uncomfortable brothel scenes I skipped over, and I lost track of the body count. Several graphic murders in cold blood, and more graphic battle scenes. Lots of swearing by the name of their mythology, and some regular mild language. Reader beware.
Okay, you’re probably wondering why I’m bothering to review this one if I skipped sections and obviously didn’t care for it.
Hope, I guess. And the memory of a few good things. Life isn’t always sunshine and roses even in reading, but The Crown Tower had several beautiful glimmers of things I liked, even if they couldn’t exactly be called light.
And before we start this, you should know what I didn’t. This is a secondary series based off the characters from Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations. Somehow spoiler-free if you want to read them in the wrong order, but it’s worth noting.
A note on the writing style–Sometimes fantasy writers fall perfectly into the lofty style of the Volsung Saga, others slide fairly well into the medieval narrative, and some give it their own twist. Sullivan does something else. Sometimes the style was fine, and then sometimes characters would be told something dramatic and their response would literally be “Okay.” Weird little things like that could fit but really didn’t the way he wrote it, and I would sit staring at them until I realized what had caught my attention.
Anyway. I’m getting ahead of myself.
From the beginning, then.
I think this was from my first Friends of the Library Epic Book Sale (yes, they really are called that where I live). I got this one partially for the cover.
I know it’s a cliche! But it had a dark cover with guys in hoods, and when I read the opening snippet with Hadrian fighting it out to save a random boy named Pickles…it got added to my stack.
I kind of knew I wasn’t going to like it. After reading for this long, sometimes I just know a book isn’t going to be great when I pick it up. I’ve been wrong, but I’ve been right a lot more often. But I was in the mood for a bloody thief book, so it came home with me.
A lot more blood than I was expecting. Blehrg.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Hadrian’s fighting style and the way he talks about it. It wasn’t just one of those “I punched him, he hit me,” kind of books. Hadrian describes how he does it. Little phrases like “I read his feet,” and other descriptors really set his fighting scenes apart. For someone who reads sword-fighting fantasy all the time, it was refreshing.
Then there is Royce. It is possible, I have discovered, to hate and love a character at the same time. I hate Royce. And I like him way better than I do Hadrian because of character depth. He’s probably my favorite character in the book. Raised by wolves. Flexible as a snake. Ruthless. Doesn’t talk if he doesn’t have to (we’re talking at all, which is somewhat appealing to readers as verbally reclusive as I am). Seeking to survive. Murderer at a young age. Always swathed beneath a gloriously long and dark cloak (might as well be fashionable while we’re slaying in the streets, right?). Ladies and gentlemen, your perfect assassin. As long as you can keep him from killing you.
Royce is what clung to my memories long after this book was over. Sort of like something sticking deep inside my chest when I took a deep breath. I kept turning his character over and over again in my mind. He was horrible. And there was something about him, his skill, his selfishness, and then his own moral code buried deep beneath it, that was honestly mesmerizing.
There is also the snark.
Confession: I read what I did of this book entirely for the snark. The battles were okay, but the snark was fantastic.
Favorite example: (Hadrian speaking after Royce hasn’t spoken to him for an entire day.)
“By the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, I was attacked by a goshawk and a pig-riding dwarf that shot eggs at me with a sling. I was knocked from my horse and wrestled with the dwarf, the hawk, and the pig for what had to be half an hour. The dwarf kept smashing eggs in my face, and that ruddy pig pinned me down, licking them off. I only got away because the dwarf ran out of eggs. Then the hawk turned into a moth that became distracted by the light of the moon.”Sullivan, Michael J. The Crown Tower. Orbit, 2013
(unimportant dialogue stuff that makes you forget about the story with the pig)
“Did you save any?” Royce asked.
“Of those eggs. If you did, we could cook them for breakfast in the morning.”Sullivan, Michael J. The Crown Tower. Orbit, 2013.
Yeah. My favorite part of the whole book.
I initially stopped reading it after the first bloodbath and wasn’t really planning to finish it. But it got buried under other stuff and I uncovered it, oddly enough, on Christmas Day, when I had a few minutes to myself.
I flipped through it until I found a snarky part. Laughed.
Next thing I know, I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom, skimming the remainder of the book and skipping the chapters with Gwen the…disreputable woman…entirely. It’s not that I disliked Gwen’s character. I just didn’t want to read about her life.
And by the way, the book has no magic. Just in case you were like me and were waiting for it the entire time, perking up at the mention of “wizard.” Sorry, no dice. Apparently mentioning wizards and having a fuzzy mythology in the background for them to creatively curse when losing more blood than should be physically possible was enough to classify it as low fantasy.
So, yeah. That’s The Crown Tower. Two snarky boys almost getting themselves killed in some good battle scenes, a weird, second plot about a girl working a tavern that doesn’t really fit until the very end, and one character, Royce Melbourne, that’s still sitting in the back of my mind when I’m writing, even though he knows I’ve almost forgotten he’s there.
I’ve actually thought about reading another Sullivan book just for skimming the snark again.
Isn’t going to.
But I still have my used copy of The Crown Tower. I haven’t gotten rid of it. Mostly for the snark. But also for Royce. And because it’s a book that I haven’t unpuzzled yet. A book that still makes me think, hard.
And that, after all, is what books are supposed to do, right?
If you know other snarky books, tell me about them. I love snarky characters almost as much as magical elements in a good high fantasy (almost). And I’m always on the lookout for a new favorite book.