Sunday, October 8, 2023

REVIEW: The Raven Tower (book) by Ann Leckie

The Raven Tower is fantasy. I bought my copy new.


In the world of this book, gods are everywhere and can have a direct and visible effect on the world and their worshipers. The words of a god have power - they must be careful what they say and how they say it, because the universe will try to make their words true if necessary, and any god who doesn't have enough power for that will die.

The book is narrated by the Strength and Patience of the Hill, a god who takes the form of a big rock. For the most part, this god is content to watch the world and think about the things going on around it. Although some gods, like its friend the Myriad, are able to take other forms, that thought doesn't interest the Strength and Patience of the Hill, even when other forms would be more convenient than its heavy stone body.

It's through the narrator that readers learn how gods' powers work and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The narrator also lays out the political situation surrounding the various groups of humans important to the story's present. 

Mawat is heir to the Raven's Lease - in exchange for dying when the Raven's physical vessel dies, the Raven's Lease's word is law in Iraden. Mawat is enraged to learn that when the current Raven died, his father supposedly left and did not die as he should have. Unwilling to believe this and convinced that his uncle, Lord Hibal, is behind his father's mysterious disappearance, Mawat has his aide, Eolo, investigate the situation. Unfortunately, the answers Eolo uncovers are more horrifying than any of them could have expected.

I've now read this twice, once on my own and once for my book club. In fact, I recommended it for our book club - it's not one of my favorites by Ann Leckie, so I knew it wouldn't bug me much if people disliked it, and I thought it'd provide plenty of material for discussion.

What I did not remember was how slow the first half of the book was, and part of me felt like I needed to apologize to my book club group. We all finished the book in time for our meeting, but everyone's story was the same - the first half or so was a drag, and the rest became much more gripping after Eolo finally got a chance to see what was in the Tower. 

Unfortunately, you had to be able to get to that point, and it was a struggle. The politics, largely a struggle over access to wood resources, was only vaguely interesting to me. The present-day issues were frequently interrupted by the narrator's stories about its past and about things other gods had done, and during my first reading it was difficult to tell how much of that, if any, would tie into Mawat and Eolo's story. I could see what Leckie was setting up more clearly in my reread, but it was still slow-going.

A big part of the issue was the narrator itself. With a few exceptions, the Strength and Patience of the Hill was very emotionally removed from the things going on around it. It was content not to get involved in things the way the other gods did, and it liked to just sit and think. Because the entire story was from its POV, readers never got the full intensity of Mawat and Eolo's emotions and lives. The bones of the story had a very Hamlet-like feel, and in a way the narrator underscored that, by forcing readers to remain outsiders looking in on Mawat and Eolo's story, like an audience watching a play.

From an authorial perspective, The Raven Tower is a very interesting experiment - I don't think I've ever read a book narrated by a rock before. And it definitely gave us a lot to talk about during our book club meeting. That said, this still isn't even close to being my favorite of Leckie's books, even though I can admire the things she did with it. I need characters I can get emotionally attached to, and this book was basically set up to prevent that.


A list of gods and humans important to the story. For some reason, this list is at the end of the book, rather than the beginning, and both times I read this, I didn't see it until well after the time when it would have been useful.

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