Book Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

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Rating:  ★★★

Friends!  I’m sorry I haven’t been posting this week.  I’ve been dealing with a sick child with a high fever.  I’m also having a terrible week as far as reading goes- not only am I not getting much of it done, I’m not enjoying what I’m reading.  It could be my mood or it could be that the books are really just not good.

I’m torn on which category The Raven Tower falls into.  I’ll go ahead and qualify this review right up front by letting you know that I did not read all of this book.  I read all of it up until about the 30% mark, and then I was so bored I flat out skipped all the parts told by The Strength and Patience of the Hill.  Maybe I didn’t give it a fair shake, but at the same time, if I’m that bored 30% in, it’s probably not a good sign.  It’s rare that I actively DNF a book.  So I’m giving it three stars and splitting my rating down the middle.    My review is much rantier than the typical three star book warrants.

Do you want to hear the story of a billion year old rock god that does nothing but sit on a hill and watch the world go by?

Well I sure didn’t.

There are two ways to get me to love a book.

1. Tell me a good story. Twists and turns, betrayals and deceptions, horror after horror. Tell me a good story. This is why I picked the book up. This is what I wanted.

2. If you aren’t going to give me a good story, you had better entertain me with some solid characters and funny banter.

If you can give me both- even better. I do on occasion like books with fantastical world building, or books that make me think, or books with a sweep me away romance, but if I picked the book up in the first place, it’s because I wanted one of the above.

The Raven Tower promises on the story and fails to deliver, and the characters were some of the worst I’ve read this year. No personality. No feeling between them. No connection to them. I mean- on the one hand they are flawed and feel human enough.. but just… ugh. Not even the villain here was evil enough to hate. At least make me hate that guy- make me eager for his demise, make me cheer him on to his death. It didn’t happen.

The interesting part of this book is the part that follows Mawat and Eolo. And there just wasn’t enough story there to support the book. I was skipping fifty page chunks to get past the rock god observing the way of humans and gods. Then I’d read a couple short chapters of the part I enjoyed and have to skip another fifty pages.

The ending felt rushed and abrupt. It all comes to this ecxiting climax in the Raven Tower and then it just ends. There’s no real conclusion. It doesn’t feel complete. It doesn’t even feel like an ambiguous open ending like those of VanderMeer and Erdrich. It’s like paying money to see a concert from your favorite band, impatiently watching a bunch of opening bands you’ve never heard of before, seeing your band come on stage, having them perform their most popular song ever, and walk off stage. Lights out. Go home. Nothing to see here folks. And you’re just sitting there stunned. Like, I paid money to see this?! And then you sit there for 20 minutes thinking it must be some sort of cruel joke. Until reality sets in and you leave with nothing but a bitter taste in your mouth.

Now- maybe I didn’t get it, because as I said, I skipped a lot. But I don’t feel like I didn’t get it. I don’t feel like I missed anything. Hell I wasn’t even confused. I felt more confusion over my beloved Terra Ignota series and I read them in their entirety.

I guess I should comment on the POV, because it seems to be a sticking point for some. The chapters of world history are told in first person and the interesting chapters are told in second person. This doesn’t actually bother me. I’m totally fine with second person and actually enjoy it when it’s done right. I don’t think Leckie used it to her full advantage though. I would have preferred that Eolo had no name. I would have preferred that his gender and sex were never referred to. I think it would have been a really interesting way to make the whole book significantly more personal. If you want the reader to be the protagonist- let them really be the protagonist. It’s not as if Eolo has all that much personality, just make them a blank slate. Let the reader impress their own identity entirely upon the protagonist. I just felt that second person POV was wasted here.

I guess what’s most disappointing about it, is that I know Leckie is capable of better. I know she’s capable of fantastical world building with complex societal issues. I know she’s capable of building sprawling galaxies full of vibrant life and colors. The Raven Tower feels incredibly small and narrow in its views. One town. One Tower. One guesthouse. A handful of characters. Vague mentions of competing nearby people. One character from another society who’s purpose in the story is never really explained and whose culture is never really explored.

Again- I didn’t read many of the parts told by the god. So maybe my issues are unfounded and I’m just an impatient ignoramus.. but honestly I doubt it. I have an idea of what those passages were about and I still don’t care enough to go read them.

So take this review with a heavy grain of salt. I can admit when I’m being a jerk. But honestly I’m sending this back to the library today and I’ll be hesitant to pick up anything else set in this world in the future.

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This top ten Tuesday is about my most anticipated upcoming releases.  I don’t know if I’ll make it to 10 for only the first half of 2019, but I’ll put up as many as I can.

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10. The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless; release date: January 8, 2019 – As of right now I’m a little on the fence about this one.  There aren’t many reviews out for it yet, and it’s being published by HarperVoyager.  Why it isn’t more highly publicized is kind of a red flag to me.  But it seems like a nice blend of sci-fi and fantasy, and I love puzzles.  So I’ll keep an eye on it for a bit.  (Also- that cover is gorgeous!)  Blurb can be found here.

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9. Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse; release date: April 23, 2019 – This is a sequel to last year’s Trail of Lightning (review here).  I felt pretty lukewarm about Trail of Lightning.  It had a lot of issues.  The romance in particular was not good.  (And just so we are clear, I actually like the romance genre even though I don’t read it often.  I only ask that it be done well.)

But what I loved was the Native American cultural elements Roanhorse worked into her story.  The sad truth is, there aren’t enough Native American voices in fantasy or science fiction today and those aspects of the book were so good, I think I am willing to give Storm of Locusts a shot.

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8. The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling; release date: April 2, 2019 – Soo.. Everyone who knows me knows I love to gush about Jurassic Park, Godzilla, The Meg, Anaconda… for better or worse, I love me a good a monster movie.  I don’t care how bad or corny the actors are.  I don’t care if it stars Jason Statham or a couple of Baywatch extras… I really don’t.  Give me lots of teeth and some blood and gore and I’m there.  I don’t even know if there are monsters in this book, but the cover looks sinister enough that I’m willing to give it a go.

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7. Golden State by Ben H. Winters; release date: January 22, 2019 – Mr. Winters has a pretty dedicated and loyal fan base out there.  I’ve only read his The Last Policeman (review here) but I fully intend to finish the series.  Fellow SFF lovers always seem to speak very highly of it.  I think what’s put me off for so long is that I already know how it ends (right?!).  So when I saw this new release from Winters, I was pretty stoked.  I do like his writing and it featured this tagline: A shocking vision of our future that is one part Minority Report and one part Chinatown.  I was sold at Minority Report.  I feel like The Minority Report was the sequel to 1984 I never knew I needed.  So if what I get here is an modern, more high tech Minority Report, I’ll be a very happy girl.

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6. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine; release date: March 26, 2019 – I actually won this one in a GoodReads Giveaway but I haven’t received it yet.  Condensed blurb from GoodReads:

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor…has died…Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court….Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.

A political science fiction murder mystery?  Sign me up!  I discovered over the past couple years that political science fiction really is one of my favorite sub-genres.  The one thing that makes me nervous about this book and blurb, is the crazy names!  Authors why do you do this to your readers?  Please don’t take away from the awesomeness of your book by baffling me with your names.  Is it ma-hit? Ma-heet? Z-Mare?  Z-Mar-EE? Is the goddamn Z silent?  Cut me a break here!  I really hope there is a pronunciation guide because I will not be pleased if I have to pause and try to sound out this name every time I read it.

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5.  Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear; release date: March 2019 – Elizabeth Bear is a surprisingly prolific author, and she has a ton of novels on my TBR because everything she writes sounds crazy inventive and original to me.  To date I’ve only read her Carnival, but I thought overall it was pretty fantastic (review here).  Here is the blurb:

Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants.  She thinks she knows who she is.  She is wrong.

A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates…and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information…Authorities prove corrupt…To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever.

Ancient alien technologies, space pirates, corrupt authorities, and deep, dark personal secrets?  Yes Please!  The best part is, I already have an ARC.  I’m trying to hold off on reading it so that my review coincides with the release date, but it will be a tough wait.

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4.  The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie; release date: February 26, 2019 – For the most part I really enjoy Ann Leckie.  Ancillary Sword was a little disappointing to me, so I haven’t actually gotten to Ancillary Mercy yet, but I enjoyed both Ancillary Justice and Provenance, so I’m excited to see what she can do in the realm of fantasy.  The blurb is pretty long, and Leckie is pretty well known, so I’ll just link to the blurb here if you haven’t heard of this one yet.

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3.  The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky; release date: January 29, 2019 – I am SO SO SO excited for this one.  First of all- if you’ve been following along you’ll likely have noticed that I’ve worked a mention of vikings into every post possible.  I love everything about viking history and norse mythology.  I honestly can’t get enough of it.  So when I read this tagline: The heroic journey of an Inuit shaman and a Viking warrior in an epic tale of survival, love, and clashing gods in the frozen Arctic of 1000 AD.  I honestly might have squealed out loud.  This might even be something I pick up on release day. (For full blurb or to preorder- check it out here.)

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2.  Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James; release date: February 5, 2019 – Own voices fantasy!!  I heard about this one from buddies over in the Sci-fi Fantasy book club.  Generally speaking, this club is on point when it comes to new releases and recommendations.  Granted- I don’t think any of them have read it yet, but they’ve never steered me wrong before and I’ve picked up quite a few things I would never have read otherwise based on their picks and recs (Too Like the Lightning comes to mind).  Here is a condensed blurb:

Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.

As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?

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1. Moon Rising by Ian McDonald; release date: March 19, 2019 – This is my number one most anticipated release.  Seriously, if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, New Moon and Wolf Moon, WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIVES?

Haha- just kidding (not really though, go get them).  First of all, Ian McDonald writes a really diverse cast.  Race, sexuality, he leaves nothing out.  Secondly, I described the plot of the first book as Capone vs. O’Banion ON THE MOON.  Instead of bootleg alcohol the turf war is over Helium-3.  Most of the characters are wonderfully gray.  The world building is absolutely superb, and the plot is intense.  I wouldn’t even mind a re-read of the first two books prior to release.  Assuming I can find the time.

And there it is!  I think I made it through all 10.  What about you?  What are your most anticipated releases?