RogerBW's Blog

The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie 15 December 2019

2019 fantasy. The god Raven sustains the city of Vastai, via his Lease, a human ruler destined to sacrifice himself to the god. But Mawat the Lease's Heir returns to find that his father is missing and his uncle is the new Lease…

I don't as a rule enjoy books written in second person, and I'm not fond of first-person either. This book has both, and if it hadn't been for Leckie's superb record I probably wouldn't have bothered.

Naq gur frpbaq-crefba vf gurer bayl gb nibvq univat gb nffvta n traqrerq cebabha gb bar bs gur cebgntbavfgf, Rbyb, jub frrzf gb or va fbzr jnl abg cerpvfryl qrfpevorq abg ragveryl rvgure znyr be srznyr – gubhtu guvf arire znxrf nal cnegvphyne qvssrerapr gb nalguvat naq srryf senaxyl fhcresyhbhf gb gur cybg. V guvax guvf eriryngvba jnf zrnag gb or n fhecevfr, engure guna orvat hggreyl boivbhf sebz Rbyb'f svefg nccrnenapr. Ercerfragngvba vf fbzrguvat, V fhccbfr, ohg gung cbvag srryf sbeprq naq fhcresyhbhf.

Pat Wrede has said that one of the big problems with a dual-narrative book is that, unless the author is very good indeed, the reader will find one narrative less interesting than the other, and will be impatient to get back to the better one. Here the better one for me is the story of a god (the "I" narrator, The Strength and Patience of the Hill): in this world, if a god speaks something, it's true (though the world may drain all the god's power in attempting to make it true). It's a genuinely alien being for all its interactions with humans, and I found the system of gods (and its flaws) fascinating.

In the other strand is Eolo's story, which is somewhat Hamlet-esque, but very much a usual fantasy plot of usurpation and poisonous politics. Except that the politics are simplistic, and everyone takes ages to do even the obvious things that their system of gods allows them to do when the bloke in charge (divinely anointed or not) is evidently not quite right. It gradually becomes clear that Eolo is the only sensible person in this entire boiling, and they carry the entire plot on their shoulders while everyone else is fiddling about not getting anything done until pushed into it.

And then the ending is exactly what you thought it was going to be.

Oh, and an unfortunate plot-hole. Cngvrapr vf pbafgenvarq gb freir nf ybat nf vg pbagvahrf gb or ghearq, naq gurer'f n zrpunavfz gung qbrf guvf. Vg pna'g oernx gur zrpunavfz, orpnhfr vg'f pbafgenvarq gb xrrc vg shapgvbany naq vg jbhyq or svtugvat ntnvafg vgfrys. Ohg n uhzna jvgu n unzzre pna oernx vg, naq gura Cngvrapr qbrfa'g unir gb ercnve vg? Lrnu evtug.

I've loved all of Leckie's other novels, but I don't love this; or I only half love it. There's a truly excellent idea, worked out well, but it has to filter up through a turgid swamp of dull human characters and a dreary plot. I can see that the god-story alone might not have been enough to make a book, but this was the wrong other half to add to it.

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