Tower Lord, book two in Anthony Ryan’s RAVEN’S SHADOW trilogy, picks up where its predecessor, Blood Song, left off, with protagonist Vaelin Al Sorna returning to the Unified Realm following his capture and eventual victory in a duel in the Isles. King Malcius, who has succeeded King Janus to the throne of the Realm, proves to be a fairly weak ruler. Vaelin is eventually reunited with his sister Alornis and is named Tower Lord by King Malcius. Though he is battle-weary and sick of blood, as Tower Lord he is supposed to defend the Realm’s borders in the Northern Reaches. Unfortunately, Vaelin’s hopes of living a life of peace are shattered when both the Northern tribes and the Dark begin to make trouble again.
In many ways, this is perhaps the most powerful part of Tower Lord. I found Blood Song to be a compelling debut, and Tower Lord built upon Blood Song’s world-building and setting. Anthony Ryan introduces us to the fierce Lonak and Seordak tribes in the Great Northern Forest. Furthermore, the Dark and the Void begin to play a much larger role in Tower Lord. The magic system in RAVEN’S SHADOW is by no means typical or unimaginative, and introducing more magic into the series helps Ryan expand the scope of the plot. That said, all of these positive aspects combined fail to save Tower Lord from some devastating missteps.
In Blood Song, Lord Vernier’s account, which occurs after the events in Blood Song, is used as a frame story that exposed future details, leaving a tantalizing taste of disaster to come and providing insight into Vaelin’s character and darker sides. In both Tower Lord and Queen of Fire (book three), however, Anthony Ryan decided to eliminate this structure. Lord Vernier’s account becomes a storyline that transpires concurrently with the main plot. Not only does this remove a crucial addition to tone and foreshadowing previously existing in Blood Song, but the decision to merge Vernier’s story into the present of the novel is also frustrating in that it becomes a larger portion of the overall story but is not sufficiently fleshed out to feel important. This, along with a few other issues, are carried on into Queen of Fire.
Structural issues aside, there are a few other missteps that make Tower Lord a disappointment. Both the rhythm and the pacing in Tower Lord are disrupted when Ryan introduces multiple viewpoints into the series, especially since Lord Vernier’s account is no longer serving as a frame to pull these different accounts together. At many points, a severe lack of action made it tough to continue reading Tower Lord. Moreover, I sometimes found Ryan’s plot transitions to be unconvincing and uneven, worsening my issues with the lack of action. All in all, while I recommend checking out Blood Song, I wouldn’t particularly recommend continuing the series to any but the most diehard Anthony Ryan fans.