Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Also by this author: Ancillary Justice
Published by Orbit on February 26, 2019
Gods meddle in the fates of men, men play with the fates of gods, and a pretender must be cast down from the throne in this breathtaking first fantasy novel from Ann Leckie, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.
For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven's Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven's watch, the city flourishes.
But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.
It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo--aide to Mawat, the true Lease--arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven's Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself...and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.
Leckie’s previous series had a polarizing effect for her readers. The perspective and narrative was original and unlike anything I had read before. It told the story from the perspective of not just an AI, but a hive-mind AI. There was also a non-genderization element that, for me, really highlighted how hard wired my brain is to want to know gender. It was interesting to me. I think it was very well executed, but unusual enough that while some loved it, others, well, not so much. I personally loved it, I appreciated the risks she took in telling her story. I could understand other reader’s concerns, they just were more positives for me.
In The Raven Tower, Leckie again took risks and presented a unique reading experience in terms of narrative style. I assumed that with this book, I would again fall into the set of readers that love it. Unfortunately that was not the case. In this book, readers get the point of view from, of all things, a rock. It turns out the rock is more than just a rock, it is actually a god. But since this god is inhabiting the form of a rock, it is limiting.Oh, and did I mention this is told in 2nd person? I find 2nd person highly distracting, and I think there are very few places it works well (at least for me). It also made it very hard to really connect to the characters, and I tend to be a very character focused reader. If I don’t connect with them, it is quite challenging (unlikely) that I will end up enjoying the book. I won’t say it can’t happen, just that it is highly unlikely.
I normally try to be very laid back when it comes to story style, always assuming that how the author wants to tell the story is going to be the best way, or at least the way the story was meant to be enjoyed. Now there are some books that I read where I feel like I would likely have preferred the story more if it had been told in a slightly different format but not often, and I can usually theorize why the author made their decision. That said, I am not sure I have ever struggled with a style choice quite like I did with The Raven Tower. I found the second person narration terribly distracting, it distanced me from the story and I just never gained that emotional connection to the story or characters that I really need to enjoy a book. I also struggled a bit with the narrator being a stone, who is really a god. I don’t know, maybe I was just not opened minded enough with this one and my struggles to accept the writing style just made my experience worse.
Perhaps I never let go of my hang ups with the second person narrative enough to give this book a fair shot. Or maybe I was too close minded to fully accept the point of view of a rock (even if it was also a god). I really wanted to love it like I have her other books, but when it came down to it, I was distracted by the narrative style and I believe it was both my distraction level paired with the actual narrative style that led to me feeling completely detached from the characters and uninvested in the story. That may sound harsh, but it was my reading experience and I really can’t change or sugar coat it. This book just did not work for me at all. I do want to leave this with the fact that I do still believe Leckie is a talented story teller. I think it is good she takes chances when she feels like it, but part of taking a chance is risking alienating readers. Her previous risks worked very well for me and were strengths in her writing. It’s just unfortunate her risks in this book didn’t work as well for me. I will certainly read another of her books, just provided it’s not 2nd person, and not told from the POV of a rock.