The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Riyria Chronicles (Book #1)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Published: 6th August 2013 by Orbit
If ever there was a prequel story which I thought was perfection, The Crown Tower absolutely fit the bill.
“Old lunatic was right…We did make a good team.”
And thus a legend was born! I love origins stories of beloved characters and few are more beloved to me than the two foremost and main characters in the Riyria series. Hadrian Blackwater, a noble and idealistic mercenary soldier. Royce Melborn, a dangerous and cynical thief. With such polar opposite personalities, you know that sparks are going to fly (the wrong way) when they meet each other for the first time, what more being coerced to work together on an impossible mission.
Just halfway through The Riyria Revelations I was already tempted to read The Crown Tower which fleshes out the back-story of how this legendary dynamic duo came together. Their banter and friendly bickering were so entertaining that I can only imagine how delightful it is to read their initial encounter when they despised each other. However, I was advised by a couple of experienced readers to finish Revelations first and I’m thankful for that. I’ve not read many prequels before and with hindsight I find that reading this prequel really was more fun to read AFTER knowing what happened in Revelations.
Firstly, I appreciated that we get a lot more of the main characters on a highly personal level, this being their origins story after all. As expected, reading their initial interaction was pure delight. They were still very much the Hadrian and Royce that we know of and love, but each yet to be tempered by the other’s qualities, so to speak.
Secondly, we finally have the backstory of Gwen DeLancy. While she did not appear all that much in Revelations, her role in the series was significant. In The Crown Tower, Gwen’s story provided a darker note to the overarching narrative in a most compelling manner. As a foreign woman in a time and place where females were greatly marginalized, her strength, determination and intelligence shone through most admirably. And I’ve to say this time and again, Sullivan positively excels in writing great female characters, and Gwen was most definitely one of them.
Thirdly, the sly old fox, Arcadius. ‘Nuff said save for the last couple of lines of the book;
“We’ve planted the seeds. All we can do now is wait and see what grows.”
While every reader who loved The Riyria Revelations will most likely love this book as well, it also serves as a solid stand-alone which is testament to the author’s storytelling skills. This was a very entertaining tale in a classic fantasy setting, told in a modern voice. What’s even better than before was Sullivan’s prose as his writing had improved noticeably since his debut series.
And as a side note to Michael, you don’t ever have to worry about Hadrian and Royce overstaying their welcome. I just can’t get enough of them!
Updated review after 2nd reread, originally written in 2015.