Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Crown Tower (Volume 1 of The Riyra Chronicles) [Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford]

Telling origin/prequel stories well after characters/heroes have been established can be a tricky thing. Just ask George Lucas or Paul Jenkins (writer of Origin, the origin story of the Marvel character Wolverine). With the success of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revaltions (Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire,  and Heirof Novron, readers/fans wanted to read more of Royce and Hadrian, their friends and any further adventures.  The problem with that is the six novels (three omnibus editions) which comprise the Riyria Revelations were constructed by Sullivan to tell a complete story so the only place he could go for stories (without cheating those pleased with the inherit completeness in the author’s design of the Revelations) was the beginning. That seems enough preamble to the review of the actual content between the pages of The Crown Tower

Hadrian Blackwater is a former soldier and arena fighter wandering the world, looking for purpose. Hadrian is on his way to meet with his father’s old acquaintance at Sheridan University, when a young boy known only as Pickles encourages Hadrian to board a boat. Along the way, several people are killed on the boat, almost including Hadrian himself.  When Hadrian finally arrives at the university he discovers his father father’s old acquaintance is Arcadius, the Professor of Lore at Sheridan University. What’s more surprising is that the mysterious hooded man whom he suspected of killing the people on his boat is waiting in Arcadius’s office. The man, of course, is Royce Melborn whom Hadrian’s father’s friend pair up and assign a mission of stealth – to steal a book from the Crown Tower.

Running parallel to Hadrian’s storyline is that of Gwen DeLancy, the “hooker with aheart of gold.” [WARNING: Clicking that link will send you to the rabbit hole known as TVTropes] As much as The Crown Tower is an origin of sorts for the Riyria (Hadrian more so than Royce), Sullivan devotes nearly as much narrative to Gwen’s story. Here, Sullivan gave the novel its truest villains in the drunk, violent customer Stane and Gwen’s boss, Raynor Grue. When Stane kills a prostitute in The Hideous Head Tavern and Alehouse (Grue’s establishment) and gets away with it, Gwen decides she needs to leave Grue’s employ to start her own brothel, Medford House.

The banter between Royce and Hadrian takes a while to get going, Royce being very much a man of few words. The two men have no trust for each other, barely any respect for each other, and a great deal of disdain. Sullivan convinced me that these guys could work well together through the course of the novel. As I indicated in my review of Paul S. Kemp’s A Discourse in Steel, sword and sorcery in many ways is like the buddy-cop equivalent to the fantasy genre and Sullivan’s Riyria duo is very much a modern descendant to Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. As one might infer, readers who are enjoying Paul Kemp’s fine Tales of Egil & Nix would likely enjoy this novel (as well as Sullivan’s six book Riyria Revelations).

One thing that comes across is that in this world, for these characters at the time this story takes place, there is much more of a threat to women than men. If nothing else, Gwen is given two despicable male characters to provide her with a significant threat. The threats to Hadrian, and to a lesser degree Royce, are much more disposable. Gwen’s journey, at least these initial steps, is beset with more challenges than her male counterparts; she has to deal with a lot more obstacles to surpass. I’m still trying to figure out if this is a problem with the novel, but as the kids say, it definitely seems like “a thing.”  Another way of reading the villain issue is to view Royce as an antagonist for Hadrian.  The two nearly come to blows and both debate whether they should leave each other for dead over the course of the narrative.

The Crown Tower is an engaging, quickly paced sword and sorcery adventure that will satisfy readers of Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series and will definitely appeal to new readers.  This is the first of what Michael has dubbed The Riyria Chronicles and has a very episodic feel to, I mean that in a good way.  There’s a clear ending, but you as a reader know more is to come in The Rose and the Thorn, a novel I’ll be reading soon.


© 2013 Rob H. Bedford

Volume 1 of The Riyra Chronicles 
Orbit Books / August 2013  / 416 Pages
Trade Paperback ISBN 978-0-3162-437-1-1
eArc & Review copy courtesy of the publisher


  1. Prequels are extremely tricky, and often don't rise to the level of the original stories, especially if we meet them in media res.

    Ill Met in Lankhmar stands out to me as one of the very few exceptions. We'll see if Enge's prequel origin stories for Morlock also rise to the occasion.

  2. I've not gone to Enge's prequels just yet. I think the true mark of a good prequel is how well it works for both new and long-time readers of the author/series. I think Michael succeeded on that mark.

  3. Thanks for the review I really enjoyed it. I'm constantly amazed by my ignorance in the genre/publishing in general. It seems if there is a bad way to go about things I seem to stumble into it. But God must look out for fools, children, and stupid authors as I keep surviving despite my best attempts. What I'm referring to here is that I hadn't realized just how much trepidation there is about prequels. My publisher had warned me of this...as they are more savvy to such things. But I really wanted to explore "the other side" of the story as it were. Threading the prequel needle seems to be a tricky thing (or so I'm starting to learn) but it seems as though I might have done okay at that.

    For me a lot of the allure was in establishing the Royce and Hadrian of "then" which in my mind is much different then the Royce and Hadrian of "Revelations" making a believable way that these two would start to warm to one another was a challenge (to do without cheating) and I'm really happy with how that played out.

    Thanks again for the review - I'm very glad you enjoyed the start of the new series. I know you have some other stuff to read between this and The Rose and Thorn but I look forward to your impressions on it as well once you get around to it.

  4. Blame for prequel trepidation can largely be put on the doorstep of Mr. George Lucas. I think part of why your prequels worked as well as they did is that your collective readership hasn't formed their own backstories about the characters. In short, the Riyria Revelations hasn't been around long enough for such conjecture to be discussed.