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The Raven Tower

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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.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published February 26, 2019

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Ann Leckie

55 books7,277 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,834 reviews
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
527 reviews118 followers
April 13, 2019
This is a smart, easy to read Hamlet-inspired fantasy novel with some great moving pieces. I'm starting to appreciate fantasy books that stay tightly focused on a single situation rather than over-expanding out. This one is a real case study in how to do that.

The system of Gods and magic is cool, and there are some larger mysteries around language, worship, responsibility to others, and power that are fun to think about.

The main point of view is the controversial part, but I thought it was refreshing and weird in a good way. A lot of the book is written in the second person, which seems to be getting more popular with masterful writers. I guess great sff from surprising quasi-human viewpoints is Leckie's specialty? Speaking of which, similar to the Ancillary books, there are also some shoe-horned gender politics that I would have preferred to be more thoroughly developed, but that underdevelopment didn't get in the way of the story. The central story thread stayed interesting, and the way old stories were woven together made for a neat combination of mysteries unfolding all at once.

Slight spoiler, but I loved the ending. If we get a sequel, it'll be interesting to see where things go from here!
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
February 26, 2019


i had high hopes for this book. leckie’s imperial radch trilogy has been so celebrated by the SF kids that even i wanted to read it, and SF books have always had very limited appeal to me. when i heard she was doing a fantasy novel this time out, i figured that would be a more suitable entry point to her work for me, as i am *marginally* more qualified to assess fantasy than SF.

and maybe it would have been, but this was actually my SECOND fantasy novel of the month, hot on the heels of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, which took a lot out of the mental reserves required for me to process fantasy. i don’t think i’m dumb, necessarily, but i’m fantasy-dumb, and i admit — i struggled with this one.

i was wrestling with the challenge of writing this review, which is always an issue when i KNOW my medium-temperature reaction is a case of me not being the right reader for a book, and not the book that’s lacking in any way, so i decided to check out the (starred) kirkus review, to see how i fell short, where i found this intro/summary:

The land of Iraden is apparently the territory of two gods: the god of the Silent Forest, who protects the country and offers occasional advice to his chief votary, the Mother of the Silent; and the Raven, who speaks through a living bird known as the Instrument. Advised by a council of lords and the Mother of the Silent, the ruler of the land, known as the Raven’s Lease, gains power and authority from the Raven through his oath to sacrifice his own life when the Instrument dies. 

yes. that’s what it was. that paragraph is pretty much the reason i don’t read much fantasy. i prefer having at least one real-world anchor when i’m reading because when there are too many unfamiliar people, places, things, social orders, cultures, traditions, etc, my brain just… breaks trying to keep track of everything. i've read the book already and that kirkus paragraph still made my brain break.

there are so many gods, many more than were mentioned here, the hierarchy of which was hard for me to wrap my head around - small gods, ancient gods, regional gods with different strengths and shapes and abilities...

the book is narrated by one of these; an ancient god known as The Strength and Patience of the Hill, who is physically manifested as a stone. it’s written in second person, but where the “you” addressed is not you-the-reader, but eolo, a character in the book whose journey is being observed, and reported, by this rock-god.

not this rock god:

nor this rock god:

but a rock god sorta like this:

or, like the flipside of my book schwag:

eolo can sometimes sort of sense this god's presence, while it is detailing his every move, like a more stationary joe goldberg, and eventually their paths will cross.


this god takes its time.

all the parts that followed eolo and marwat were great: shakespearian family drama, political intrigue, battles, invisibility amulets and secret staircases, but in the alternating storyline, when The Strength and Patience of the Hill was looking inward and backward and ruminating (or chatting with its god-pal The Myriad -- who presents as a scourge of mosquitoes) about the other gods and their origins and power struggles and feuds from time immemorial, i found it confusing and slow. it’s true, the ancient god is operating on a god’s timetable and everything it does is painfully slow, often to the detriment of those who still worship it, but iiiii do not have the patience (nor the strength) of a hill, and i kept getting squirmy during those parts, flipping back and rereading, trying to keep it all straight in my head, feeling bogged-down and slow, wanting to get back to the usurped thrones and assassin-twins and transgender warriors and all the dingdang machinations.

the godparts definitely have a purpose and there's a lot of rich and fascinating food for thought therein about language, religion, creation, imagination, tradition and how to bend the rules, but they made me feel heavier and wearier, slowing my reading stride.

that ending, tho.

i was feeling a three-star for this and that ending scootched it up to a four.

i need to go recharge my brain's fantasy-batteries, for better luck next time.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,914 followers
February 28, 2019
Cue up Simon and Garfunkle for this ride. Just a single song on endless repeat.

"Don't talk of love,
Well, I've heard the word before.
It's sleeping in my memory;
And I won't disturb the slumber
Of feelings that I've died.
if I never loved, I never would have cried.
I am a rock. I am an island."

Now make a novel of a god of a single rock, surround him with endless time, sleep, and other gods getting by or rising into a WWI assemblage of alliances and obligations, always keeping out of the fray.

Enjoy second-person storytelling, sitting over the shoulder of humans or ruminating inside yourself, combining the most interesting aspects of N. K. Jemison's Broken Earth with Lois McMaster Bujold's Five Gods, sprinkle in the feel of lazy ruminations, solid logic, and patience. And then... turn the novel into one of vast revenge. :) :) :)

What is this Raven Tower, after all? In this world, there are vast numbers of gods and many of them help out based on the amount of devotion and offerings given to them. And depending on the god's power reserves, the spoken Word becomes reality. If the god speaks more than the power can manage, or if the god makes a promise that can be loopholed, the god can die.

So much of this novel teaches us the power of language and limits and vast schemes, but our MC god, the Rock, seems to have all the time in the world... until vast logic and realization leads him/her to learn to value someone. At long last. And this is where everything goes to hell. :)

This fantasy novel is actually a murder mystery. It's FAR from being a standard murder mystery, but in its core, it revolves around reveals, discoveries, and piecing everything together... like a mosaic of stone only revealing the full picture after so much wonderful deliberation.

So, WHO DIES? Men, or gods?

I'm kinda dancing around here. The full scope of the novel hit me over the head at the very last and I'm more than pleased by the outcome. I always rather enjoyed it, but only by the end did I discover I loved it. :)
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,008 reviews2,597 followers
February 28, 2019
2 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2019/02/28/...

I am but a simple reader, with simple tastes. I can appreciate when an author tries different things, or when a novel tries to break out of its genre and stylistic norms. But at the end of the day, all I want to do is read a good story I can relate to and, above all else, enjoy. Which, unfortunately, was not The Raven Tower.

Thing is, this novel does in fact contain a fascinating premise: in a prosperous kingdom named Iraden, a god called the Raven watches and protects his land and its people, staving off all threats with his magic. But this protection comes at a price—one exacted in blood. To sustain the Raven’s power, a sacrifice must be offered by the ruler of Iraden known as the Raven’s Lease, a human chosen by the god to carry out his will in the mortal realm. As long as this tradition continues, the land remains safe and thriving.

But now, the power of the Raven is waning. Another god called the Strength and Patience of the Hill narrates this tale, watching events play out in its stonebound form. Iraden’s downfall begins as Mawat, the heir to the current Lease, returns home to find his father missing and the throne usurped by his uncle. In the middle of this chaos, an unassuming aide named Eolo tries to help Mawat reclaim his birthright, unwittingly stumbling upon a grave secret beneath the foundations of the Raven’s Tower.

Now here’s the rub: told in a mix of first and second person narration, you as the reader are essentially Eolo, and the narrator is the Strength and Patience of the Hill using its all-seeing gaze to tell you all that’s happening, what you are doing and thinking, and pretty much everything else there is to know about what’s going on. Not that you, as Eolo, can really be aware all the time that the god is speaking all the time, though. Like its name implies, the Strength and Patience of the Hill has also been around for a long, long time. It has seen quite a lot of things and it also isn’t shy about waxing poetic—to itself—about its age-old history and the past.

Consequently, I think the writing style will be the biggest point of contention for readers, and the determining factor in whether you will love this novel or hate it. Personally, I have a somewhat thorny relationship with the second-person narrative mode, though I concede that if used sparingly, or in specific situations that call for it, it can be very effective. Regrettably though, the way it was done here grated on my nerves like nails raked across a chalkboard. I’m not saying the idea wasn’t clever or that Leckie’s technique in employing it wasn’t skillful, but the constant distraction of it was mentally exhausting and frankly not very pleasant at all.

Which is why, as much as I wanted to like this novel, I struggled to connect with nearly every aspect of it. In particular, the characters were a bust. While you are supposed to be Eolo, use of the second person device immediately distances you from everything you do and everything you are supposed to be. From there, everything else failed to spark my interest, which is a shame because in theory, the inspiration behind the story and its lore is actually quite imaginative and compelling. Thematically, it reminded me a little of Joanne Harris’ The Gospel of Loki in that the narrative almost takes on a mythical quality, using the god-and-mortal relationship to explore concepts like power, knowledge and ideology through a philosophical lens. It’s just unfortunate that Leckie’s execution and interpretation did not work for me at all.

Bottom line? If a unique and an entirely different kind of fantasy is what you’re looking for, The Raven Tower is a book you might want to consider, but I also recommend reading samples or plenty of reviews to determine if the style is to your taste. Who knows, this could very well end up being your favorite book of the year. But if what you find strikes you as ludicrously complicated or irritating and awkward to the extreme, then it’s probably safe to say this novel is not for you. I have great admiration for Ann Leckie and think she’s a talented writer. I reasonably enjoyed reading her Imperial Radch trilogy and Provenance, though neither really blew me away, so it was initially my hope that her first foray into epic fantasy would be more my speed. But well, c’est la vie, as they say.
Profile Image for Samantha.
409 reviews16.7k followers
June 24, 2020
This is a stand-alone fantasy following a trans man main character who is the aide of the “heir to the throne” and his story is being told to him via 2nd person narration by a god of this world.

This was a slow story that mostly concerned itself with the process of creating pantheons, the nature of gods, and the nature of religion. The god is telling it’s history while also sharing what is going on politically in the current timeline. I found the current timeline characters to be difficult to attach to and cared way more about the gods and the religious discussion. I did appreciate that the main character’s gender was not a problem or focus throughout the story and the characters that did find out did not make an issue of it. His being trans was also not used as a twist or plot device.

If you enjoy books about religion, how they mold society, and how people use them to explain their world, this may be interesting to you. Otherwise it’ll probably read as slow and slightly boring.
Profile Image for Mary Robinette Kowal.
Author 234 books4,751 followers
May 21, 2021
Wow. I'm a fan of Ann Leckie and she does not disappoint with The Raven Tower. I'm also impressed as hell with the structural integrity of this novel, which I realize is a very writerly thing to think about, but she is writing on Hard Mode in this. You want to know what flashbacks are for and how to use them? This book understands how to use them to ratchet tension up. You want to understand how and why to use second person vs. first person? OMG, the creeping dread that she managed to wring out of me as the book progressed and I understood what was happening. There's a mystery and betrayal and court politics, wrapped up in a tightly plotted bundle of deliciousness.

Also, I listened to the audiobook and Adjoa Andoh is a stunningly brilliant narrator.
Profile Image for Lizy.
766 reviews22 followers
September 23, 2018
Holy sh*t, y'all. And let me repeat: holy sh*t.

I have to start this review with how I heard about this book. I had the amazing opportunity to meet with Ann Leckie twice during SIBA18, both during the Rise of Alt SFF panel and again during the moveable feast of authors, where she had 90 seconds to tell my table about her first foray into fantasy. I loved the way she summarized her book and I have no doubt her synopsis will sound way, way better than anything I could pen, so I'm going to unapologetically paraphrase it below:

"The Raven Tower is a book where anything the gods say becomes true. They cannot tell lies, and if they state an impossibility, they die. This novel is about a god who gets themselves into a predicament, and they need those around them to get them back out of it--but they're surrounded by enemies on all sides."

That's not an exact quote of what she said, but it was in the ballpark. Anyway. I was hooked. I had to read it. And I'm so glad I did. This book is a friggin masterpiece. It's told from that same unique triple perspective that N.K. Jemisin used in the Broken Earth trilogy, where there's a 'you,' an 'I,' and a 'them,' all bundled together in the narration, but it's pulled off without being convoluted or bizarre. The characters are flawlessly portrayed. The intrigues are so good.

Most of all, I love the tricks that are pulled. I don't want to say too much and inadvertently give things away - especially because to the best of my knowledge I'm penning the very first review of this book and it just wouldn't be fair to anyone to spoil anything when all y'all have to wait until February to read this - but there's this running theme of characters that are set up one way but turn out to be another. With the gods, especially, I really liked how they're set up as being super trustworthy, and yet depending on who you're dealing with, that may not be a quality they possess in any way.

Another thing - and this is kind of random - that I really loved with this book was the turn of phrase within it. It's not anything major, but there's little transitional sentences that fully set the scene. This is mainly from the gods having to avoid lies by saying things like "Here's a story that I've heard" instead of saying something as a fact. For whatever reason, seeing a section start of with that introduction immediately segued me into a) being 8 years old again getting tucked into bed with my chapter books, or b) popping the popcorn to hear some serious gossip, depending on what else had just been narrated.

The only "bad" thing - and I put this in quotes because it's only like a half bad thing - that I can say about this novel is that it's a little bit slow to start. But that's coming from me, and I think it's important to keep in mind I am a professional book nerd with little to no patience for slowness (there's a reason I'm still not caught up with the GoT books). I'm one of those people who gives up on books if they don't have my soul chewed up and spat out in 50 pages. This does not follow that formula, and that's OK. It does a properly executed slow-build. It takes a little more mental investment to get into, you have to think about it, and I can readily admit I was more than a little confused at the 50 page mark. The Raven Tower is worth sticking around to the end, though.

All in all, this is a fantastic book. There's honestly so much more I could say about it, but for the sake of spoilers I'm going to stop now. Suffice it to say, this is a brilliantly executed novel that I'd highly recommend reading. I can't wait to hand-sell it in 2019.
Profile Image for Philip.
497 reviews667 followers
August 1, 2020
3.5ish stars.

Leckie slides comfortably into the fantasy genre after receiving much acclaim for her sci-fi works. I expected this to be as complex as her Radch universe, which was intimidating, but it's really not. Maybe even too far in the opposite direction. It was surprisingly a simple, fairly quick read despite the majority of it being either set-up or history. The people and places were easy to keep track of and most of the characters were sufficiently likable or hateable, as they were intended.

Not that it's not slow and boring sometimes because it is. There are essentially two stories being told: a present timeline plot told in second person by an unseen narrator, and a long history detailed by the same narrator giving context for the events in the present timeline. As one might imagine, the history parts are super boring. Even in the present timeline not a lot happens until well past the half-way mark because it's mostly build-up and setting the stage for later events. Even then the most exciting part of the book takes place in a single room with a bunch of characters talking to each other. I know I'm not selling it well, but I really did mostly enjoy the book overall.

Maybe kind of spoiler-y?
Personal pet peeve: I don't know if it's just a literary trend that has taken place within the last few years or whether it's been going on sporadically for a long time without me recognizing it, but I've read a lot of novels (mostly SFF) recently in which the climax of the narrative takes place in the last ten pages. No resolution and no denouement except maybe a rushed "where are they now" included as an afterthought. We don't even get that here. Bugs me.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,386 reviews11.8k followers
March 14, 2019
I found The Raven Tower to be both conceptually intriguing and boring.

I wonder if my general indifference to the novel has to do with the fact that this story's narrator is a rock. A rock that is a god, but still a rock that likes to just exist. Or be rolled around by someone.

The most compelling part of this novel, for me, was the concept of gods and how they interact with and are nurtured by humans. I thought it was quite interesting how Leckie had weaved the history of the world with the development of spirituality.

On the other hand, because the narrator is a rock, it was hard to connect with any people in the novel. They felt more like puppets rather than real beings, and their problems failed to hook me. This rock-god didn't bother to understand humanity; and apparently I can't care for a narrative that has no human emotion in it. I don't really know why Leckie even needed to bring Eolo into this if he wasn't allowed to be a fully-fledged characters anyway. I am starting to think this concept would have worked better as a short story told entirely from the god's POV.

Actually, I had the same issue with Ancillary Justice, which has a similarly interesting in theory, but disconnected and boring in reality main character - AI.
Profile Image for Rebecca Roanhorse.
Author 56 books7,409 followers
July 9, 2019
Most novels are straightforward things, a linear story with a single POV that entertains and, if you, the reader, are lucky, it makes you think, too. And if you, the reader, are also a writer, there is the rare book that is so impressive that it makes you want to be a better writer. This is that kind of book. Which also means it may not be for everyone. In fact, I can assure you it's not. There are multiple POVs, none of them 3rd person. There are multiple timelines. Your narrator is a rock (who is also a god), and there are overtones of Shakespeare's Hamlet in the unraveling drama...and yet, you do not see that ending coming. If you are still interested, nay, MORE interested, then, adventurous reader, this is a book for you. I loved it, and the more I think about it, the move I love it. Here's the trick, I think. Go in without expectations, without genre pretenses about what a Fantasy novel should be, be patient, keep an open mind, and let this unique marvel work its spell.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,163 reviews2,011 followers
January 27, 2019
I rushed to Netgalley to get hold of an advance copy of this book based on how much I enjoyed Leckie's science fiction series. The Raven Tower is fantasy which I also love, but somehow this one just missed the mark for me.

Of course the writing is good and as usual for this author it is presented in an unusual way. Very unusual actually since the narrator is a rock who is also a god. This god spends a large part of the book philosophising on anything and everything as to be expected since he doesn't move around a lot. He does however tell the story of Eolo and Mawat and the book brightens up every time he gets back to what is happening to them.

I got quite excited as I approached the end visualising some wonderful exciting conclusion but there wasn't one. Some people died, some did not and events just petered out. If there were to be a follow up I would read it because I am sure there could be great futures for both the rock god and Eolo. Alternatively I would like the author to take us back into space and the Ancillary world.
Profile Image for Nils | nilsreviewsit.
309 reviews458 followers
February 19, 2019
After hearing such praise for Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice series, but having never read it myself, I was really excited to try her fantasy debut, The Raven Tower. The premise sounded just my kind of story; I mean the idea of a Raven god and a Raven’s Lease who’s duty is to sacrifice themselves when the Raven god dies, sounded like a bloody good fantasy read! Plus the characters were proposed to be extremely diverse. However... this book just wasn’t for me.
At first I did like the unique narrative voice; the whole story is told from the POV of a rock inhabited by a god, and the narrator uses second person and first person narration simultaneously throughout. I thought this was a great idea, and something a reader rarely comes across, but after a while it became so tedious.
As the narrator was an observer watching the main characters and telling you their story, I expected the characters to pop from the page, and be captivating. I expected the plot to be full of stabby stabby moments, and full on with use of godly powers. This just did not deliver on that though, and very quickly I honestly found myself bored.
I felt the characters needed to be fleshed out more, because as they were I just didn’t feel anything for them, they were just so bland. I think if there had been chapters that included narration from either Eolo or Marat the prince would have worked so much better, as then we could get some personality from them!
Lastly, the plot... my god... the plot was so SLOW! It hardly moved forward and there were just endless pages of dialogue that felt forced and pointless.
Personally, I like my fantasy books to be filled with much more tension, excitement and peril than this book was. Having said that though, just because this book didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean you will feel the same. So please don’t be put off trying this if it’s one you’re looking forward to. Variety is the spice of life, so I hope many of you will enjoy this.
Thank you Orbit for sending me a free copy of The Raven Tower in exchange for an honest review. Release date: 28/02/19
Profile Image for Lena.
174 reviews68 followers
May 29, 2022
Like the other novels by Ann Leckie this has specific mood, you won't find anywhere else. But this one was made in the fantasy style of ancient legends and northern myths. Plot moves slowly towards the vague intrigue uncovering well-written worldbuilding. Sometimes I had a filling I've already read something like that, but the author still finds a way to surprise with some unusual details.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books431 followers
February 6, 2022
"Perhaps the length of one's life was not important -except in the way it is to so many living beings, desperate to avoid death. Perhaps, long or short, it mattered how one spent that time."

So What's It About? (from Goodreads)

"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."

What I Thought

This is unquestionably the most interesting book about a rock I've ever read. Sure, the bar  is not very high, but I actually found this to be one of the most unique books I've read this year. The Strength and Patience of the Hill's narration was so interesting to me - ponderous, deliberate and gentle. You truly feel as though it is an ancient being that is entirely different from the humans who worship it, and it was fascinating to see it undergo a gradual transformation over the course of the book from initially being entirely unmindful of human affairs and coming to care more about them and observe them in great detail.

Maybe this comes as a surprise, but my favorite parts of the book were when The Strength and Patience of the Hill was simply existing - watching the stars, sitting in the seabed and having philosophical conversations with the Myriad about the nature of the gods and their powers. It's a really great take on godhood and power, with magic residing in the ability to speak things into reality. There is some discussion of the power of semantics and the rules that must be followed in speaking things into being, and I also really enjoyed these conversations. As powerful as they are the gods are also deeply vulnerable and as they consider the extent to which they should play a role in their followers' lives they come to realize the ways that they may be exploited in that process.

A lot of people seem to have bounced off of the second person narration of Eolo's part of the story, and I can definitely understand why. The Broken Earth trilogy is also largely written in second person but I don't remember feeling as distant from Essun as I felt with Eolo in this book. I'll stand by my opinion that it's a fascinating choice to have the stone god's narration of events prevail, and the uniqueness of that framing device is enough for me to commend Leckie for trying something so new and largely succeeding except for the emotional distance that it creates.

As it turns out this is the kind of political fantasy I think I can handle, because the cast of characters is relatively small but there is still a twisty knot of motives and intrigues to untangle. I've seen some reviews that compare The Raven Tower to Hamlet and I can absolutely see why in the similarity of the premise. Unfortunately  I found the Hamlet-esque character to be far less tolerable than Hamlet in the original play - in short, he was barely tolerable and was mostly infuriatingly entitled, stubborn and selfish and treated Eolo terribly.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books687 followers
February 22, 2020
This was sheer delight. I loved the mystery, the linguistics (something I think Leckie does very well) the characters, the mythology...

Here's my pitch:

It's Pratchett's "Small Gods" but in a Grimm's fairy tale universe.

I had some minor quibbles. I think the characters' names were ear-grating, a few of the actions took me time to justify, and the second person narration also took some getting used to. I listened to it, and was infatuated with Andoh's work, as always, though I think she did Eolo a bit of a disservice.

CONTENT WARNINGS: (just a list of topics)

4.5, rounded up because I know I'm going to read it again shortly.
Profile Image for Choko.
1,178 reviews2,570 followers
July 2, 2019
*** 3.33 ***

I need to explain my rating... I hated giving this author's work anything below a 4 star, but I couldn't and stay honest with myself. I think I tend to be tougher on authors of which I have high expectations and I already know that they are really, really good at what they do. Ann Leckie is one of those authors, who has become a must read for me ever since I read her Sci-fi series. Even in this book I loved the imaginative world and characters. However, I wonder if the style of writing fits with Sci-fi better and loses something when transferred to Fantasy, but the story of G-ds living and taking an active participation in human day to day life in The Raven Tower felt way too discombobulated to read the way it deserves. I understand that it was told from the point of view of an entity which is separate and doesn't always have the whole picture or the point of reference we might need to have in order to understand. I get that and I think it is a great idea. I also love the consideration this author keeps giving to fluid gender and sexuality. Extremely well done and felt when it comes to that!!!! But for whatever reason this book failed to connect with me. I had to stop several times and then come back and re-read, just to make sure I didn't miss a detail or a hint of meaning. The jump in timelines didn't bother me by itself, but with everything feeling so "other" and removed, it only added to the estrangement between me and the characters. Overall, it just felt like the book was published in an early draft stage instead of waiting for more thoughtful and engaging redact.

I struggle with myself when I actually get critical, because I am well aware that I give three and four stars easily to some pulp fiction, rom-coms, historical romances, cozy mysteries and all types of either Chic flicks or military-fantasy-action books, which probably took much less effort and thought, or creativity overall. However, I always look at what IS the book in its entirety of intent and targeted audience. Those books I mentioned usually have one purpose - momentary entertainment, a provoking of a certain feeling or a rush of adrenaline. They don't have a claim to good literature or attempt to bring something innovative or special to our literary culture as a whole. I look upon them as I do to the half an hour or hour shows on TV, telling a story, usually one situation, and tell it from start to finish in the most easily consumer friendly way, for anyone to be able to not only understand, but engulf it in couple of big bites and move on to the next meal. I don't judge them for what they are, because we all need those unpretentious and entertaining reads to run away with for a moment or two, from real life. They have their place and they are needed. So when I rate them, I rate them according to rather they achieved their purpose of escapism and how well did they do it.

However, there are those authors, and AL is one of those, who bring something different, something a bit more refined, more thoughtful, more complex and complete to the table, and their work awakens our minds and pushes us to think and feel through the ethical questions that mark us as human. Those are the authors who bring the new elements tho their genres and you never mistake their work for that of someone else. Those authors should have a scale of their own. On that scale we must be able to to show that we see their writing not only as better and unique, but also we should be able to express when their work is not quite up to the standard we expect from them. This is where this particular rating comes from. With all my utmost respect for the work and creativity! I hope we get much more in the future:-)
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,405 reviews990 followers
November 18, 2018
Here is a story I’ve heard…
Ann Leckie has written a highly absorbing, beautifully imagined fantasy novel, with a quirky, atmospheric and highly engaging character voice…
I probably didn’t need to take the third party precautionary measure because I believe this to be true, but care in all things, especially when you pick up The Raven Tower because it will deprive you of sleep and leave you longing for more.
In a world where God’s and human’s intertwine, a God cannot speak false. One God tells the tale of history and intrigue that has lead us to the events we are reading about here. About Iraden and the Raven God, about treason and political shenanigans , about a prince who returns to find his father gone and his Uncle in stolen power…
This is an amazing novel, full of vividly imagined communities, historic power struggles, beautifully drawn, vibrant diverse  characters and a haunting, intelligently sprawling plot that holds you enthralled until it’s final, heart stopping moments..
I will give nothing else away.
I loved it entirely from the first word to the last. Brilliant.
Highly Recommended.
Profile Image for Eugenia.
1,586 reviews230 followers
July 14, 2021
Enthralling fantasy told by a god!!

The POV (1st & 2nd person) from an ancient god enveloped me in a richly developed world.

I ADORED this god!!!

As you read this, you may notice that Leckie took inspiration from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
—Heir coming home
—Father missing or dead
—Uncle takes his place
—Many people die
—And more

But, Leckie has made a world all of her own & taken that ancient narrative and created something completely new.

What more to expect:
—Gods. Lots of them.
—A trans man MC (in 2nd person). For once, gender simply is. His gender was not a plot device—thank the gods!
—A journey into a mystery filled with lies, schemes, and murder.
—Add in magic. And war.

Amazing narration, if that’s your jam!
Profile Image for Bentley ★ Bookbastion.net.
242 reviews551 followers
May 29, 2019
See this review and more like it on www.bookbastion.net!

I was in the cutest little local bookstore earlier this month when I came across The Raven Tower in the employee recommendations section. To be honest, the cover was so striking and gorgeous that it caught my eye almost immediately and after checking out the premise on the inside dust jacket, I put aside another book I was interested in reading (I promise I'll come back for you one day little abandoned book baby!) and snagged this one instead. 

If there's one subset of the fantasy genre that can hook me like no other, it's stories involving the Gods or ancient/immortal beings and the way that mortal characters play against their influence. It's like watching one great, cosmic game of chess where the stakes are high and the odds are usually stacked outside of the POV character's favor. 

However, despite its premise and that gorgeous cover - seriously, it sells itself! - the novel itself is hampered by some odd stylistic choices that a fair amount of readers are going to struggle with. Namely: the shifting Point Of View (POV).

The story is told entirely from the POV of the God of Iraden itself, an omniscient and furtive being that knows all and sees all throughout the realm. Because this figure is reciting events in the present as they occur, but is also speaking directly to a character (Eolo) that exists in the world, the story is told in second-person perspective. The god speaks to "you" as though you are Eolo, informing you of your own actions taking place in real time within the world. He sees you when you're sleeping, and he definitely knows when you're awake.

Basically, the call is coming from inside the house Eolo.

For some readers this choice might be an interesting way to immerse themselves in a story. Unfortunately for me, this plot device grew old really quickly - especially when it becomes clear that Eolo can't actually hear the God at all. Also, because the God of Iraden chooses to exert zero of its will upon the world, characters are doing what they would have done anyway, and coming about decisions on their own without any sort of divine intervention. It begs the question: why frame the novel within the voice of the divine, if there's no purpose to it?

Personally, I think the story would have been stronger had the God's actual existence been left up for reader interpretation. There's always the thematic context of faith and belief in the almighty to consider when a story is framed around the archetype of the Gods. In Leckie's story the existence is simply too concrete. Faith shouldn't be a given in literature. We're told to believe because the story is told from the perspective of the god, but without any of the context as to why or how this matters to the characters. Ironically, by setting up the narrative this way, I felt like a lot of punch was drained from the plot.

Another casualty of the way the story is told is unfortunately the characters. The only one remotely fleshed out in any way is Eolo, but even that is underwhelming as his one defining characteristic happens to be his gender identity. It's great to see that sort of representation in a fantasy genre novel (seriously, we've come so far!) but aside from that the characters are all pretty thin. Mawat is angry at his dad and his birthright as the Raven's Lease - but we don't know anything about him beyond that.

The other characters in the novel end up lacking so much purpose that they're instantly forgettable too. Even a cast of additional, smaller Gods of the realm ends up being boring and under-utilized.

Inspired by William Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are subplots exploring interpersonal machinations at work between the human characters in the story. If you enjoy political or familial dramas set in the context of ascension to a throne or birthright, you might find a lot to interest you here. Leckie takes her time though, establishing these characters within the world and filling readers in on a lot of backstory about the two major cities she's designed for this world.

The going is slow, but the mystery of what was going on and how Mawat's problems in particular would be solved kept me turning pages until the end.

All in all, this wasn't a terrible read! I think Leckie faithfully adapted Hamlet as best she could into her debut fantasy novel. And while I wasn't sold on the way this story was told, I was hooked enough by the subplots and mystery between the human characters to see it through to the end.

🌟🌟.5 out of 3 stars - rounded up because I'm back from hiatus and feeling generous!

follow me on instagram @bookbastion!!
Profile Image for Twila.
128 reviews115 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
February 11, 2020
DNF @ 50% (230 pages) 😔

The Raven Tower is unique. It’s strange. It’s ambitious. And unfortunately for me, almost nothing worked.

The premise was interesting. I had heard Ann Leckie liked using unconventional narrative choices, but I had no idea how much she would actually play with the contours of narrative delivery! The book is narrated by an omniscient being called Strength and Patience of the Hill who gives a first-hand account of events throughout the book. Strength is also a god and … wait for it… a giant rock. An actual giant rock! Pretty cool.

The entire book is in this rock’s POV, but at the same time, not exactly. The novel is divided into two different narrative strands, or two timelines. There’s the past being told in first-person by Strength where he tells us his own story, one spanning millions of years, and there’s also the present-day story going on and that is where things get hairy. Here, Strength speaks to the book’s main character, a human named Eolo, using the extremely annoying 2nd person construct that is: You. This is not the first time I’ve come across this, but just like with The Fifth Season, I STRONGLY DISLIKE IT. I apologize for this in advance but tell me this doesn’t annoy you!

You think on why this book makes you uneasy and you figure it’s probably the jarring sensation of having another person’s consciousness being imposed upon your own that you don’t like and you detest how the book continually smacks you in the face with a vicious FORCE. And try as you might to accept it, you wonder why it’s even necessary. It sets your teeth on edge. You don’t see the purpose. You think it might be solely for the sake of novelty. Yes, you’re sure that’s it. Along with the back and forth through time, this perplexes you enough to feel muddled for the majority of this seemingly endless novel. Your stomach sinks as you realize that an entire 2/3rds of the book is like this and you immediately want to kill yourself. You walk to the nearest wall and start to bang your head against it over and over again.

Like, come on! It’s so PAINFUL. The past storyline is in 1st person; I don’t see why the present couldn’t have been done in 3rd. It would have made the book far better. And not only did I feel like it was complicated solely for the sake of being complicated, but it did Eolo absolutely no favours. It made it hard to connect to him, someone one who wasn’t all that interesting to begin with.

Honestly, Eolo. Was. So. BLAND. A personality-less dud. Nothing about him caught my attention and the peculiar narration kept him at an emotional distance that made it absolutely impossible for me to feel for someone who was already coming off as robotic. We only see him from the outside, through the eyes of the rock god, and never get any real glimpses into his inner thoughts. It was a lot of, “The expression on your face made you appear unhappy,” and, “You seemed hesitant to say that.” We never get any internal dialogue or any of his personal motivations. He was too remote. Too clinical. Too hard to access and difficult to embrace. It also didn’t help that he was being observed by a rock with no concept of human emotions. Nope, that didn’t help at all. I’m someone who likes to see the clear picture of a character, so this framing device didn’t work for me.

The Raven Tower also lacks another key element I enjoy in my books: action. There was about one entire page of it. Really, nothing much ever happened. The history of a billion-year-old rock who does absolutely nothing but sit on a hill and observe the world was as completely uninteresting as it sounds. Eolo was also putting me to sleep. His was more political dealings involving a usurpation plot and while it wasn’t completely uninteresting, his arc felt plodding and too slow-moving for me. I’m told that the two timelines fuse together beautifully in the end, but the journey to even 50% was such a struggle for me and I really wasn’t interested enough about what was going on to read the other half to find out the end.

I didn’t like this, but that’s just me and I am CERTAIN that plenty others would love this book. If Strength direct addressing the story sounds fascinating and doesn’t break your interest, this book just might work for you. And however much it ultimately unsatisfied me, I absolutely appreciate how outside the box and innovative The Raven Tower is. Really, it’s a striking book. Personally, I just like books to be as engaging as they are thoughtful. I also have to add that I found the world wholly unique. It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t actually get to see much of that world.

I buddy-read this with Lizz who also struggled and DNF’d it with me. Here’s to hoping we can actually finish our next book! 🤞🤞
Profile Image for Libertie.
18 reviews4 followers
October 9, 2018
Ann Leckie seems to enjoy writing books in which the main characters are big, sentient objects.

I'm a bookseller who received an advance reader copy of the book after having the pleasure of meeting Ann at the SIBA Discovery Show. I was extremely excited about the work, having been a fan of "Ancillary Justice."

Well, "The Raven Tower" lived up to my lofty expectations! Like the Ancillary Trilogy, this work showcases Ann's incredible skill for building fantastical realms. The central trope is a sort of modified "be careful what you wish for" in which the power of gods is projected through words and these words must be used carefully because false statements can be fatal. One of my favorite things about the book is its masterful narration. Sliding between second and first person, the highly-stylized voice of the narrator -- who is a god, no less -- pulls off a sort of hedged-omniscience in which much cannot be said with certainty lest the narrator risk making an untrue statement. Two interwoven storeylines, one present and one past, make for a well-paced tale with a good bit of suspense and political intrigue.

As an aside, I was very pleased by the queer and trans representation in this work. The human protagonist's gender is entirely secondary to the plot -- this is not a book that will be pigeonholed as "LGBTQ" or "feminist fantasy" -- but the author presents a world in which queerness is neither vilified nor normalized to the point of invisibility, and the strongest characters are not cisgender men.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,249 reviews219 followers
April 1, 2019
So far, this is my second favorite fantasy book this year with only the amazing conclusion of the Winternight trilogy beating it.

We start the story with an unseen narrator speaking to the main character Eolo, describing Eolo's actions in the second person. Eolo is the loyal and reserved companion of the Heir to the Raven's Lease. The Raven's Lease is a role with considerable power in the nation of Iraden, but it is also the designated human sacrifice to the Raven, the God of Iraden. In this world gods are everywhere, and they can be small and simple or truly ancient and powerful and everything in between. Humans use gods, and gods use humans, and that interdependence is what this story is primarily about. And as much as it is Eolo's story, and Iraden's story, it's even more the story of narrator itself.

Second person isn't for everyone, and if this story-telling mode is an irritant for you, then I suggest you skip it. Around half the book is told in this style. The rest is the fascinating history of the narrator and how it came to be telling the story. That's not to say that Eolo's story isn't amazing, because he's a fantastic character. Clever, transgender without that being a huge deal, almost unfailingly loyal, even when his lord clearly doesn't deserve that loyalty, the way that the narrator tells his story reveals a rich character without ever really getting his perspective, and barely showing his voice at all.

The central mystery of what has happened to the Raven's Lease, and what power politics are actually going on, starts slow but quickly becomes gripping. At the same time, the long history of the narrator is also fascinating, as is its role in current events which is beautifully illustrated by that long history.

Profile Image for Thomas Wagner.
134 reviews895 followers
March 19, 2019
The Raven Tower is one of those impeccably crafted epic fantasy novels in which characters we’re given no particular reason to root for fight for stakes we’re given little reason to care about. This might be a thoroughly unremarkable thing if the book was yet another mid-list debut. But it’s the fantasy debut of none other than Ann Leckie, a writer of enormous and richly deserved acclaim, and that makes it so much more disappointing. It’s a book I found so very frustrating because all of the pieces are there. They just never construct a satisfying whole.

It’s set in a world inhabited by both people and beings they call gods. Our narrator is one of these gods, an entity called The Strength and Patience of the Hill, which has taken possession of an enormous boulder. It’s just as well this is our narrator, because it’s really all the book has to offer by way of an interesting and appealing character. Leckie plays around a bit with speculation on what kinds of entities these so-called gods really are. There’s never an explanation of their origin, except in the case of another god, the Myriad, who is hinted at being some kind of extraterrestrial.

An element of mystery is often helpful in evoking a sense of the otherworldly. But in an epic fantasy, the more you convey that your world has a magic system under which everything works, readers will want to have some kind of grasp of the whys and wherefores. And I frankly would have appreciated a bit more exploration into the relationship between the gods and humans, particularly an understanding of how these gods are nurtured by the worship and sacrifice, especially blood sacrifice, of the humans they serve. The closest Leckie gets to anything in line with her customary brilliance is in a passage where Patience painstakingly figures out how to communicate with its young priestess, using tiny stones. In these scenes, we see that the gods of this world started out sort of stumbling around learning things, no differently than the people. Patience has to learn to empathize with and care for the humans who worship it. And that’s actually terrific, because not only does it make Patience enormously appealing as a character, these human weaknesses make Leckie’s gods as a whole more believable. But it still whet my appetite for more information that never came.

Still, gods and humans have to coexist for one another’s survival. There are huge, powerful, ancient gods, as well as small gods whose powers might be limited to specific areas, or even specific physical items, like kitchen knives or boats. And these gods end up in conflict, depending on whatever conflicts the humans who worship them are currently embroiled in. This creates a specific political landscape for the gods, forcing them to enter into alliances and share their powers. Powerful gods can simply take the power from lesser gods to enhance their own, and in some cases can even “speak the death” of other gods, although it drains their power immensely for them to do so.

Vastai is a city in the land of Iraden, on the coast of a narrow strait (continued...)
Profile Image for Lata.
3,509 reviews187 followers
March 21, 2019
Holy crap, this was good.
With its unusual structure: 2nd person narration coupled with two stories alternating through the book, this is not the easiest story to get through. But Leckie doesn't disappoint. Either of the two tales would be fascinating, but each has their own interesting points. The one going back millenia, describes the birth and evolution of the narrator (who happens to be a god) and the presence of many, many small gods, provides the backstory for the events happening in the present. The present day story is chock full of plotting, double-dealing and murder, and takes inspiration from Shakespeare's Hamlet (not my favourite by the Bard, but beautifully underpinning this story). I loved how the other main character, Eolo, puzzles his way through the various competing interests present at the Raven Tower. Eolo is no slouch, and we see Eolo's intelligence and determination as he attempts to support his boss, surly and sulky Mawat, while also helping the people of the town.
What Eolo discovers is both frightening and kind of awe-inspiring. While the humans have been betraying and murdering each other for centuries, all the time assuming that the gods worked for them, the ancient god, our narrator, has been ever so slowly laying its own plans....I was left both horrified and grinning. Leckie totally delivered.
Profile Image for Adah Udechukwu.
615 reviews82 followers
February 26, 2019
The Raven Tower seemed weird at first. The first 30 or so pages had me confused but soon the novel picked up. It started making a lot of sense. I loved the world building. I loved the characters. The entire concept of the novel was fascinating and oddly compelling.
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,599 reviews238 followers
April 1, 2019
Unusual second-person narrative. A little odd at first, but it grew on me. Strange that a main character does not have an inner voice.

The book alternates between two stories. There is the present day plot and a back story. I don‘t want to give too much away, I think it is more fun not too know going in. For a long while I suspected that the main narrator was leading us astray. I wasn‘t quite sure, who the narrator really is. Again, I don‘t want to give too much away...

“What is it that makes language a far more powerful—and risky—tool for gods than it is for even humans? What is it that makes gods gods? What am I?“

And what a fascinating narrator it is. Slow, ponderous, but there is tension there under the surface.

Leckie likes to screw with our perceptions and common expectations. I like that. She talks about what is the right thing to do and about perspective...

„If I ponder it long enough—as, indeed, I have had plenty of opportunity to do—I can see several potential lessons or morals one might draw from such a tale, and no doubt many of them would be salutary, or at least salutary for someone.“

Non-normative gender roles and life choices play into the narrative. Not because the story revolves around them. It does not. They just are. Someone else called it Leckie‘s shtick. She does it well.

I liked this book and I would happily have read another few hundred pages of it. Leckie is pretty much an insta-buy for me now. I don‘t claim to fully understand what she writes, but the journey is fun and fascinating. ★★★★★

Audio: ★★★★★
Halfway through the book I jumped from the ebook to audio, which was finally available in my country shortly after the original publishing date, but too late for my impatient self. Adjoa Andoh narrated The Imperial Radch trilogy and narrates here again. Excellent! Makes me want to listen to more books read by Andoh.

Additional short story at the end, preview of the anthology HOW LONG 'TIL BLACK FUTURE MONTH by N. K. Jemisin: The Ones Who Stay and Fight, ~ 13 pages, ★★★
Not quite sure what to make of it. Might have to re-read it at some point.
Profile Image for Sarah.
606 reviews145 followers
March 9, 2019
I’m giving it three stars and splitting it down the middle because I didn’t really give it a fair shake. I skipped large chunks of this book.

Do you want to hear the story of a billion year old rock god that does nothing but sit on a hill and watch the world go by?

Well I sure didn’t.

There are two ways to get me to love a book.

1. Tell me a good story. Twists and turns, betrayals and deceptions, horror after horror. Tell me a good story. This is why I picked the book up. This is what I wanted.

2. If you aren’t going to give me a good story, you had better entertain me with some solid characters and funny banter.

If you can give me both- even better. I do on occasion like books with fantastical world building, or books that make me think, or books with a sweep me away romance, but if I picked the book up in the first place, it’s because I wanted one of the above.

The Raven Tower promises on the story and fails to deliver, and the characters were some of the worst I’ve read this year. No personality. No feeling between them. No connection to them. I mean- on the one hand they are flawed and feel human enough.. but just... ugh. Not even the villain here was evil enough to hate. At least make me hate that guy- make me eager for his demise, make me cheer him on to his death. It didn’t happen.

The interesting part of this book is the part that follows Mawat and Eolo. And there just wasn’t enough story there to support the book. I was skipping fifty page chunks to get past the rock god observing the way of humans and gods. Then I’d read a couple short chapters of the part I enjoyed and have to skip another fifty pages.

The ending felt rushed and abrupt. It all comes to this ecxiting climax in the Raven Tower and then it just ends. There’s no real conclusion. It doesn’t feel complete. It doesn’t even feel like an ambiguous open ending like those of VanderMeer and Erdrich. It’s like paying money to see a concert from your favorite band, impatiently watching a bunch of opening bands you’ve never heard of before, seeing your band come on stage, having them perform their most popular song ever, and walk off stage. Lights out. Go home. Nothing to see here folks. And you’re just sitting there stunned. Like, I paid money to see this?! And then you sit there for 20 minutes thinking it must be some sort of cruel joke. Until reality sets in and you leave with nothing but a bitter taste in your mouth.

Now- maybe I didn’t get it, because as I said, I skipped a lot. But I don’t feel like I didn’t get it. I don’t feel like I missed anything. Hell I wasn’t even confused. I’ve read other books in their entirety and been more confused.

I guess I should comment on the POV, because it seems to be a sticking point for some. The chapters of history are told in first person and the interesting chapters are told in second person. This doesn’t actually bother me. I’m totally fine with second person and actually enjoy it when it’s done right. I don’t think Leckie used it to her full advantage though. I would have preferred that Eolo had no name. I would have preferred that his gender and sex were never referred to. I think it would have been a really interesting way to make the whole book significantly more personal. If you want the reader to be the protagonist- let them really be the protagonist. It’s not as if Eolo has all that much personality, just make them a blank slate. Let the reader impress their own identity entirely upon the protagonist. I just felt that second person POV was wasted here.

I guess what’s most disappointing about it, is that I know Leckie is capable of better. I know she’s capable of fantastical world building with complex societal issues. I know she’s capable of building sprawling galaxies full of vibrant life and colors. The Raven Tower feels incredibly small and narrow in its views. One town. One Tower. One guesthouse. A handful of characters. Vague mentions of competing nearby people. One character from another society who’s purpose in the story is never really explained and whose culture is never really explored.

Again- I didn’t read many of the parts told by the god. So maybe my issues are unfounded and I’m just an impatient ignoramus.. but honestly I doubt it. I have an idea of what those passages were about and I still don’t care enough to go read them.

So take this review with a heavy grain of salt. I can admit when I’m being a jerk. But honestly I’m sending this back to the library today and I’ll be hesitant to pick up anything else set in this world in the future.
Profile Image for Holly (The GrimDragon).
985 reviews234 followers
February 19, 2019
"There will be a reckoning."

This.. is a DNF for me. I tried. I really did. I made it to page 137 and just.. I couldn't go on.

You know I believe in being completely honest in my reviews. Whelp.. The Raven Tower will probably tick the boxes for most people, but that just wasn't the case for me. At all. Clearly.

I was pleasantly surprised to have received this. When I first opened it up, I couldn't get over the gorgeous cover, the beautifully detailed pages in the front and the map. HELLO. What reader doesn't love a map?! I was especially intrigued because it features a transgender warrior and was supposed to be incredibly diverse and stabby (or so I thought..) But this wasn't successful for me, unfortunately. The writing just didn't capture me at all! The pacing was downright glacial. I am all about a slow burn.. but goddamn. There were some rad ideas, but the execution was not there.

This is probably the first Orbit book that I haven't liked. Ever. They are pushing this book hard with the marketing, as anyone on social media will know. Prior to having read it, I had seen nothing but praise. The hype is LOUD. That certainly didn't play into how I feel about it. I don't read reviews beforehand and I have a strong grasp on what I like and don't like whether it's popular or not. I was unsure of this one going into it, but like with any new book that I begin, I went into it with excitement and positivity. Because who goes into a book hoping they'll dislike it? Not me! I'm a passionate reader. It's a place for me to learn. To escape to. Reading is right up there with breathing for me. I'm not in it for the negative shit. Life is too short to spend time on books that you aren't digging. I have a lifetime of books I want to get to, so into my insanely small DNF pile this goes!

(Thanks to Orbit Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!)
Profile Image for Rachel (Kalanadi).
718 reviews1,396 followers
June 2, 2019
In this world, there are many gods, many with their own specialties. Gods can gain power from humans worshiping them and sacrificing to them. They can work out deals where gods use their power to "effect change" in a beneficial way for humans.

A really, really important point in this is that the gods can change reality by speaking it. So they have to be very careful about what they say and how they say it. Because if they literally state something IS when it actually isn't, their power will be used to make it so. A god who doesn't have enough power to "back up their words", so to speak, will be injured or will die.

So, at the heart of this story, the kingdom of Iraden has an agreement with the Raven - a god that likes to manifest physically in a raven. The ruler of Iraden is called the Raven's Lease. The Raven protects and strengthens Iraden, and in return, the king or Lease sacrifices himself at the death of the Raven's host bird. That sacrifice is incredibly potent and gives the Raven a lot of power.

For a couple hundred years, this agreement has made Iraden strong and benefited the Raven as well. But then, when this story starts, the whole deal is falling apart.

The current Raven's host dies. This signals that it's time for the Lease to die as well. The Lease's heir, a man named Mawat, rushes to the city, to the Raven's Tower, only to find that his father is missing... and isn't dead like he should be... and Mawat's uncle has taken on the role as the Raven's Lease. (Hey, sound familiar? It's kinda like Hamlet.)

Mawat is furious and shaken to hear his father branded a coward who ran away from his duty. And he's really upset that his uncle took his place and was accepted by the Raven as the Lease. Except...Mawat's still the heir. Technically, not much has changed for Mawat.

But... what really happened? There is definitely something wrong in Iraden; there's this unease about the situation that everyone feels. Is the Raven becoming impotent? Are the foreign Vastai people going to invade? Why are there these other foreigners in town? Did Mawat's father really run away from his sacrifice? Did his uncle genuinely fall into the Lease role because there was no other option, or did he maneuver his way into it?

What's the secret?

You may be thinking, oh, this story is from Mawat's perspective! (He's the "Hamlet"!) He's the one who's lost something, it's his family that's involved. But no. If you read the book's description, it actually mentions Eolo, a soldier and friend to Mawat who accompanies him to Iraden. Mawat gets mad, sulks in his rooms, then sits around naked and protesting in public about the injustice done to him. Eolo is the one who's actually going around, talking to people, asking questions, putting the pieces together.

So... is the story about Eolo? Is it from his perspective?

No, actually, not that either.

And this is what has really kept nagging at me since I read this book. Why was this story written in this way? It's a first-person narrative, addressed in second person to the listener.

(I respect Ann Leckie's storytelling and writing skills enough to assume that she chose a weird and unusual perspective for this book for a reason.)

The Raven Tower is actually narrated by a god. Which god I am not going to say, because it is really fun to figure out who the gods are, how they are interacting, and who the narrator actually is.

So, it's a god speaking as "I". But then there's another twist. The god is addressing everything they say to "you". "You" is Eolo. The narrating god is telling this story directly to Eolo... And in the process, the god gives its back story, mixed in with literally narrating what Eolo is doing through the god's reactions to Eolo's actions. If that makes sense. It's very roundabout.

The thing I could not shake is this sense that it's a little purposeless. I loved that it's in first person, because the revelation of who is speaking to you makes for a great dive into the existence of a god.

But why is it addressed to Eolo? Now, the god IS fascinated by Eolo, or rather, the god has a vested interest in what Eolo is DOING. Everyone in Iraden has for hundreds of years made a massive assumption about their deal with the Raven. Eolo may be the only one to uncover the secret... And the narrating god WANTS Eolo to do this.

Eolo is frankly an intriguing foreigner. He's clearly got an unusual background and he's trans. He asks intelligent, piercing, and investigative questions.

But the catch, as far as I can see it, is that: Eolo CANNOT hear the god. So, I am not sure I really like what this book is doing with second person. It would have been less convoluted if it had simply been a first person narration and left out speaking to "you" entirely. Nothing, in my opinion, would have been missing with that simplification.

The end result is that the perspective choices in this book really affect this story, in that it draws you into the themes about gods and power, the rules of reality, but at the same time, it vastly distances the reader from the characters, especially the character doing most of the acting. I felt like it prevented me from understanding what Eolo was doing. I only got to see him externally, through a strange distant lens.

I liked what I did know about the characters but was frustrated at the lack of depth and development. Even the narrating god has little development and little emotion. This is a story almost completely devoid of characterization. But I think that, given the way the story is put together, it is not about characters but about the worldbuilding, the power play, and the consequences...from the perspective of an incredibly inhuman and distant god. So... does it work? Yeah, kinda. But I can see why many people might find it unsatisfying.

I had so many interesting questions running through my head while reading this. Where does power come from? How does a human being know if a god is dead or alive? What is the "reckoning" that's promised at the beginning of the book? What do the gods get out of their deals?

There are some things in here that were just delicious to unpick and figure out. I loved that.

And then it .ends! We don't get to see any of the real human fallout. Because that really wasn't the point in the first place. But figuring out why the people aren't the point... well, the book's description implies a story about people, but what you actually get is a story about being a god.

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