At first glance, «The Obsidian Tower» has so many elements that I love in fantasy books, that’s why I was so surprised to find out that I didn’t like it. I was even more surprised when I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was wrong or what exactly I didn’t like.
So this review will be my attempt to discover what went wrong and hopefully give some meaningful feedback at the same time.
The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers.
Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall her: Ryx accidentally kills a visiting dignitary in self-defense, activating a mysterious magical artifact sealed in an ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle.
Ryx flees, seeking a solution to her deadly magic. She falls in with a group of unlikely magical experts investigating the disturbance in Vaskandar—and Ryx realizes that her family is in danger and her domain is at stake. She and her new colleagues must return to the family stronghold to take control of the artifact that everyone wants to claim—before it destroys the world.
Thank you Netgalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK – Orbit, for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way.
Melissa Caruso’s work has been on my radar ever since the release of «The Tethered Mage», the first book in Swords and Fire trilogy in 2017, mostly because of the beautiful yellow cover that was featured on a couple of my Instagram photos but also because of the interesting premises filled with political intrigue.
«The Obsidian Tower» is actually set in the same universe. I’m not sure if it spoils anything for the previous trilogy, at least I didn’t see anyone mention that it does, so I think you’re safe to start with either of the trilogies.
There were quite a lot of elements that I loved in this book, so let’s begin with them!
WHAT I LIKED:
1 – A vast, well fleshed out world that took a while to get accustomed to. There is also a handy map right at the beginning of the book to help you get yourself situated in this huge political conflict that is happening between different kingdoms and empires.
Just by reading the first couple of chapters, you could see how much work went into creating this whole new world from scratch. I couldn’t detect a resemblance to any other fantasy (or real) worlds I’ve read about before, which makes it even more incredible.
The names of places, titles, expressions that are particular to certain nations – all of these made it a very unique experience.
2 – Political intrigue that was exposed to its bone! One of the main plot “movers” was Ryx’s attempt of mediating peace between the two neighboring territories. Ryxander, as the Warden of Morgrain appointed by the Lady of Owls herself [Ryx’s grandmother], made it her goal to look after her people in any way she could. Since her “broken” magic didn’t allow her to perform the usual duties of a Warden, she had to learn how to be useful in other ways.
When Raverran and Alevar, the neighboring territories, were headed towards an open conflict because of a secluded island, she as the Warden of the land that lay between them decided to take this in her own hands and attempt negotiation of peace.
The events start exactly when the ambassador of the Shrike Lord of Alevar arrives to Morgrain.
3 – Besides the political intrigue, there was also a “magical” emergency that happened in the worst possible moment. When you’re hosting two representatives from ill-tempered territories, you’d love for everything to go as smoothly and as close to the original plan as possible. So of course, the magical emergency had to happen at the worst possible moment to give our main character even more things to worry about. 😀
This was done very well, and I loved to see how two different plot motivations intertwined and influenced one another.
4 – Magical emergency aside, I also really liked the magical system and the fact that Ryx was a “flawed” mage. That her magic was the completely opposite of her family’s. She took life instead of giving it, and had to carry this burden all of her life. The precautions that were taken to avoid Ryx taking someone’s life by accident, all her relationships with various family members, it all made perfect sense. And isn’t it the best feeling to read a book with the plot that is so flawlessly logical?
I’m a little bit sad now for DNFing the book because I didn’t get the answers to all of my questions that concern Ryx and her magic.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
It’s very difficult to explain what exactly didn’t work for me. There were so many great elements that I loved! So many characters that had great potential! (Ryx, Severin, the Rooks crew). So many unanswered questions that I want to learn answers to!
But apparently none of it was enough to keep me interested and captivating in the story. Reading this book was a chore. While it had many incredible concepts, I feel like the execution just wasn’t there. This time I won’t be blaming it on pandemic and reading slumps, as I really gave «The Obsidian Tower» a fair chance, but if even by 50% it wasn’t able to get me interested enough to continue then I made the right decision to DNF and move on to something else.
I even liked Melissa Caruso’s writing style! But the story felt too far away, the characters underdeveloped and nothing made me connect with them.
As bizarre as my experience with this book was, I’m still giving it 3 stars. I think it had some very interesting elements, the ideas were all there, it just needed a bit more work to really make the story or the main character stand out.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this book or on other Melissa Caruso’s books!