Book: “The Obsidian Tower” by Melissa Caruso
Publishing Info: June 2020, Orbit
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: 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.
Review: I really loved Melissa Caruso’s original trilogy, rating and reviewing them all pretty highly. So I was excited to see that she was coming out with a new series so quickly, and one that is set in the same world, no less! Vaskandar and its very different society and approach to magic was one of the more intriguing aspects of the original series, so I was particularly interested to see how that would work in this new story. While I wasn’t quite as blown away as I was with the first book in her other trilogy, overall, I still very much enjoyed this one.
While Ryx’s life has never been ordinary (her broken magic that kills anything she touches has prevented that), she has managed to make a place for herself in her powerful grandmother’s land. She not only manages the large familial estate that houses an ancient secret, but she’s become adept at political maneuvering and negotiation. These skills become all the more important when things go deadly wrong the eve before important negotiations between Vaskandar and Ravera. But they won’t be enough to combat the ancient evil that has been unleashed, forcing Ryx to turn to a society made up of magical experts in whose hands might rest the future of both nations.
As I said, I was really interested in checking out this book when I learned it was set in Vaskadar. That country had played a fairly large role as the villains in the previous series, and their approach to magic, culture, and societal structure differed greatly from Ravera. Ryx is an interesting entry point into this world. She is born into a powerfully magical family and does have the important ring in her eyes that designates her as a magic user, a marker that distinguishes her as someone important. However, her experience with magic has been the opposite of that of most everyone else’s. Instead of opening doors and leading to a life of power and influence, her magic has done nothing but close them. With anything she touches dying on contact, the only life she can make for herself is one that is strictly guided by distancing rules and made up of people who know to keep their distance. Where in the previous book, we saw mages struggle against the restrictions that wearing a jess (a magical tool that contains a magic user’s power) brought on, Ryx has always longed for the freedom that one would grant her.
Her story throughout this book was very compelling, learning more about her own magic and the unexpected roles she can play in a world that she had thought off limits to her. We see a character who has never felt like she belonged in her powerful family, but whose very identity is caught up in the guardianship of the land and people that family holds dear. She’s a novice at forming relationships with new people, and we see her struggle to learn how to have friends and, maybe, even romantic relationships.
I also liked the greater exploration of Vaskandar and the rules and cultural norms that were so different than what we saw of Ravera in the previous series. The power structure is built into every aspect of Vaskandar society, and we see both the strengths this gives their society as well as the weaknesses it opens up. Because their power and long lives are connected to the land, Vaskandar has an uneasy relationship with borders, and it’s easy to see why tensions have historically been high with its neighbor nations. But here, the book veers off the expected course, and we see a new enemy arise. This was a nice switch from the Vaskandar vs. Ravera tensions from the first series which would have felt like a retread had it been repeated here.
I did struggle with the pacing of the story. Thinking back over it, while there are definitely tense moments, action-packed scenes, and a nice climax at the end of the book, while reading it, I felt like it was moving very slowly. The first half in particular seemed to really strain to get going. Some aspects of the story felt rushed (the building of character relationships, for example), but many of the actual plot points were talked about quite a lot before they actually happened. I think it could have been edited down and streamlined a bit.
But, like I said, other bits felt rushed. Ryx seems to meet the members of this magical society, and then in a hot minute become instant friends with them all and implicitly trust them. She shares crucial information with them and seems to be immediately accepted on the same level. I get that her joining up with these folks was a large point of the book and the series as a whole, but it kind of felt like the author was in such a rush to get to that, that she just skipped the natural build that is needed in developing these types of relationships. I had similar problems with the romance which seemed to kind of come out of nowhere. Ultimately, I was able to get on board with it, but it was a bit jarring.
While not the perfect start to a new series, this book definitely set the stage for what could be an excellent series. Ryx is a great main character, and the author has expanded the world-building out quite a bit with the introduction of the new evil force they will be working against. I found some of the twists and turns slightly predictable, and the pacing felt off at times. But I think if you enjoyed the author’s first series, this one is well worth checking out as well!
Also, don’t forget to enter our giveaway to win a ARC version of “The Obsidian Tower!”
Rating 8: Not without flaws, but a solid start to what promises to be an interesting new series!
“The Obsidian Tower” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “2020 Queer Sci-Fi Fantasy.”
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