REVIEW SUMMARY: A well-written addition to an established series, The Crown Tower is a perfect example of a fantasy epic done right. An impressive outing for already beloved characters that does double duty as a warm introduction for readers unfamiliar with the author’s earlier works.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Outstanding prequel to an already outstanding fantasy series, this new adventure shows the auspicious beginnings of the partnership between Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn as they tackle their first assignment; steal a book from the highest tower in the land without killing each other first.
PROS: Incredible, fascinating characters; smart, well written dialog; superb world building.
CONS: A weak second act makes the story drag slightly in the middle.
BOTTOM LINE: A prequel that doesn’t disappoint or dilute the already-established series, it’s a delight to reconnect with these characters and discover their humble beginnings. It’s a worthy addition to the previously published adventures of Hadrian and Royce that will leave old and new fans alike craving more.
Michael J. Sullivan’s excellent Riyria Revelations was one of the most satisfying fantasy series I’ve ever read. The adventures of Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn unraveled during the course of six books (gathered into three omnibus collections) and ended so strongly that I actually gasped out loud on a packed bus full of people when I reached the last page. The series was exceptionally well written and contained complex characters who you couldn’t help but love and root for. While on the surface it may look like another entry into the already glutted “thieves and assassins” fantasy genre, the Riyria Revelations manages to stand apart thanks to Sullivan’s precise world building and the cast of characters he created. At its core, the Riyria Revelations are about the friendship between Hadrian and Royce and The Crown Tower shows us how it all began.
I’m generally wary of prequels since they can feel disingenuous or completely ruin beloved characters. Thankfully The Crown Tower avoids these pitfalls and is a genuinely solid part of the series. Hadrian and Royce don’t know each other yet but they’re brought together by a series of circumstances beyond their control (and a meddling professor) to pull off the heist of the century. Hadrian wants nothing to do with stealing and hates Royce with every atom of his being. Royce thinks Hadrian is idealistic and incompetent. Clearly they’re perfect for each other. Between bickering, fighting and a few disastrous set backs they begin to see how their fledgling partnership could actually work.
Hadrian is a career soldier and reluctant mercenary looking for meaning in his life. He receives word that his father has passed away and it spurs him into trying to get out of the rut he’s been trapped in. He’s noble, loyal and methodical without being boring or preachy. He’s very straightforward and believes in a more black and white version of right and wrong than Royce does. Where Hadrian is very open and slightly naïve, Royce is a cold-hearted assassin who would sooner slit your throat than talk to you. He’s also a skilled thief with deplorable people skills and often jokes he was raised by wolves. On the surface they seem like oil and water but they soon realize what they can do with their talents combined.
While part of The Crown Tower explores how Hadrian and Royce’s partnership is forged, the other half devotes itself to Gwen DeLancy, a woman who becomes very important as the story progresses. She’s a smart, spirited woman who leaves the brothel she’s worked in for many years to create a better life for herself and the other women who escaped with her. While Gwen is a fierce woman who lets nothing stand in her way, her sections began to drag a little and I found myself hoping for Royce and Hadrian when I turned to a new chapter. The heist itself is also a touch underwhelming but the ramifications from it are stunning and really make the book shine. I held my breath for whole chapters at a time while the characters scrambled, stumbled and tried to right the wrongs they had committed.
The Crown Tower moves quickly and every act of violence is balanced by humor and a generous heaping of snark. Despite being a prequel, the rules and laws of the world are explained clearly enough to keep anyone who hadn’t read the other six books from getting lost. The world of Elan and all its small towns and kingdoms are rendered in lush detail. None of the characters feel like stereotypical fantasy archetypes shoehorned into the story. Each person feels original and important. The dialog stands out as one of the best things about The Crown Tower and the series as a whole. It’s sharp, witty and often devastatingly funny.
While The Crown Tower is a prequel to a series that’s already finished it serves as a perfect gateway into the wonderful world Michael J. Sullivan has created. I would suggest picking up the three omnibus volumes that form the complete Riyria Revelations series, though The Crown Tower was designed to be enjoyed without them if you don’t. I strongly recommend them since they are one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading with one of the most satisfying endings.
If you like your fantasy novels to come complete with thrilling sword fighting, petty theft and fantastic story telling then Michael J. Sullivan’s The Crown Tower should be the next book on your list.