This is, without any doubt, the most interesting book narrated by a rock I’ve ever read.
The Raven Tower is a story about political intrigue in a coastal city, but unlike most books about political intrigue, it’s narrated in second person by a god who resides inside a rock to the main character, Eolo.
It’s interesting not only because the narrator is a god and this book explores the meaning of godhood and the relationships between gods and humans, and not only because the main character Eolo is a trans man in a world that, while not perfectly queer-accepting, is portrayed as having a normal amount of queer people, unlike most vaguely medieval-like fantasy.
It’s interesting because, seeing who the narrator is, we see this world’s prehistory, its versions of Eurypterids and its Carboniferous, which was fascinating, and maybe even the most interesting part of the novel (which sounds negative, and it would be, if it weren’t for the fact that I love everything about pre-human history. I have Priorities, ok?)
But the main reason this book stood out to me was that, because it’s told in a dual timeline, it’s as much a story about a power struggle between gods as it is a story about a power struggle between humans, and the similarities and differences between those two storylines were what kept me going when the casual queerness, the prehistory aspect, and the minor autistic-coded character (I loved her) weren’t enough.
And they often weren’t. This book is boring. The reason for that is a combination of excruciatingly slow pacing, lack of meaningful, developed relationships between characters, and of a narration that keeps you at arm’s length from most of them.
When I say “lack of meaningful relationships” I mean that in theory I should have felt something about Eolo and Mawat’s friendship built on unequal footing and the mixed feelings it brings Eolo, or about Eolo and Tikaz, who were probably meant to be some kind of romance, but I didn’t, and as usual, I find Leckie’s just-outlined almost-romantic subplots really lackluster.
I kept thinking about how effortlessly compelling Ancillary Justice was, despite the fact that its worldbuilding was far more complicated than this, and about how The Raven Tower was many things but it wasn’t compelling and didn’t feel effortless – and all I can say is that Ann Leckie can do better.
As this novel is inspired by Hamlet, I feel like someone who knows more than I do about it (read: knows anything at all) will probably get more out of this. The Raven Tower is a story about the characters’ inability to communicate, and the dangers of hubris, that much I got, but I feel like if I had known Shakespeare I would have more to say, but I don’t. As usual.
[As usual, I’m annoyed by English-centrist assumptions and what is considered universal knowledge, but they’re not this book’s fault.]
To end on a positive note, I can tell you that I really did like the ending, and that I definitely want to see what Leckie will write next.
My rating: ★★★½