The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Book of the Month
There has probably been no author to have such a dramatic impact on the world of Science Fiction & Fantasy in the last decade as that made by Ann Leckie, whose debut novel Ancillary Justice walked away with every major genre award available to her. We would probably need to look at the debuts of authors such as Brandon Sanderson and N.K. Jemisin for a comparison, but I would argue that neither has achieved the meteoric rise and success so quickly out of the gate that Ann Leckie has achieved.
So, it should be of little surprise that, when I found out Leckie was writing a fantasy novel, I jumped at the opportunity to read it.
Truth be told, however, that when I first opened the cover of The Raven Tower, I quickly slammed it shut, frustrated at yet another attempt to subvert expectations by changing the way in which authors tell stories. I dropped it on my distressingly unstable To Read pile and read The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm by Christopher Paolini.
It wasn’t long, however, until I returned to The Raven Tower in a better frame of mind and, after sticking with the book for longer than a half-dozen frustrated heartbeats, I was immediately hooked.
Yes, Ann Leckie again plays with the contours of narrative delivery: The book is written in the storytelling mode of an omniscient first-person witness which, when I saw the opening page, I thought would be a hindrance, but which quickly proved to be one of the keystones of this story. The protagonist’s name is Eolo – although I would argue that Eolo is not the main character of this book, a role I would give to the aforementioned omniscient first-person witness narrator who is, in actual fact, a giant rock and a god.
Much of the praise that is heaped upon this book and splashed across the back cover seems to me to be written by fantasy authors who had not read Leckie’s original Imperial Radch trilogy. The Raven Tower is, in reality, very similar to that series: It plays with the author’s favourite toys, such as godhood, perspective, gender, and societal roles. If this book is the first time you read Ann Leckie you might mistake it for ground-breaking – having already missed her ground-breaking arrival.
That being said, that the author relies upon her preferred tropes, styles, and issues, this in no way takes away from the grandeur which is The Raven Tower. I find it hard to believe that a better book will be published in 2019, and I humbly suggest that this will go down as one of the top 5 books of this decade. Leckie is a force not only to be reckoned with, but one to be humbled by. Minor issues – such as the obvious mimicry of Bilbo Baggins finding the Ring of Power in The Hobbit and Frodo Baggins escaping from Boromir using the same Ring in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – are inconsequential in the face of what is a literary tour de force. Leckie has it within her abilities to crush any self-proclaimed literary critic willing to look down upon the Science Fiction & Fantasy genre – and has, I believe, already done so.
The value of The Raven Tower is found not only in the manner the author writes – in both subverting literary convention while simultaneously portraying a non-judgemental, non-obtuse lesson in societal politics – but in the story told. Eolo is quite simply a fantastic character, and the events faced, decisions made, and emotions experienced help bring the reader into the page in a way very few authors are capable of doing.
The foundation of this story, however – not to mention the greater world, which I believe Leckie has written in further in some of her short stories (found here) – is the mythological and magical aspects bundled up in the god’s who inhabit this universe. Leckie is saluted on the back cover for aping “Sanderson’s clever magic” but, honestly, I see this as a disservice to both authors. Leckie writes as she wills, and her magic and mythology bear little resemblance to Sanderson – if only in its consistency and thoroughness. The final twists and turns realign much of what we have read and turns potential future stories on their heads.
Leckie tackles deep issues with a subtlety which is admirable for not being overly preachy, and sublime for being so beautifully written. Issues of gender and identity, personhood and godhood, are addressed with such nuance that you often miss it on a first read.
The Raven Tower is a magisterial tour de force of subverted narrative expectations that wrestles with what it means to find identity as a human, and as a god. Unlike anything being written, Ann Leckie will likely be remembered as a literary pioneer, and not as similar to someone else. A masterpiece of storytelling that leaves a willing reader humbled, The Raven Tower is quite simply the best book of the year – mighty, subtle, captivating, unputdownable.
This The Raven Tower book review was written by Joshua S Hill
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