The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark

(9.1/10) This continues to show off Spark’s poetic and gorgeous prose, which is like a fine wine mixed with barbed wire and rusty saws.

First off, I'd like to thank Hachette Audio, the author, Colin Mace, and Meriel Rosenkranz for an advanced listening copy (ALC) of The Tower of Living and Dying in exchange for an honest review. Receiving this ALC in no way influences my thoughts or opinions on the novel.

I can’t start off this review without stating a couple of truths:

The Court of Broken Knives (Empires of Dust #1) was one of the most underrated books of 2017 in my humble opinion. Had Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames not come out last year, it would’ve been my #1 read of 2017.

Colin Mace is quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators OF ALL TIME. Anything tied to his name, I must listen to. Simple as that. He does grimdark like no other and I'd highly suggest you check out this series, on top of Ed McDonald’s Raven’s Mark series and James Bennett’s Ben Garston novels if you enjoy audiobooks.

King Marith. Demon. Murderer. Death itself.
Queen Thalia. Former Priestess. Wife. Betrayer.

Both these characters come to embrace the power bestowed upon them and march to reclaim the throne they believe they are owed. Marith continues to gather followers in order to bulk up his ranks, killing any who do not worship at his feet. Thalia attempts to bring Marith to the light, believing there is still some good in him, but can slowly see the darkness quenching the light.

The city of Sorlost, once legendary, beautiful, and unconquered, a city where its inhabitants pissed gold and jewels, attempts to recover. Orhan leads the effort, but his past comes back to haunt him as his misdeeds have begun to spread like wildfire.

Spark has a unique voice, one that I believe is better listened to than being read. The pace at which her writing comes off of the pages can be a turn off to some but in my view, it adds greatly to the overall grittiness of the story she is portraying. The descriptive information dumps during battles, where certain words are often repeated two or more times, will hammer home the intensity of war, the gruesomeness of death, and the scene uncovered by the flames of dragon’s breath.

While not as hard-hitting as its predecessor, this follow-up continues to show off Spark’s poetic and gorgeous prose, which is like a fine wine mixed with barbed wire and rusty saws. It is a story in which I will continue to look back upon, even after its finale, because of the richness of spoken word is eludes. I always think that I have heard and seen it all, the ways in which a man can be killed and the act described, but then Spark will throw me a curveball.

I, for one, cannot wait until the next installment. 2018 is continuing the trend that started in 2017 with fantastic fantasy debuts by giving us exactly what we asked for in their sequels, and Orbit is leading the charge with gusto.

- David Walters 9.2 / 10

Anna Smith Spark captures the dark heart of grimdark fiction with her poetical prose in this fantastically violent sequel to The Court of Broken Knives.

The Tower of Living and Dying begins exactly where its predecessor left off: with blood and death in vast quantities. Marith has really come into his own; he harnesses some dark force that makes him an indestructible killing machine. Men, armies, dragons alike fall before his sword and his fury. When he wields his blade, he is like a painter with a brush: the battlefield is his canvass and he is ready to cover it in blood. He does not fight like a normal man but is driven by some maniacal savagery that pummels every foe he faces into the ground. Nothing can stop him, except, perhaps, himself. 

His biggest weakness is his mind. He is plagued by several mental health problems and he uses drugs to switch them off and keep his daemons at bay. For a long time, he has denied what he is. He has denied what he can do. He is now a King and he is ready to conquer the world. As a character, I find him fascinating to read about. In a weird way, I think he secretly wants to be good. He absolutely hates himself and everything he does. There are glimpses of humanity in him, but they are overshadowed by this dark force that drives him. As the series goes on, more about his history is revealed and it becomes easier to understand why he is like he is. There are still a few questions to be answered though. 

Like all second books in a trilogy, this one is a vessel to reach the third. There’s a lot of set up here. Marith has strong ambitions and there isn’t really anyone who can oppose him. He is unmatched and his only equal is the one he loves most in the world: his queen. She is shocked by his behaviour too, though her history is just as bloody and violent as his. The love he bares her is one of his only redeeming features, and it has grown across books. It has an obsessive, possessive and unhealthy quality to it. And, I must say, I don’t think it will end well. It’s a dangerous relationship. It will end with blood, I think. 

So, this is another strong book in a very strong series. The plot and characters have developed tremendously, and Anna Smith Spark has retained her sharp edge when writing combat scenes. It’s a pleasure to read, and in my opinion one of the best trilogies released in recent years. The House of Sacrifice looks like it’s going to be quite explosive. 

I’m very excited to see how this will end. For now though this is a solid 9.0 /10.

- Sean Barrs

Reviews by and Sean Barrs


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All reviews for Anna Smith Spark's Empires of Dust series

The Court of Broken Knives

Empires of Dust #1 written by Anna Smith Spark

They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we pi [...]

Published: 2017

Our rating: 8.9 | positive reader reviews


The Tower of Living and Dying

Empires of Dust #2 written by Anna Smith Spark

A powerhouse story of bloodshed, ambition, and fate, The Tower of Living and Dying is a continuation of Anna Smith Spark's brilliant Empires of Dust trilogy, [...]

Published: 2018

Our rating: 9.1 | positive reader reviews


The House of Sacrifice

Empires of Dust #3 written by Anna Smith Spark

A powerhouse grimdark fantasy of bloodshed, ambition, and fate, The House of Sacrifice is the thunderous conclusion to Anna Smith Spark's Empires of Dust trilogy, which [...]

Published: 2019

Our rating: 9.3 | positive reader reviews


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