With Tower and Turrets, Crowned by Charles J Schneider

7/10 An admirable entry into the high fantasy genre.

Rhian MacDomhnuill is a powerful Gaelic warlord who falls in love with Gwyneth, a beautiful and sultry peasant maiden. Rather than marrying Gwyneth, Rhian is sadly coerced into a politically expedient union instead—with Sif, an Icelandic princess who, unbeknown to Rhian, has a dark and evil soul. Gwyneth, whose heart is broken, finds a way to reunite with Rhian as a servant in his castle. When Sif learns of her husband’s rekindled passion with his former lover, she becomes intent on revenge; and her malice takes a form that is not only unexpected, but also unnatural and terrifying.

This novella is, at its heart, a strong outing by author Charles J. Schneider. On its face, the story line of With Tower and Turrets, Crowned may seem derivative of a number of high fantasy novels; Our protagonist, a Scottish nobleman named Rhian, is forced into an ill-fated marriage to a dubious character by the name of Sif, and he is made all the more wretched by the fact that he loves a simple and caring farmer’s daughter that he cannot have, as she isn’t befitting his class.

The tale of the strong, silent nobleman forced to choose duty over love is nothing new, nor does Schneider take the trope into any particularly edgy territory, although he does inject life into the storyline through some good characterization. The character of Sif, in particular, is well done, and the side characters are well placed and adeptly reflect back upon the characterizations of the main players. Furthermore, Schneider’s descriptions of the magical parts of the novella are handled well.

The biggest pitfall of the story is that the motivations of the characters are either extremely straightforward (as in the case of the protagonists) or oddly murky (as in the case of Sif or the Coven). The subtle nuances that make us second guess characters or motivations are slightly lacking here, and in some cases I felt the author relied on the reader simply to take the good guys as good and the bad guys as bad, and that was that.

The novella’s best strength is its setting and sense of place. The real time action takes place in the span of a single night, and all within in the turrets and chambers of a castle tower. The rest is told in flashbacks. This may sound confusing, but the author handles the displacement well and the story is better for it. Also, the setting is made palpable by adept use of medieval Scottish terms and settings as well as some strong descriptions, and this does help distinguish the tale.

With Tower and Turrets, Crowned is an admirable entry into the high fantasy genre, and although it sometimes lacks polish, this story of fated love in the Scottish Isles is one worth reading.

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