A masterpiece of character driven fantasy
With this novel, Melissa Caruso solidifies herself as one of my favorite authors. The Obsidian Tower is a masterpiece of character driven fantasy. Set in the same world - but in a different time period than her Swords and Fire series, this story contains all the things we’ve come to love about Caruso’s writing. There are tense political machinations and negotiations. There is witty dialog. There’s magic! And, of course, a touch of romance. Couple all of this with a diverse cast of characters and you have a recipe for a magnificent fantasy novel.
It is difficult to know where to begin praising The Obsidian Tower. The story is set in Vaskandar, the erstwhile enemy of the Raverran Empire (her Swords and Fire series dealt with a different time period in the world from the Raverran perspective). The world building that Caruso does continues to be incredibly deep. But she communicates it with a light touch. The novel never lowers itself to info dumps or paragraphs of exposition. One part of the world building that continues to stand out above the rest is the political side of the world. Vaskandar is made up of a number of independent nations, each ruled by a Witch Lord. Witch Lords are incredibly powerful mages who have a connection to every living thing in their domain. This means that Ryx, our main character, who is trying to negotiate a settlement between one Witch Lord and the Raverran Empire, must do so while navigating not only the enmity between the two sides, but various other factions within her grandmother's domain as well as other Witch Lords. This alone would make for an entertaining read, but the situation is further complicated by Ryx’s charge as Warden of Gloamingard castle, wherein resides a sealed tower that hides a dark secret. Somehow Caruso keeps the reveals coming throughout the novel and each of the political factions feels important and like they are given their due in the story. The novel never feels bloated, however. I think what truly makes all of this work are the superb characters. Ryx is broken, but in ways that she has learned to accept and cope with in beautiful ways and she continues to learn about herself throughout the novel. Every single side character is beautifully written and feels real. Too often side characters can feel like exactly that, but in Caruso’s novel they feel like actual people with their own stories. There is also wonderful diversity amongst the cast, particularly as it regards sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression. These characters each play an integral role in a plot that is excellently paced and grips you from the very beginning.
There is almost nothing I disliked about this novel. I tend to like harder magic systems, and in this world Caruso has crafted a softer magic system. But I barely even noticed, to be frank, because everything else about the story works so well. I can heartily recommend this novel even to folks who might normally prefer harder magic systems.
I was enthralled from the first page. Caruso's unique and captivating mixture of excellent characters you instantly root for, mysterious and powerful magic, and deep world building were all in evidence from the opening moments of the story. The Obsidian Trilogy is excellently written. Read it.
Review by Calvin Park
9.5/10 from 1 reviews
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