“My name is Hadrian Blackwater.”
“Uh … what’s yours?”
“Leave me alone.”
Give me a strong duo any day. Give me two characters that play on each other’s strengths and weaknesses, that while the pair of them are lesser, together they will become unstoppable. This is hands down, one of my favorite tropes. In this world, there is even a word for this kind of partnership, a Riyria. And this is the idea of collaboration; this companionship and partnership is the foundation for Michael J. Sullivan’s The Crown Tower.
The Crown Tower is the first book of the Riyria Chronicles series. It is our first introduction to Hadrian Blackwater’s and Royce Melborn’s world. The Crown Tower is a book that helps lay the foundations of Royce and Hadrian’s legendary relationship. It is the origin story that helps fill in some of the gaps in the later novels.
“Hadrian reeked of death. It wasn’t the sort of stench others could smell or that water could wash, but it lingered on him like sweat-saturated pores after a long night of drinking.”
Much of this novel is told from the point of view of Hadrian. Hadrian is a wandering ex-soldier, war-torn, and tired. He seems so much older than his young years. Hadrian has seen so much death and destruction in his short life that he feels done with it all. Upon hearing about his father’s death, Hadrian decides to meet with his father’s friend Arcadius. Arcadius lets Hadrian know that he has to perform a task for him. This heist is epic. He needs to steal a book from a tower, and he needs to do it as the partner of Royce. Royce is a man who would kill you as soon as look at you. Where Hadrian is clumsy, Royce is stealthy. Where Hadrian is loud and boisterous, Royce is taciturn. They are entirely different and would not make great partners. Or at least, this is how it seems at first.
Although much of the novel is around Hadrian and Royce, we are also introduced to Gwen. Gwen might be one of the best female characters in fantasy that I have ever read. Gwen, a whore at a tavern, has been waiting for the last five years for a man bloody and broken to come walking into her life. As per her mother’s dying request, Gwen must wait. But as she waits, she starves or is used and beaten by the tavern owner. Her life is unsafe, and she needs to make a choice about her future.
“Holding the metal coins was like cupping summer or sunshine.”
What starts as a quest between to of the most unlikely people changes and develops across the novel’s span. This development is exciting for me as a reader, and I am in a unique position because the Riyria novels are utterly unknown to me. I have a blank slate when it comes to Hadrian and Royce. I know absolutely nothing about this world. However, I can tell you from a standing start that this is a fantastic story. Firstly, the world-building is stellar but does not overshadow the characters. You have a general sense of what things look like and how everything fits into the world’s pattern. The action is intense, especially the fight scenes. Hadrian is a weapons master, he carries three swords strapped to him, and it is exciting to see how fights play out. Royce is like a spider, stealthy and invisible till he strikes. Pretty much the opposite of Hadrian.
Secondly, the dialog makes this book. The bantering between Royce and Hadrian is funny.
“I’m not going to kill these people,” Hadrian said. “They’re nice people.”
“How do you know?”
“I talked to them.”
“You talked to me too.”
“You’re not nice people.”
“I know, I know, I have those wolf eyes that good old Sebastian warned you about. Remember him? The nice man who, along with his nice lady friend, was planning to slit your throat?”
“He was right about you at least.”
Thirdly, this story feels very solid. It feels like Sullivan is setting the stage for something grand to come next; everything reads purposefully. All the details are essential, and I know that they are building to something great.
“We’ve planted the seeds. All we can do now is wait and see what grows.”
As I said, I did not know this story until it was recommended to me by Justine from whispersandwonder.com. Someone I think has perfect taste in novels and has not led me wrong yet. And, let me tell you this was a fun story. I can tell it is going to fabulous as I keep reading the books. The Crown Tower is a heist buddy novel of epic proportions. I am hooked, and I can’t wait to read more.