Marith has been a sellsword, a prince, a murderer, a demon, and dead. But something keeps bringing him back to life, and now there is nothing stopping him from taking back the throne that is rightfully his.
Thalia, the former high priestess, remains Marith’s only tenuous grasp to whatever goodness he has left. His left hand and his last source of light, Thalia still believes that the power that lies within him can be used for better ends. But as more forces gather beneath Marith’s banner, she can feel her influence slipping.
When I read The Court of Broken Knives earlier this year, I was blown away by the strength of Anna Smith Spark’s voice. She manages to convey emotion in a way that very few authors can. Her writing style is different from the usual fantasy fare. It’s raw. Visceral. Sometimes angry, sometimes melancholic. It doesn’t feel like you’re reading a story so much as someone is telling you a story.
The Tower of Living and Dying is a continuation of the first book in many ways. It has that same engrossing and infectious writing style, much of the same point-of-view cast, and the story picks up where the last book left off. And yet it isn’t just “more of the same”.
While some authors have to slow the action down to get to the character work, Spark does the opposite. There’s more character exploration (and on a deeper level)… but there are crazy, world-changing events in the background. This makes for a very interesting dynamic. The characters’ lives are changing. The world is falling to pieces around them. But this change isn’t the real focus of this story. Instead, the focus is on how the characters react to that change.
They begin to question themselves. To think more critically. They aren’t so sure of their place in this new world. They aren’t sure what their world will become. Their vulnerabilities are laid bare, and this makes for some very compelling character work.
Like in the last book, Marith is the catalyst for a lot of what happens in The Tower of Living and Dying. But while he has a lot more agency this time around, it can sometimes feel like he is walking on a path that has been laid for him. I didn’t find him quite as captivating as I have in the past, and I found his chapters to feel a little linear, but even so, he is a fascinating character. The concept of a narcissist which the world really does seem to revolve around is intriguing, and the exploration of the disconnect between Marith-in-public and Marith-in-private makes for some very thought-provoking reading.
But while the world may seem to revolve around Marith, it was the other characters who really caught my eye. Tobias, Orhan, and especially Thalia all get their chance to shine, and their development over the course of the novel is a pleasure to read. Thalia’s progression from the obedient and submissive priestess of the first book to the person she is now shows signs of becoming one of my favourite character arcs in fantasy.
There are some new, though familiar, point-of-view characters who add their own flavour to the story, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, you’ll need to discover those for yourself.
We see a lot more of the world than we did in The Court of Broken Knives. We still spend some time in Sorlost — that wonderful place which is one part “City of Gold” and one part “pus-filled pimple on the arse of the continent” — but we also visit some of the more interesting-looking places on the very pretty map of Irlast.
It’s like a grimdark travel diary. Travel the world! Visit interesting places! Meet interesting people!
Then dispose of them.
Really though, this book seems to have everything. There’s dragons, there’s monsters, there’s gods, and there’s killing. Lots of killing. Death! Death! Death!
To conclude: This is an excellent novel by an excellent author in an excellent series. It is a fantastic sequel in all senses of the word. If you were a fan of The Court of Broken Knives, then you owe it to yourself to read this. This is a trilogy which every grimdark reader should have on their bookshelf.
Note: This is the first review of a two-part series which we’ll be doing on The Tower of Living and Dying. The second review will be posted by my co-blogger, Kopratic, shortly after release. If you haven’t read our double-review on The Court of Broken Knives, you can find that here.
I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. A huge thank to both Anna and Harper for the review copy.