Michael J. Sullivan’s books are a strange sort of success. His characters are very troubled, and on occasion very dark. Royce, particularly, seems almost a hopeless case by the start of this novel. But as a team, Royce and Hadrian become more than the sum of their parts, and so too they push the book affectionately along to a place where you end up loving it more than you realized you probably should have. This notion, of a book being altogether better than it actually is because you learn to love and enjoy the character dynamics and relationships, is served best in The Crown Tower. As it’s the first in a potential 6-book prequel saga to the original Riyria Revelations series, this makes sense.
One of MJS’s best qualities as a writer, seems to also be one of his biggest issues when reading his books individually. He, in miraculous fashion, wrote all 6 of the Riyria Revelations books before publishing any. This takes incredible determination. And patience. But, although the books can be read as one-off adventures, they sometimes feel like large pieces to a jigsaw puzzle you haven’t seen the actual cover of before beginning. It was only until the very last book in which you get any serious ‘revelations.’
As this is the first prequel story, and origin of Riyria if you will, the actual tale told is very odd. Not much actually gets done that would generally make for an excellent fantasy read. Sure there are battles fought, and feats of strength attempted. But the book is actually about a feat of strength, and then repeating that feat with a different variable thrown into the mix.
It’s an interesting route to take and, within the confines of this singular novel, makes little sense. Although this is as good a jumping on point to the series as the first Riyria book was, I would suggest you start with Riyria Revelations before Riyria Chronicles (the prequel books). As an older reader of the series, I will say that I enjoyed its odd structure far better because I understood where the plot was headed, and why this quest was so essential to the overall story. But for new readers, this does work as an entry point – just be wary it may seem a bit strange without the foreknowledge that Revelations delivers.
Although the Riyria books are no stranger to multiple POV characters, I really loved the addition of Gwen as a focal point for this novel. Half the book chronicles her journey and how she essentially, potentially, saves the lives of a handful of whores treated poorly, and how she started up her own business. Eventually this would bring the Riyria duo and her (a very pivotal character in later books) together. Gwen, for me, never really clicked as a character in the Riyria Revelations, despite her huge role. With the Crown Tower she’s been bumped up a tier and is now one of my favorite characters.
Among some of Sullivan’s best writing contributions to the genre are his ability to make cities and towns feel truly alive; believable. He just makes them breathe in a way many writers simply cannot. Also his ability to make you like characters that, in the hands of other writers, would be very dislikable is something truly extraordinary. I love Royce and Hadrian. And they’re thieving murderers!
As a proper origin story, The Crown Tower really does an excellent job of bringing both Royce and Hadrian’s characters together. Realistically the two would never get along (and for much of the novel they truly hate each other), so it was imperative they were brought together in… such a fashion as they were. I won’t say more in an effort not to ruin the plot. This is a very very fun read, and I can’t wait to dive into the next one.