The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark


The Plot

“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.

Read the second book in this “gritty and glorious!” (Miles Cameron) epic fantasy series reminiscent of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence where the exiled son of a king fights to reclaim his throne no matter the cost.”

My Thoughts

Well, there’s no point mincing words about it. The Tower of Living and Dying is my favorite book of the year so far. It is one of the most masterful, rich, compelling and pitch-perfect second books that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The Court of Broken Knives was one of the most criminally underrated books of 2017, with its incredibly bold and evocative prose, compelling characters and deliciously dark worldbuilding. Second entries are notoriously tricky affairs – usually they’re setting up their chess pieces for the third entry, and they often suffer for it. Yet for me, The Tower of Living and Dying surpasses its predecessor in every possible respect. I didn’t see that coming.

I mentioned in my review of book one that on the surface it felt like a series of somewhat random events taking place with us along for the ride, which all came together cleverly towards the end of the novel. Here, there is a strong feeling of momentum, and clear goals for our characters. It begins by dealing with the fallout from the end of the previous entry – Marith is now king, and he is drawing followers to him who are caught up in religious fervor. He is Amrath returned, demon-born, king of death. Thalia is his queen, and her naive love has developed into something far more interesting over time. She both loves and resents Marith, sees herself reflected in him somewhat, and recognizes what he’s capable of. Her influence over him waxes and wanes, and she begins to understand just how dangerous he truly is. Not content with merely ruling the White Isles, he sets out on a murderous campaign to conquer all of Irlast with Thalia at his side. She is conflicted, to say the least.

Meanwhile in Sorlost, Orhan is scrambling to cover his ass. He’s barely managed to save face after his failed coup, and rumors are beginning to reach the city of Marith and Thalia’s survival. Cracks are beginning to show in his relationship with Darath, and his sham marriage with Bil is increasingly strained. On top of all this, the people are starting to turn on him. There are several other PoV characters, and I think the most interesting are those of Landra and Tobias. They are both reduced to little more than peasants, and for Landra in particular this is quite an adjustment. Her perspective is heartbreaking and I began to feel a real sense of pity for her. We’re also treated to a new PoV that I very much enjoyed, and a mysterious character who is more than she appears to be.

The worldbuilding is spectacular – given a little breathing room, Spark shows us what she’s really capable of. We see many new locations, cultures and landscapes. The fantasy elements of the novel are ever present this time – we have seen dragons, but now we see underutilized fantasy creatures that add atmosphere and intrigue. Selkies, gods, demons, all manner of interesting and terrifying creatures inhabit the world and are making themselves known. The prose is every bit as visceral and emotional as in the previous entry, and we’re given a good long look at the response of the ordinary people to the events taking place around them. In some ways the book is a character study – it explores the idea of narcissism, but what if the narcissist truly is everything he believes himself to be? What if someone could stop a destructive god, but chose not to? What if someone set out on a quest of vengeance and then began to question themselves? What if an all-powerful being of light and hope could be struck down with a single blow? What if there really was no hope? It’s heavy stuff, but it’s paced beautifully and ramps up to an exciting and devastating conclusion. Book 3 is at the very top of my wish list.

Score: 9.4/10

My thanks to Anna and HarperVoyager for the ARC of The Tower of Living and Dying.

Bingo Squares 2018

  • Reviewed on r/Fantasy
  • Published 2018
  • Features a Mountain Setting
  • Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings
  • Features a God as a Character
  • LGBTQ+

The Cocktail


Nane Elenaneikth (Joy to Him)

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