The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Hadrian Blackwater, a warrior with nothing to fight for, is paired with Royce Melborn, a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Hired by an old wizard, they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm’s most prized possessions. But it isn’t gold or jewels that the wizard is after, and if he can just keep them from killing each other, they just might succeed.”
My favorite characters are back! I fell in love with Royce and Hadrian way back when Theft of Swords first came out, and I’ve eagerly followed their adventures ever since. Interestingly, this is a prequel novel to the original series, detailing the adventure that saw the two teaming up. Sullivan says that you can start with this novel as an introduction to the world, and he’s right, but my own personal opinion is that you should read all the books in publication order. The experience will be that much richer.
My opinion aside, this novel would be a reasonable gateway drug to Sullivan’s particular style of literary crack. The only drawback would be that the warm friendship between Royce and Hadrian that’s so evident in the first series is still taking shape in this one. But, on their own, each character is interesting and has their own specific flaws and quirks that play off of the other’s personality. What’s also nice is that characters that were previously only seen in short glimpses get more page time here. Specifically, I was very happy to see more of Gwen, the brothel owner who carries a torch for Royce.
This has all the action and adventure that I’ve come to expect from Sullivan’s stories. From the quasi-murder-mystery that starts the novel going, to the epic theft from the Crown Tower, there’s plenty to keep you turning pages. The story also has the humor that I enjoyed so much from the previous books, much of it coming through the relationship between Royce and Hadrian regardless of the fact that they don’t know each other well here. Counterbalancing the funny parts are moments of seriousness that keep the novel from turning into a parody of the sword and sorcery genre.
It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what draws me to these books so strongly. The more that I think about it, the more I believe that it’s not any one element that works better than the others, but instead it’s that all of the elements mesh so well. The characters are likeable and fleshed out, the locations are vivid and memorable, the action is heart-pounding, and the story is filled with twists and turns aplenty. This is everything you want in a good fantasy novel.
This is one of those novels in which you can happily immerse yourself for hours at a time, and I highly recommend that you do so. The Crown Tower is a welcome addition to the tales of Royce and Hadrian, and I found it wonderful to revisit these characters who have come to feel like old friends.