THE CROWN TOWER by Michael J. Sullivan

THE CROWN TOWER marked my introduction to Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn, as I have not yet read the Riyria Revelations and instead began with the Riyria Chronicles so I could read them in chronological order.

Lately, my reading habits have leaned toward urban fantasy, something slightly different from the epic fantasy I grew up reading. THE CROWN TOWER is definitely a return to more traditional fantasy, with our protagonist traveling from city to city and occasionally laying waste to random ruffians. And while I’ve discovered I’m far more likely to give up on a book if it feels like things I’ve read a hundred times over, Sullivan did a good job of making the world feel familiar without hitting the same plot and character points I’ve seen repeated over and over.

As I said, I haven’t read the Riyria Revelations yet, so I’m sure there were plenty of interesting nuggets here that I simply missed, and I feel as though I probably would have liked it more if I’d already gotten to know the characters. This was written as a sort of origin story for the two main characters, but I don’t know that the plot was ultimately very satisfying without knowing what it’s setting up.

Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable read, and I’m confident that the Riyria Revelations, which I’ve heard good things about, are stronger in their plotting and have more at stake than this particular tale. At the end of the day, I think I’d recommend that people begin with the Riyria Revelations, then move onto this story for any back story they want. Of course, even as I say that, this book must have been successful as an introduction because I certainly plan to buy Sullivan’s other books to see where the story ultimately goes.

FADE TO BLACK by Francis Knight

FADE TO BLACK was a strong debut novel for Francis Knight, relying on strong world-building, brisk plotting and a strong supporting cast of secondary characters to overcome my general indifference toward the protagonist.

I like the city Knight has created, where society has been forced to build upward and the rich literally live above the poor, getting the sunlight and eating rare delicacies such as meat. The people below live in poverty, literally toxic conditions that allow for little — if any — social mobility.

Rojan Dijon, a bounty hunter / missing persons finder, is our gateway to this world and we’re immediately introduced to him as he chases down a resourceful teenage runaway. The introduction of pain magic drew my interest quickly — like the best magic systems, its rules seem to keep its users in check while offering the opportunity for different ideas an story-telling avenues. I was also intrigued by Lise the runaway, an interesting character I kept waiting to see return to the flow of the story.

Knight does a great job of developing characters — Jake, Pasha, Dwarf, Lise, even Dog — the “secondary” characters leap off the page while Rojan seemed just a bit off to me. He makes numerous mentions of what a womanizer he is and how many women he’s always toying with, but we never actually see him womanizing or being all that smooth. Rather than thinking to myself, “Man, this guy’s a player,” I found myself thinking that this guy talks about how awesome he is with women way too much. He seemed to be in a middle ground — he wasn’t especially good or bad, he was just an average sort, but I got the feeling Knight intended him to be more than a mere “everyman” type.

I hope Knight figures his character out a bit more as the series continues. She’s shown the ability to develop fully fleshed-out, interesting characters around Rojan, so much so that I’m actually looking forward to the next book so I can read more about them.

There’s definitely a lot of potential to this series, and I’m looking forward to reading more, especially as it seems that Knight has a plan for the series, and this was merely an introductory chapter to a longer and more complex tale.