I wasn’t disappointed. I loved Ryx’s character and not because she was a badass, aggressive, and strong female protagonist as seems to be common in a lot of the fantasy I’ve read recently. No, she was quiet and strong. She takes her responsibilities as Warden of Gloamingard Castle seriously, and has worked hard to be a guardian of her realm despite the danger she poses to everyone within it. While her family protects and nurtures their land through the use of their life magic, she does so through diplomacy. Even more than this, she’s committed to the safeguarding of a mysterious magical artifact within her castle, one that has been guarded by her family for centuries at the behest of a rhyme they all know by heart:
“Guard the tower, ward the stone
Find your answers writ in bone
Keep your trust through wits or war:
Nothing must unseal the Door.”
Unfortunately, a visiting dignitary seeks the power she believes the stone holds. The door is opened, the dignitary dies, and Ryx has to work harder than ever to keep her ward safe from forces within and without. Her power is not a boon to her in this but a burden.
This novel reminds me in some ways of The Goblin Emperor, which I recently read. It’s not quite as wholesome but has the same focus on political affairs. The majority of the book takes place within Gloamingard with Ryx trying to stave off war through diplomacy, all the while searching for answers about the stone. It is also reminiscent of a closed circle mystery; the present dignitaries have to decide who is a danger, and everyone is a suspect. Together these aspects weaved a plot that I enjoyed, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting coming into this book. This isn’t an action-packed read, but it is filled with suspense and, I’m happy to say, a plot twist or two that I didn’t expect.
This is Caruso's second trilogy set in this world, and it shows in her the worldbuilding, especially the in-depth history of the world that is gradually revealed throughout the novel. The magic of each mage family of Vaskandar is tied to their land such that they can manipulate the plants and animals, but in Raverran the mages do not rule because the Empire has found a way to hold their magic in check. The inherent and realistic power difference between those who possess magic and those who do not is explored through Ryx’s diplomacy and her more personal relationships.
Speaking of which, I loved the focus on platonic relationships in this novel and that relationships (platonic and otherwise) grew slowly and organically. As someone who has never been able to touch another human without fear, Ryx is very lonely and places a high value on friendship. One of Ryx’s only friendships at the beginning of the book is with her grandmother, which was lovely. We need more older characters portrayed in fiction! (Even if they are immortal.) Finally, I have to mention the very welcome bisexual representation in Ryx along with lesbian and nonbinary representation in other characters. Oh, and I was so happy that Ryx is that rare breed of female character who can recognize her attraction to someone without letting it cloud her judgement!
The Obsidian Tower was a 5 star read for me. I think Caruso did a great job of avoiding many tropes of convenience, and for this reason the story felt more deep-seated than many others I’ve read. It focuses on the consequences of a few significant actions and a truth that is too big to hide instead of focusing on action and letting the consequences fall to the wayside or the Epilogue. This won’t be a narrative everyone will enjoy, but for me it was refreshing. The novel was published today (June 2nd), so if it sounds interesting, go ahead and check it out!
Many thanks to Orbit and Netgalley for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.