The world is at breaking point. The nothing, a terrible darkness caused by the festering wounds of a god, bleeds out the very essence of all, of stone, silk – and souls. Emperor Sarmin thought he had stopped it, but it is spreading towards his city, Cerana – and he is powerless to halt the destruction.
Even as Cerana fills with refugees, the Yrkmen armies arrive with conquest in mind, but they offer to spare Sarmin’s people if they will convert to the Mogyrk faith.
Time is running out for Sarmin and his wife, Mesema: the Mage’s Tower is cracked; the last mage, sent to find a mysterious pattern-worker in the desert, has vanished; and Sarmin believes his kidnapped brother Daveed still has a part to play. The walls are crumbling around them. . .
The Tower Broken is the epic conclusion to Mazarkis Williams’ debut trilogy Tower & Knife and after reading The Emperor’s Knife and Knife Sworn I was really looking forward how Williams was going to resolve the problem of Mogryk’s wounds. The author managed to wrap up the story in a way I hadn’t expected, but which was compelling and elegant in one fell swoop.
Williams brought back Mesema as a point of view character and replaced Grada and Nessaket with two new characters, Farid and Didryk, and added a fifth one from High Mage Govnan. I was really glad to regain Mesema as a viewpoint character, as I really liked her and missed her invested outsider’s perspective. Mesema’s investment in the future of the Cerani Empire has only grown larger over the course of the series as she’s come to love not just Sarmin and their son Pelar, but others in the palace as well. Despite this, her Felt origins and upbringing ensure that she’s still an outsider as she still thinks as a Felt at heart.
Both Farid and Didryk, one a Cerani fruit seller and the other the Duke of Fryth are outsiders as well, but in completely different ways. While Farid is completely loyal to the Emperor, he is a fish out of water as the newest member of the Tower of Mages. He’s discovered an aptitude for Pattern magic and as such is recruited by the Tower, which means he is suddenly part of not just the upper class, but court life and at the heart of the action. He’s doubly out of his depth, he isn’t sure how to behave and he doesn’t really understand how his magic works. Duke Didryk, on the other hand, is perfectly at ease at court, but he is comes to make peace and is a Mogryk and thus anathema for most Cerani and his intentions are uncertain, so he’s not trusted by most of those around him and a true outsider.
It is exactly this different perspective, defined by traditional beliefs, societal positions and their backgrounds, that makes Mesema, Farid, Didryk and Grada able to make the difference in the battle against the nothing and against the Yrkmir. Sarmin, the consummate outside-insider from The Emperor’s Knife has become a true insider in his time upon the throne, even if his ideas are still less than conventional. His development is very well done, as he not only has to learn to live outside his tower and rule, in The Tower Broken, he also learns how to truly love and trust again. Another insider’s perspective is that of Govnan. Together with Mesema’s, his arc in The Tower Broken was my favourite. I really loved his dedication and loyalty to his emperor and country, but also his kind and loving way with his acolytes and students and with Sarmin. Plus, together with Farid, he gave us an interesting closer look at the Tower and elemental magics. These five, together with Grada, and two of the Tower mages, Mura and Moreth are the key to saving not just the Empire, but the world, through their different abilities and approaches and I found them wonderful windows onto the narrative.
The Tower Broken is expertly paced. The problems Sarmin and his people have to face are many and have increasingly larger impact on the chances of survival of all of them. Perhaps least threatening in the overall scope is the General Arigu and his conspiring with High Priest Dinar to gain control of Sarmin and the throne. Scaling up there is the nation of Yrkmir that is invading Cerana and taking no prisoners, killing indiscriminately instead. And of course, the largest threat is that of the Storm and the Scar, which is unmaking reality and swallowing everything. Williams manages to make all of these threats interweave and makes their resolution interleaved, so the tension only breaks towards the end of the novel, even if there are smaller victories and breathing spaces throughout the novel. I think this is one of the places where Williams’ growth as an author is most marked. In The Emperor’s Knife, and to a lesser extent in Knife Sworn, there were points in the narrative where the pace lagged and I got distracted from reading more easily. Not so with The Tower Broken, it kept me glued to the page for one more chapter for more chapters than I’d care to admit.
I really enjoyed this last volume in the Tower & Knife trilogy. It’s a series that is truly epic fantasy, in the sense that it deals with potentially world-shattering events, but one that is very much character-driven. The Tower Broken completes Sarmin and Mesema’s story in a completely satisfying ending and one that suits the series very much. While the chances of Williams returning to Cerana in the near future are slim, I’m looking forward to reading what they write next. Although, if they change their pen name, we might never know whether we are reading their next book. In any case, if epic fantasy is your thing, Tower & Knife is a series you’ll want to read. And the good news? It’s complete so you’ll be able to read it without having to wait for the next book longer than a trip to the book store or for the post to deliver it!
This book was provided for review by the publisher.