The Tower Broken by Mazarkis Williams is the third and final installment in the Tower & Knife trilogy, following on from The Emperor's Knife (review here - with spoilers!) and Knife Sworn (review here).
For me, each of these books had a markedly different feel, due mostly to the notable changes in nature of the protagonists and their respective relationships.
I still think The Emperor's Knife is the strongest book in this trilogy; the opening chapter is definitely one of the most striking and memorable I have come across. The characters were diverse and interesting and the story was a beautiful mix of melancholia, ferocity and the best political intrigue that fantasy can offer.
Knife Sworn, while still a great read was a little disappointing in comparison. This story, especially when experienced through the view-points of Grada and the visions of the Many, became much more obscure and almost confusing in its politics and magic system. I also felt most of the characters lost a lot of their strength and tended to float through the story.
The Tower Broken is best described as a combination between it's two predecessors; somewhat hazy in parts, but also strong and gripping in others. On the cover, Ben Aaronovitch describes is simply as 'Compelling' and this is certainly the word to describe Williams' latest book. The prose is engaging and seamless and Williams never allows the pace to fall below where it should.
The Tower Broken reminds me a lot of Bradley P. Beaulieu's The Lay's of Anuskaya trilogy and in parts of Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy. The former for the incredible complexity of the story line and the fantastical elements therein, to the point where as the reader I question if it has moved past a one-dimensional story into something far more intricate, or whether it's all just getting a bit too messy to follow.
I struggled in the beginning to fully recall elements from the previous novels even though I read them both in the last year, especially given the growing complexity and changing nature of 'The Pattern'. The Tower Broken further complicates this by involving the god Mogyrk and Cerana's enemy, Yrkmir, which has until now only been floating under the surface. However, while I thought I might struggle a little as in Knife Sworn, the elements of story quickly resolve themselves to create a beautifully constructed world.
The empire of Cerana really is spectacular and could easily go unnoted, such is the skill in which Williams has woven it into the story. Most of all I loved the hierarchy and ceremony that has been built around Sarmin and The Petal Throne that wholely supports but does not intrude upon the plot. While I missed the beautiful idea of The Pattern and The Many, Williams does well (by the end) to integrate the Mogyrk religion further into the story and making it the focus of the final book was a great move.
Even though this series has some fantastic characters, characterisation and consistency of has always been a problem for Williams, as well as expecting the reader to invest in a character who plays a major role on the plot, but only pops up randomly out of nowhere part way through. I have to say though that The Tower Broken is a definite improvement in this regard - every character has a much clearer and defined nature and intention, which they stay true to throughout.
Sarmin was a definite highlight in this book and found his balls in spectacular fashion. I do miss the powerful female characters such as Mesema and Nessaket from book one, who, particularly the latter, have been severely diminished through recent events. The choice of perspectives in this book were also interesting, with nothing from Grada, Nessaket or Rushes, but instead focusing primarily on Sarmin, Mesema, Govnan and newcomers Duke Didryk and Farid, none of whom are particularly odd, dangerous or ruthless.
I was getting worried near the end that the conclusion might become rushed but I think it resolves quite satisfactorily in terms of both pace and content. There were some moments where I think it got a bit too ethereal and I wanted something of more definite substance, but I guess it is always best to leave the audience wanting more.
If you've been reading this series then I definitely recommend finishing it with The Tower Broken, which sees some remarkable improvement in Williams' writing and a brilliant conclusion. I would also recommend the series to fantasy fans who want a captivating read, but perhaps not if you're the kind of reader who will be irked by the more sketchier and inconsistent areas of the story.
I'd like to thank Mazarkis Williams and the publisher Jo Fletcher Books for providing me with a copy of this book for review. I also want to mention that while the digital version of the cover features a super strange and creepy man with a goatee, he is much more tastefully shadowed and mysterious in the hard copy.