(2019) Ann Leckie, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, 336pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50699-9
Ann Leckie has won numerous awards (Hugo, Nebula, BSFA and Clarke SF among others) for her Science Fiction, but The Raven Tower is her first Fantasy novel, which I suspect we shall see being nominated for future awards.
Given Leckie's ground breaking look at Science Fiction, I don't think anyone will be surprised that she takes an unconventional approach to this Fantasy novel. Ancillary Justice, a Science Fiction novel has a protagonist who has a multiple identity and so the tale has a shifting perspective. Leckie also takes a flexible view of gender in that novel and elements of this can also be found in The Raven Tower.
This book's narrator is a little unusual, but its nature means that the story can be told mostly from an observing third-party perspective, but also set in the time span of hundreds of years, the creation of civilisation and relationship of gods and man. Some reviewers have suggested that the identity of the perspective character should remain a mystery to prevent spoilers, so I will not reveal it: although there is a fairly large hint in the cover blurb.
Mawat is heading home for the expected death of his father, The Raven's Lease, anticipating that he will take on the title and duties, but things are not as he expects. He has a challenge to reconcile his faith in his god, The Raven, and his faith in his father, and find out what has actually been going on in his absence.
With Marat is his lieutenant and friend Eolo, who is not from the geographical area, allowing the narrator to comment on things which Eolo might find surprising as if in conversation with him, but at the same time educating the reader.
The whimsical approach of the narrator, addressing characters though they don't seem to hear him, is almost breaking the fourth wall, but it seems to work well.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the novel looks at issues of faith and the power of god and prayers. The mechanism for this is quite unique. Gods can't directly lie. Each god gains power from prayers and offering, but if they wish to influence the world around them they can make a 'true statement', their power will then change the world to endure the statement is and remains true. If the god does not have enough power to make their statement true, then this may drain and kill them. Which means the gods are very careful about which prayers they answer, answer too few and you may not keep getting prayers and sacrifices to power you, but answer to many or ones that are too difficult and risk losing everything.
This novel might not be to everyone's taste, the tale is somewhat convoluted, but cleverly thought out and intriguing for those who like that. The narrative has a gentle flow, the narrator has all the time in the world, but speeds up with the action surrounding Marat and his contemporaries rather than musing on the distant past. An excellent read.
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