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‘The Raven Tower’ Rises From Shakespearean Foundations

“Here is a story I have heard.”

In the city of Vastai in the country of Iraden is the Raven Tower, ruled by the Raven’s Lease — whose life is forfeit to the god in exchange for such favor — and the Mother of the Silent, human interpreter of the forest god outside the gates. But when Mawat, the heir to the bench, is suddenly summoned home, he finds one Raven dead, his uncle in power, his father missing, and a city on the brink of disaster.

There are familiar elements of epic fantasy here. But this is Ann Leckie, whose Ancillary series — about a foot soldier with the memory of a spaceship who deploys weaponized manners to destabilize an intergalactic colonial empire — collected the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Clarke awards, among others. If you’ve read her before, you’re most likely ready for The Raven Tower to examine some of those familiar genre expectations. That means the Raven’s Lease has a council of ambitious district representatives to deal with, the forest border receives some distinctly worldly military support, and armies of gods fight over access to a single merchant waterway.

Leckie has a knack for constructing conflicts where bureaucracy is the primary field of battle, and here she gives governance the epic-fantasy treatment. No protocol is left unturned, from the legal requirements for witnessing prophecy to government hospitality tokens for official visitors (tiered, of course). The war-camp scenes in The Raven Tower are nothing compared to throne room maneuvering, and even a god’s powers can be stymied by enough carefully-deployed red tape. It’s deeply focused world-building as well as a handy character shortcut — there’s nothing quite so immediately illuminating as seeing how a character works around, or bristles under, the political status quo.

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