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Literature / The Raven Tower

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The first fantasy novel from Ann Leckie.

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven's Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven's watch, the city flourishes.

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But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom's borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo—aide to Mawat, the true Lease—arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven's Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself...and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.


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The Raven Tower provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Bard on Board: The half of the book that's set in Vastai is a slightly rearranged version of Hamlet.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: The Strength and Patience of the Hill is a quiet god who, thanks to Time Dissonance, often mulls over thoughts for years or generations and who rarely acts overtly. Then an enemy tribe with divine assistance attacks its people's village and kills its favourite priestess, and it immediately strikes the god dead.
  • Bi the Way: Eolo casually states that he's interested in both men and women, though he usually prefers the latter. Also Implied with Mawat, who has courted a female character and is also assumed (incorrectly) by his friends to be sleeping with his male aide. In neither case is it given any importance beyond clarifying who is and isn't romantically interested in whom.
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  • Creepy Good: The Myriad is a good friend to some of her fellow Ancient Ones and an honest ally to her mortal worshipers... luckily for them, since she prefers to manifest through vast clouds of mosquitoes.
  • Exact Words: A god's speech has the power to alter the physical world whether they want it to or not, so even the most casual statement has to be objectively true in at least some sense, or else the god making it risks its own power tearing them apart.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Half of the book is a recounting of the events that led up to the Strength and Patience of the Hill becoming involved with the war against the Raven.
  • Freudian Excuse: Oskel and Okim were abandoned in infancy as a sacrifice to the Silent Forest, as many twins are in Vastai, and grew up as the subject of superstitious distrust and disdain for being twins. Consequently, they're perfectly willing to sell out Vastai and anyone in it for their own advancement.
  • The Ghost: The titular Raven spends most of the book unable to interact directly with events because his new avatar is still in its egg.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: While not strictly necessary for their existence, prayers and offerings do provide gods with the power they need to alter the physical world. The Ancient Ones seem much less dependent on these, for reasons unknown even to the Ancient Ones.
  • Good Powers, Bad People: One god is famous for granting Healing and inventing Miracle Food. It's also perfectly willing to condemn whole groups of slaves to a slow death by malnutrition so it can study the effects of different nutrient deficiencies on their bodies.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Although Strength and Patience of the Hill isn't sure if this is actually true, there is a story about a goose god who created a spear which, once a day, would hit and kill whatever it was thrown at. It was supposed to only work for the original owner. Unfortunately, some wiggle room in the god's wording led to this person's descendant, who had the same name by chance, being able to use it, which the god had not intended. When the god asked for it back, the second owner gave it back by throwing it. And the spear hadn't been used that day. Whoops.
  • Hot-Blooded: Mawat and his father are both well-known for having high tempers, exacerbated by the fact that no one has the authority to tell them to pipe down. Deconstructed when Mawat repeatedly causes trouble for himself by acting thoughtlessly and when his inheritence is jeopardized by people who think he's not reliable enough for the job yet.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: The Strength and Patience of the Hill, a 4 foot high, 12 foot wide slab of stone, and his good friend The Myriad, who typically manifests as a swarm of mosquitoes.
  • Human Sacrifice: Human sacrifices, especially those offered willingly, are the most potent way to give a god power. The Lease is bound to sacrifice himself whenever the Raven's physical body dies in exchange for ruling Vastai.
  • Karmic Death:
    • The first time Airu leads his soldiers in a grand attack, he disobeys Mawat's orders in doing so, nearly sabotages the entire mission, and is almost executed for insubordination. The lesson doesn't stick: he leads his men in another grand attack, chortling all the while about how lucky he is that Mawat isn't there to rein him in, and gets butchered in the resulting ambush.
    • Mawat has unquestioning faith in the Raven's power and in his own power as the heir to the Raven's Lease, and repeatedly brushes off Eolo when he calls those beliefs into question. He ignores Eolo's warning that he no longer has the Raven's protection and dares an enemy god to kill him; the god does just that.
  • Interclass Friendship: Eolo and Mawat are trusted friends despite Mawat being heir to the country's throne and Eolo being a runaway Farm Boy turned soldier; upon returning to the capital, several people remark on the fact that Eolo can reason with Mawat when no one else can. Implied to overlap with Fire-Forged Friends, since they were active in the military together.
  • Kill the God:
    • One god can speak another's death, but this is immensely draining, even if the target is already weakened. The Strength and Patience of the Hill gets knocked out for two years when it does so, and another god is surprised that it survived at all.
    • Mortals can't do much to harm a god directly, but might be able to exploit loopholes in the god's own words to deadly effect. The ploy to kill the Raven relies on forcing it to drain itself upholding its promises to the city while denying it the power of its Human Sacrifice.
  • The Lost Woods: The Silent Forest — all of it — is inhabited by a goddess who shares its name. She eventually allowed for one road to be built through it and for humans to collect some lumber; anything more, and people walk into the trees and never return.
  • Miracle Food: One god's most famous accomplishment is discovering how to produce this, which it uses to feed a city. It's more difficult than it looks, requiring precise understanding of the chemical processes involved, and more difficult still to produce food that won't cause long-term malnutrition.
  • Mundane Utility: Many small gods make a living facilitating household tasks, such as keeping water clean, preventing small fires from getting out of hand, and generally making an area nicer to live in. In Vastai all of these duties are handled by the Raven. Within days of his death, the city is ravaged by a cholera outbreak and multiple fires, and no one remembers how to handle these dangers without godly assistance.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Inverted in Vastai. If someone is angry enough at you to sit naked at your doorstep in public, it's a deadly serious accusation and a mark of terrible shame against you. Mawat does this as a public accusation against his uncle.
  • No Ontological Inertia: A god's death nullifies any artifact or contract that relies on its power, although there are rumours that Ancient Ones can lay Curses that persist long after their deaths.
  • The Old Gods: The remains of ancient gods who existed long before humans are mentioned repeatedly. Nothing substantial is known about them, but they were immensely powerful and many impossible things are attributed to them, such as curses that persist despite their apparent death. Unfortunately for the Raven, The Strength and Patience of the Hill and the Myriad are among their number.
  • Perception Filter: One god-spoken object prevents people from noticing the person who holds it. Discussed when a character realizes that this is both more effective (since it affects all the senses) and more efficient (since it's just clouding mortal minds rather than precisely manipulating light) than true Invisibility.
  • Physical Religion: The world has an abundance of gods, great and small, who can grant prayers and need worship, so religious observance usually has an element of negotiation to it. The smallest gods provide minor miracles to individuals in exchange for worship, while the greatest ones have formal contracts with entire nations and might even outsource some duties to lesser gods.
  • Power Incontinence: When a god speaks, whatever they say either is true or becomes true — or fails to become true, wounding or killing the god. They have to choose their words quite carefully when discussing things they don't know about, so as not to commit inadvertent suicide by trying to change, say, the fundamental nature of stars.
  • Purpose-Driven Immortality: The Raven grants this to the Raven's Lease during their term; in fact, anyone who tries to kill the Lease is struck dead on the spot. The only way the Lease can die is to sacrifice themself to the Raven at the end of their term. When Mawat's father is found dead, it's a sign that the Raven's power is broken.
  • Reality Warper: Gods have the power to alter the world by speaking. If something they say isn't true, their power will automatically try to alter the world to make it true - whether they want it to or not. The easiest way to kill a god is to trick it into making an impossible statement, or by changing things so statements a god has previously made will contradict one another.
  • Second-Person Narration: Much of the book consists of the Strength and Patience of the Hill narrating Eolo's story to Eolo himself, and so is written in the second person.
  • Time Abyss: The Strength and Patience of the Hill remembers events from the Cambrian period and likes to watch the revolution of the solar system around the galactic core. It took dedicated effort from several generations of nomads just to get him to notice humans as anything more noteworthy than peculiar animals.
  • Time Dissonance: Zig-zagged with the Ancient Ones. The Myriad spends enough time around humans to care about their activities, whereas the Strength and Patience of the Hill generally prefers to wait for any mortal-made problem to pass on its own, whether it takes years or millennia.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The general reaction to finding a god-made object is to wonder how the god who made it and powers it is still alive.
  • Transgender: The protagonist Eolo is a young trans man in a fantasy nation that doesn't legally acknowledge his identity, so he left home and only discusses the topic with a few trusted people. He has mixed feelings about a proposition of a magical sex change and rebuffs the offerer for being intrusive.
  • Voice of the Legion: Implied. When The Strength and Patience of the Hill forces itself to speak out loud, despite being a huge stone with no mouth, Eolo is absolutely terrified by the sound of it.
  • The Wrongful Heir to the Throne: Discussed. Mawat's temper was one of the factors that led to Hibal being appointed Raven's Lease instead of him, in hopes that a few more years or decades as Heir would let him mature a bit.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: The Raven's Lease is the highest authority in the city, but is required to commit ritual suicide when the Raven's current host body dies. The narration dryly notes that ambitious people tend to set their sights on positions with slightly less power but a longer tenure.

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