The Crown Tower - Michael J. Sullivan Originally published at Bookwraiths Reviews

THE BUTCH CASSIDAY AND SUNDANCE KID OF FANTASY!

For all of you familiar with the Riyria Revelations books, Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn are the Dynamic Duo of fantasy: Hadrian the great warrior with three swords for any occasion and Royce the dark, mysterious assassin waiting to put a dagger in you. Two partners who are as polarly opposite in their personality and outlook on life as in their styles of fighting. No matter their differences however, these two night and day characters are the most dedicated of partners and friends.

But how could they have ever gotten past these issues to form a partnership called Riyria?

This is the story Michael J. Sullivan sets out to tell in The Crown Tower, and he accomplishes it with a flair long time readers have come to expect from him. The tale he pens is one of those very rare prequels: a stand alone story which - while tipping its hat so subtly to the older novels - never fails to understand it is a story unto itself. Indeed, Hadrian, Royce and Gwen grabbed the readers attention from the first, drawing them along involuntarily in the turbulence of their story as all three are inevitably drawn together.

Naturally, our story takes place before the events of The Theft of Swords, which is the first set of books set in the world of Riyria. Here, Hadrian Blackwater is a young man, still holding onto his youthful naivety yet having seen and done bloody deeds that even he refuses to recall. Our youthful optimist has wandered over half the world since he left his father’s blacksmith shop as a youth, eager to find glory and a worthy cause that his unvanquishable sword skills could be used for. Yet, none of the glory or gold satisfied Hadrian: they made him feel hollow inside actually. So when word reaches him about his father back home, something breaks within him, and he finds himself drawn back to his roots, hoping to find some epiphany about his future. Perhaps some sign as to where or what he should do with the remainder of his life - and with his only skill: killing people.

That is where Royce comes in. I cannot tell you how these two meet without giving away spoilers and ruining the surprise, but suffice it to say that Mr. Sullivan crafts this in the perfect way. A set up which not only enlivens what had been a slow story to that point, but also forces our Dynamic Duo to interact with one another for all our entertainment.

Naturally, afer meeting and attempting to clear up their differences, Hadrian and Royce find themselves drawn together whether they like it or not. Their mutual goal to plan and conduct a heist that is so impossible that no one has ever tried it! And that is absolutely insane for two strangers such as them to attempt - especially since they absolutely despise one another!

I know the fact Hadrian and Royce hate one another came as no surprise to anyone right?

Who did not see that coming?

These two are oil and water, even in the later books when they have been partners for years, so most certainly they would not enjoy each others company at first meeting. But Mr. Sullivan does something wonderful in this book: he actually takes the time to explain why each of them behave and believe as they do. He then forces each character to confront those same facts about the other and work through their revulsion of the others’ life view. This sets up interesting and hilarious scenes where Royce and Hadrian are bickering, insulting and threatening to murder one another. They argue about everything, even when death is knocking at their door, and each constantly wonders how someone as idiotic as the other person could have survived so long without someone killing them. They are the only duo since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid I have ever seen carry this type of quarreling and cooperation relationship so far and make this entertaining. (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a great, classic western for those who don’t know. Go rent it today and understand what I mean!)

And we cannot forget Gwen, the mysterious brothel owner, who gradually plays a bigger and bigger role in Revelations. Here we get to understand her life up until she met Hadrian and Royce, how she became a prostitute, and the role she played in Hadrian and Royce actually becoming Riyria. While I can’t say Gwen’s story broke new ground in storytelling, it was well written, eye-opening, and added another layer to this elegant lady who always brightened the pages with her appearance in Revelations. For those reasons, it was a very enjoyable part of the overall prequel.

As long time readers already know, Mr. Sullivan has that innate ability to create a page-turner, and The Crown Tower is no different. It is a great read for those who have experienced the wonderful Riyria Revelations and those who have not. The novel has it all: excitement, hilarity, mystery, fighting, and romance. What else could anyone ask for out of a fantasy novel? Nothing. So just go buy the book already, you know you want to.

I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley in return for an honest review. The review you have read is my opinion, and mine alone.

Royce and Hadrian have not visited me and attempted to bribe or beaten me into writing this. And if they had, I doubt I could really mention it so . . .forget I said anything. *Whispers* Royce hears everything.