I’m honestly really appalled at myself that I’ve never read a Melissa Caruso book before. I requested The Obsidian Tower from NetGalley on a whim, buddy read it with Lili @ Utopia State of Mind, and absolutely ended up loving it! And now tbh I’m determined to read the rest of her books as well.
Not only is this book chock-full of amazing magic systems and political intrigue, it’s also got tons of casual queer rep. So if you’re looking to add more queer reads to your TBR for Pride Month, read on!
Title: The Obsidian Tower
Author: Melissa Caruso
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Political Fiction
The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers.
Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall her: Ryx accidentally kills a visiting dignitary in self-defense, activating a mysterious magical artifact sealed in an ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle.
Ryx flees, seeking a solution to her deadly magic. She falls in with a group of unlikely magical experts investigating the disturbance in Vaskandar—and Ryx realizes that her family is in danger and her domain is at stake. She and her new colleagues must return to the family stronghold to take control of the artifact that everyone wants to claim—before it destroys the world.
Content warnings: Character death, themes of isolation, violence,
☕ Quotes ☕
“There are two kinds of magic. There is the kind that lifts you up and fills you with wonder, saving you when all is lost or opening doors to new worlds of possibility. And there is the kind that wrecks you, that shatters you, bitter in your mouth and jagged in your hand, breaking everything you touch. Mine was the second kind.”
“You can’t have true justice if there’s a power imbalance that profound between the rulers and the people.”
☕ Plot ☕
The Obsidian Tower has one of the most subtly clever plots I’ve ever read in a book! I know I’ve said tons of times that I adore books that have political or court intrigue plots, but this one really takes the cake. I felt like I was watching a medieval episode of House of Cards with some magic thrown in for good measure.
The domain of Vaskandar has long been ruled by a family of mages, the youngest of which is Ryx. But while the rest of her family can command all life that exists within Vaskandar, all Ryx can do is drain it from everything she touches. Isolated, forced to cover up at all times, Ryx grows up thinking she’s defective and a danger to all around her. However, in Gloamingard, the castle that sits in the heart of Vaskandar and where her beloved grandmother rules, Ryx feels safe.
All that changes when Ryx’s grandmother is called away on business, leaving Ryx to deal with a visiting dignitary. However, said dignitary has ulterior motives: she wants to enter the tower in the center of Gloamingard, which supposedly guards a dangerous magical artifact that Ryx’s family has kept safe for centuries. When Ryx kills the dignitary in self-defense, she sets off a chain of problems – both diplomatic and magical – that she must now solve with the help of the Rookery, an international organization dedicated to stopping magical crime and theft.
The single best thing about this book’s plot is the flawless way it blends action and drama. On the one hand, you have high stakes like the fate of Vaskandar, Ryx’s family, and pretty much the whole known world, once you know what the artifact her family guards is and the incredible power it wields. On the other, the story is also very much about Ryx’s forced isolation and how she slowly comes to open herself up to the possibility of friends.
☕ Writing ☕
Like I said, I haven’t read any of Melissa Caruso’s books before so I went into this book not really knowing what to expect – and it turned out amazing.
I already said earlier that the plot of The Obsidian Tower focused on both magical and political aspects. Melissa Caruso was really great at writing both. In particular, I really enjoyed how realistic the political intrigue felt – it didn’t feel contrived or fake at all, the way that political or courtly intrigue in fantasy can sometimes feel.
The magical aspect of the story didn’t really fall by the wayside either. From the very beginning, this book draws you in with its attention-grabbing world-building, launching you right into the middle of the story and helping you pick up bits and pieces about the magic system as you go along. I really appreciate SFF books that don’t really coddle their readers, and this hit the right balance between sharing information and telling a good story.
☕ Characters ☕
I really and truly believe that this book’s most incredible strength was its characters.
The cast is composed of a well-rounded list of characters, but the best for me would have to be the main one – our narrator, Ryx. She’s the endearing mix of powerful, clever, and vulnerable that we rarely see in our heroines, and it makes us root for her throughout the entire story.
I just absolutely adored her story: how she loves Vaskandar and cares deeply for her people, and how that is at constant odds with what she believes is a power that can be used for nothing but death and destruction. At the same time, she distances herself from other people but is also desperately lonely. Such a complex character would have already made for a great book in my opinion, but Melissa adds to it by also making Ryxander a diplomatic and political whiz. And honestly, I really, sincerely think that characters who are great at politics need to be written more into fantasy fiction.
After all, in the real world, wars and conflicts are eventually won and ended by such types. I would love to see that shown in SFF as well, and Melissa wonderfully delivers with the character of Ryx. She can easily read the mood of a room and is attuned to current events and political machinations with all the accuracy of the most sensitive homing device. Not only that, she can also come up with solutions to diplomatic conundrums at the drop of a hat, while also secretly manipulating the people around her – including, by the way, a demon! – into doing what she wants. Honestly, we stan.
My other favorite thing about the characters of this book was the casual queer representation! I keep saying that I’d love to have books where a character’s queerness isn’t the be-all end-all of their characterization, and this book does exactly that. We have a bisexual character, an ace character, a nonbinary character, and characters in a polyam relationship, and it has absolutely no bearing on the story. They’re just there, being their awesome selves, wielding magic, wearing cloaks, and saving the world.
☕ Overall ☕
The Obsidian Tower is a great book that fantasy fans who are into courtly intrigue and fantastic world-building will love. I really, really enjoyed reading this and highly recommend you check it out!
What did you think?
☕ Have you read The Obsidian Tower? What did you think?
☕ What’s your take on political fantasy? Do you like it?
☕ What are some other fantasy books with political elements that you’ve read?
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