The Tower of Living and Dying (Empires of Dust #2) by Anna Smith Spark

Thetower2Having just finished The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark I can say with absolute confidence that not only was this a fantastic sequel to an impressive debut but it’s a definite contender for one of my best reads of the year so far.  While the Court of Broken Knives delivered an unexpected novel in terms of the author’s own unique brand of writing, the Tower of Living and Dying cemented for me the love for that particular style.  If the final episode delivers a worthy conclusion to the Empires of Dust then I truly believe this series could become a modern classic.  Seriously, if you love to read fantasy, and in particular grimdark fantasy, then you really need to read these books – I insist.  Please, even.

Before I go further, first things first.  You will need to read book one in the series.  My review is here.  Also, it is possible, although I do try to avoid them, that some spoilers may be lurking here for the first book.  You’ve been warned.

So, I’m literally sat, staring into the abyss (aka computer screen), just trying to figure out what to tell you.  I do find that sometimes the books I love are the most difficult to review.

Okay.  The writing first and foremost. It’s different than anything I’ve experienced before and I admit that in the first book, for the first few chapters, I found it a little difficult to get along with.  Probably because it’s so unlike anything that I’ve read before.  There’s a simplicity here, a curtailing of long sentences combined with an alchemy of words that makes this a beautifully told story.  The imagery is just startling and sometimes breathtaking.  I wish that I’d slowed my own reading pace and thought to make more notes so that I could share some quotes but as with all my favourite books I was gripped in a reading fervour and all rational or sensible thoughts were dashed on the altar of good intentions.  There’s something about the writing that feels almost like a stream of consciousness or almost like a person babbling excitedly and there’s something infectious about it that simply draws you in, it’s just packed with emotion.  And, it’s like a gingerbread house, it will tempt you in with the promise of sweets and cake and once you’ve entered inside the trap is sprung and the honeyed words will belie the bloodshed and war that you find yourself reading about.

The characters.  Well, the four main characters from the first book are all still present.  They’re a little bit more weary which isn’t a surprise given the amount of death and destruction they’ve seen but they all have a purpose.  What I loved about these characters this time is they’re all so conflicted.  Marith is in serious danger of losing himself completely.  His relationship with Thalia is the only thing that keeps his inner demons from completely dominating.  He kills and destroys wantonly but then frets enough to seek the bottom of a bottle or worse.  Thalia, well she feels like a ray of light, a little spot of hope and yet at the same time she is also twisted with doubt and not a little bit of guilt.  She knows Marith and sees what he is capable of, she feels like he must be stopped, but at the same time he’s shown her a different life to the one she expected.  The other two characters are no less riddled by doubts and uncertainties.

In terms of the world building.  We certainly see a lot more of the world in this instalment. A lot of it is of course in the throes of destruction as Marith marches relentlessly forward with his army but nonetheless this area of the story felt much stronger.  This is a ruthless and unforgiving world in which to live but if Marith succeeds in dominating it the consequences don’t bear thinking about.  God like creatures roam the land and soaring dragons rule the skies.  A world of magic and myth.

I’m not really going to discuss the plot because I don’t want to give anything away.  I will say that these four storylines all develop into tantalising threads – all highly readable in their own rights and all bursting with the expectation of so much more yet to come.

But, a word of caution, make no mistake about it this book is grim and bloody and if that doesn’t work for you then no amount of poetic prose will glamour what’s really taking place here.  For me Anna Smith Spark has truly earned her ‘queen of grimdark’ title.  She’s unflinchingly brutal, has a unique style of writing that is cunningly succinct and disturbingly on point and she’s definitely one to keep an eye on.  I’d like to say that here is an author writing at the top of her game and yet as this is only her second novel that feels a bit premature because surely she has much more promise yet to deliver and I can’t wait to read more.

Write. Write. Write, I beg you.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalle, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.



17 Responses to “The Tower of Living and Dying (Empires of Dust #2) by Anna Smith Spark”

  1. Tammy

    Wow, favorite book of the year, possibly? Now I know I need to start this series.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Her writing style is so very different – it’s really won me over. She’s definitely a top 10 contender for sure.
      Lynn 😀

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I was a little wary about keeping up with this series, even though I enjoyed the first book: it was the lack of hope, more than the brutality, that ultimately got to me. But your review just gave me new enthusiasm and I will certainly see for myself where the Queen of Grimdark will lead us next… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. waytoofantasy

    I’ve heard so many great things about Anna’s writing. I want to read the but I don’t read a ton of ‘grimdark’. How dark are these books?

    • @lynnsbooks

      Well. She is the queen of grimdark. What others have you read? So I can compare your taste??

      • waytoofantasy

        I’ve read Best Served Cold by Abercrombie and Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (although idk as I’d say that is so dark). I also loved The Poppy War which went to a super dark place but I don’t think I’d call that grimdark either since it wa pulled from history.

      • @lynnsbooks

        I would say if you’ve read Lawrence and Abercrombie then you’ll like this series. The author’s style is quite unique but I really love it. The Poppy War – yep, totally agree. 😄

      • waytoofantasy

        Cool, I will check it out then. 🙂

  4. Carmen

    As you know, I’m not into fantasy reading, but you make it sound like I should read this book, and its predecessor, ASAP. Great review, Lynn! I, too, sometimes stare at the computer screen not knowing what I’m going to say in a review. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Haha – that moment before you start to type, staring into a blank screen!
      Lynn 😀

  5. sjhigbee

    Urg! I wish that I didn’t find grimdark so difficult to read as I love the idea of that very different writing style… Fabulous review, Lynn – I loved reading it:))

  6. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Wow, this sounds great, even better than the first book. I definitely do not mind more grim and bloody, lol! However, I am seriously far behind on my reading at the moment. I hope I will be able to get to this one soon, after knocking a few more off the towering tbr.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I have no idea how you keep up with all the books you’re sent – it simply boggles the mind.
      Lynn 😀

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