Wednesday, 2 July 2008

‘The Tower of Fear’ – Glen Cook (Tor)


It took me a long time to build up/finish off my ‘Black Company’ collection (only to find that Gollancz will be releasing omnibus editions in the UK…) and a consequence of this is that if I ever see one of Glen Cook’s books on the shelf I will more likely than not pick it up. After all, if I don’t buy it now then I might never see it again… ;o)
This scattergun approach has had mixed results for me; ‘The Tyranny of the Night’ was a dry old read with some flashes of goodness while ‘Whispering Nickel Idols’ didn’t do anything for me at all. The jury is still out on the first ‘Dread Empire’ collection but that’s only because I haven’t read it yet (d’oh!)
I saw a copy of ‘The Tower of Fear’ in Sheffield, last weekend, and I’d paid for the book and was halfway down the street before I knew what I was doing! Luckily for me it’s a great read, definitely on a par with some of the better ‘Black Company’ books…

The city of Qushmarrah once shivered in terror under the despotic rule of the evil wizard Nakar, now it grumbles uneasily under the rule of its Herodian conquerors. Various factions connive to seize power for themselves while one man harbours suspicions about the identity of the traitor who opened the gates to the enemy. This uneasy balance is about to be thrown into disarray by a plan to resurrect Qushmarrah’s former ruler and put him back on the throne….

Steven Erikson has cited the ‘Black Company’ series as a part of the inspiration behind his own work, ‘The Tower of Fear’ looks like it may also deserve some credit with it’s depiction of a middle-eastern style city under occupation by the enemy (Seven Cities anyone?) The tension is almost palpable as the general populace, the occupiers and their mercenary contingent all seek to get along in the same city. Cook takes a slightly refreshing approach, however, in that said relationships are not as clear cut as they seem. Certain members of the general public actually have a better standard of living under their new masters and don’t want a return to the ‘good old days’; the Herodian overlords find it easier to make accommodations with the insurgents than deal with their own while the mercenaries are not just in it for the money…

It’s clear that Cook has given a lot of thought to what life in an occupied city actually entails and it’s this kind of thought that adds to a plot that twists and turns, throwing up more than the occasional surprise. Alliances can change at the drop of a hat and something vital can become meaningless a page later… This can make for a confusing read at times, especially at the climax when everything comes to fruition. The ending is really clever but a re-read is definitely required to figure how it came about!

Cook is renowned for his ‘grey, more than slightly immoral’ take on fantasy and this is more of the same; don’t read it if you like your stories to be a little more defined in terms of who’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’. A great example of this is the character of Azel who’s ‘looking out for number one’ approach has led him into alliances with all the main players in Qushmarrah. Here is a man who is so entangled in the game that he will find himself to be one of his opponents! Azel will do anything to get through the day in one piece but Cook also manages to display a more sympathetic side, to the character, in that he will take care of his friends and gets nostalgic for what could have been.

I’ve already mentioned that ‘The Tower of Fear’ can be heavy going and this isn’t helped by the dry tone that Cook employs throughout the book. It comes across as very non-compromising and almost like any reader who doesn’t like it knows what they can do! I’m cool with it but you might not be, especially if you haven’t read any of his other books. I’m also not a big fan of made up fantasy names where a whole bunch of consonants and vowels have been thrown together with little regard for the outcome. For someone who came up with city names like ‘Beryl’ and ‘Charm’ in previous works, I was left wishing that Cook could have done the same in this case…

Despite this, I found ‘The Tower of Fear’ to be a great read that any fan of Glen Cook would do well to purchase if they can find a copy. It also really complemented my current reading of Erikson’s ‘Toll the Hound’ and has whetted my appetite to finally get round to reading the first ‘Dread Empire’ collection…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

6 comments:

James said...

Good review Graeme. Makes me think that perhaps I ought to get round to reading more of Cook's stuff sooner than later.

ThRiNiDiR said...

I love the cover :). About the characters - the inkeeper/gravedigger Marron Shed is one of my all-time favorite characters; I've heard that Cook's SF is great as well and underappreciated: The Dragon Never Sleeps and Passage at Arms. You've read any of those?

Graeme Flory said...

James - You certainly should :o) I'm not too keen on his 'Garret P.I' books but highly recommend 'The Black Company' series'. 'The Tower of Fear' is a good place to start, getting into Glen Cook, as it's a 'stand alone' book (I think).

Thrinidir - Marron Shed is one of my favourite characters as well, I need to re-read 'Shadows Linger'...
I've never read any of Cook's sci-fi and I think I may have to remedy this soon! :o)

Anonymous said...

Greame Flory - You should read The Dragon Never Sleeps (science-fiction). I loved that book as much as The Tower of Fear. These two are arguably Glen Cook's best books.
I know The Black Company books are awesome, but Shadows Linger wasn't my favorite. It was more about Marron Shed than about Black Company. For me half of this book wasn't a chronicle of the Black Company at all.

paulo said...

Read the Darkwar books.

Graeme Flory said...

Hey anon! I'll be trying to get hold of a copy of 'The Dragon Never Sleeps' to review in the near future...

Paulo - The 'Darkwar' books, are they by Raymond Feist?