The Tower of Shadows

The Tower of Shadows - Drew C. Bowling

Once upon a time, more than a decade ago now, I picked up this book from a bargain table. I’m sure I paid less than five dollars, but still. Mistakes were made. I have regrets.


Judging by the original publication date, I’m going to hazard a guess that this book is the result of Del Rey trying to recreate Christopher Paolini’s magic formula by finding another young man with literary ambitions and publishing his fantasy-themed teenage doodles. I’m further guessing that they snapped up this manuscript, which was in no way ready to see the light of day, and rushed it through edits in an attempt to strike while the Paolini iron was still hot. Whether or not that’s how it went down, this is not the “fabulous first novel in a major new epic fantasy series” the blurb promises. The writing is weak and amateurish and whatever editing it received couldn’t save it. By putting this book out in the state it’s in, Del Rey did Bowling one hell of a disservice. It’s no wonder the rest of the series never materialized.


I should have put this book down and walked away, but the pedant in me (that mean, bitchy pedant) kept turning pages and taking notes. When I get like this, I think I should change my name to Darth Pedantic or something similar. (Honestly, that probably should have been my name from the start.) For the curious, I’ll put my bitchy, pedantic notes under a spoiler tag. (There are a lot, and they're spoilery.) For the not-so-curious, I’ll just say that if you had journaled your D&D campaigns back in high school, they’d probably be on par with this book quality-wise and you might’ve been able to convince Del Rey to publish them during the peak of the Paolini craze.



Direct quotes in bold.


As the two horsemen peered across the moor, they sensed their curiosity darkening toward suspicion. ~ There. Fixed it for ya.


He stroked the hilt of his sword reassuringly and patted his whickering mount. ~ Why did his sword need reassuring? It doesn’t appear to be sentient. (More’s the pity.)


Kendran, a limber, cheery man who looked and acted ten years younger than he should have, was vigorously running a stained cloth in ever-widening circles up and down the bar. The bar was not getting any cleaner and the rag he was using was hopelessly stained, but the innkeeper did not seem to notice that his efforts were wasted. ~ Every other paragraph is like this. So much double describing. Where were all the editors the author thanked in his acknowledgments? What did they actually do?


Scholars and servants swarmed over the library’s white carpet, which had been stained crimson. ~ They’re not swarming. They’re dead.


Along the walls, statues of trumpeting sea horses seemed to blow blasts of warning at the carnage before them. Everywhere the shouts of the living fell on the ears of the dead.  ~ And what were they seemingly warning the carnage about? (Six. Six editors thanked in the acknowledgments.)


Still she moved farther into the room, driven by a strange curiosity, until she heard two voices, one a whisper and the other a weak groan. ~ How is she hearing that over all those “shouts of the living”? (Never mind that she’s seen only corpses so far. Unless living people really were inexplicably swarming the bloody carpet instead of running for the exits? It’s hard to tell. Only the corpses get descriptions.)


“Cade is relentlessly searching for his brother so that he can use him to raise the demon. He needs [his brother’s] blood to complete the summoning, as the black magic used to reverse the Exilon’s magic and free a demon will work only when a sorcerer sacrifices the blood of a sibling.” ~ 1. The dialogue and infodumping are terrible. 2. I guess sorcerers with no siblings are just out of luck, then? Sorry, only children. No demon summoning for you!


“You should be able to identify Corin by his limp, a remnant of his childhood encounter with the Coven in the village and by his curly blond hair.” ~ Six editors, y’all.


Adriel the Wizard: “I have a bad feeling about this cave that I have absolutely no good reason to enter. I’m going in anyway. Oh, look! Something bad was inside the cave that I had a bad feeling about and no good reason to enter! WHAT ARE THE ODDS???” (This is so very, very telegraphed and ham-fisted.)


Wren’s sword keeps changing. First it has an obsidian hilt. Then it has an obsidian cross-hilt. Then it has an ivory hilt. Six. Editors.


Wren rubbed his whetstone along the sides of his sword. ~ Rubbed . . . along . . . the sides . . .


The old woman’s brown skin accented the whiteness of her hair, and light from the window ran through it, lending her an eerie halo. ~ So . . . transparent woman? (SIX EDITORS.)


Slicing his sword at the last possible instant, the assassin swatted the knife away, jumping aside as the horse swept past, and charged onto the Fairsway. ~ The action scenes are a mess. Bonus points to anyone who can guess whether it's the assassin or the horse who is charging onto the Fairsway.


To her right mountains stretched into the distance. Like a rocky spine bordering the sea, she thought. ~ They’re called the Seaspine Mountains. I never would have guessed from the name that they look like a spine by the sea. Ever.


Wren: “We’re being chased by assassins and there’s only one structure for miles in which we can possibly hide. So let’s definitely trap ourselves in this lighthouse that I have a bad feeling about. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG???” (It’s becoming a pattern.)


Corin has zero reaction to learning his brother is alive. He just gets pouty about being dragged into the whole flimsy demon summoning revenge plot.


The assassins will take me to Cane. ~ No, Cane is handing you over to the assassins, who will take you to Cade. This is what happens when you have a main villain named Cade and a side villain named Cane and six editors not paying attention.


Is the constant action meant to distract from the thinness of the plot?


Oh no! Two characters I hardly knew and didn’t care about are dead!


“Thank the gods,” Adriel said. His staff lent the chamber its only light. “You are no longer crippled.” ~ OH SO THAT’S HOW YOU WANT TO PLAY IT, HUH? THE MAGIC “CURED” YOUR ONLY DISABLED CHARACTER OF HIS SLIGHTLY INCONVENIENT LIMP? I SEE YOU, DREW. I SEE YOU.


Wren sat in his saddle, watching with his stormy blue eyes as sunbeams glided on the horizon. ~ What else is he going to watch with, pray tell?


And we’re done! Ye gods, this is bad.

(show spoiler)