The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie — New Review, Bookclub Edition

This month’s bookclub meeting promises to be a very interesting one! I had a lot of mixed feelings and thoughts about Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower. Doubtless most reviews make mention of the fact that it’s written in the second person — which is unusual! But it’s also written in the first person at the same time. I had a lot of questions as I started the book about why it needed to be written this way, and who the first person narrator was.

The problem with the second person narrative voice is that it describes ‘you’ doing things when you, the reader, are not doing them. My suspension of disbelief just about stretched to that, especially once I’d been reading for a few minutes. What I had a greater problem with were sentences like this:

You would have no cause to realise this but the streets of town were far more empty than they ought to have been given the unseasonably warm, sunny day, given boats in the harbor.

The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie

Obviously, as someone who’s never read this book before, it’s true I have no cause to realise anything about this fictional town, but it still felt wrong to be told by this narrator what I did or didn’t know, knowing that they didn’t really mean me. Besides which, if there’s no way for the second person narrator to know a thing, then it shouldn’t be in the narrative! And telling me that I don’t know only draws attention to the fact!

I favour a strictly limited narrative voice. Granted, Ann Leckie is somewhat able to get around this because her first person narrator does know about the streets of town, but I still found it off-putting to begin with. I found it was difficult to get any sense of what Eolo was like, because his character was constantly being addressed as if he were me!

As I said, I wondered why The Raven Tower needed to be written this way, I kept expecting some moment which would hit me over the head with how it could only be written in combined first/second person. I don’t think that moment ever came, but maybe someone in bookclub will point something out that I missed!

No one in the far north would sit naked outside the door of someone who had wronged them and expect any result beyond hypothermia.

The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie

Putting aside the narrative choices, the plot of The Raven Tower was mostly good! I was interested in what was going on with Eolo, Mawat and the question of the Raven’s Lease. I was even interested in the experiences of The Strength and Patience of the Hill – a god, whose narrative started centuries before the main events of the book. But there were times I felt distanced from the world-building and really would’ve preferred to get back to the story, especially when The Strength and Patience of the Hill was describing warfare that seemed to have no direct bearing on either narrative.

I liked the emphasis placed on how the gods had to be really specific with language, because anything they said would become true – or could kill them, if they didn’t have enough power to make it true. After what bookclub said about Under the Pendulum Sun, though, I was always waiting for some moment when these rules would trip someone up in a clever way. And that’s another thing that didn’t really follow-through, as far as I could tell.

The Raven Tower was a very plot-driven book, and I did find the plot exciting! The fact that it ended on a cliffhanger might even be enough to overcome my aversion to the second-person narrative…

Rating: 3 out of 5.

One thought on “The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie — New Review, Bookclub Edition

  1. […] Interior Chinatown is unlike anything else I’ve read. The book is written as if it were a TV show, with exterior and interior shots and dialogue laid out in script format, but it’s also about a TV show and the lines between what’s ‘real’ in the universe of the book versus what’s only acting are never terribly clear. Charles Yu writes in the second person, which was much more palatable than the second person narrative in The Raven Tower. […]

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