The Crown Tower - Michael J. Sullivan A team, a partnership, working together...the Elves have word for it in the world of these books -- they call it "Riyria". If you've read Michael J. Sullivan's excellent Riyria Revelations series already, you'll know that Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn weren't always the dynamic duo we know and love, and that they certainly didn't start off as friends. Now finally, with the story of The Crown Tower, we get to see how it all began.

I was honored to be able to read a pre-release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Orbit and NetGalley! Being quite the fan of Mr. Sullivan's Riyria books and given the fact that Hadrian and Royce's "origin story" was one that was hinted at throughout that entire series, being able to read this was one hell of a real treat.

The great thing is, even though The Crown Tower can be considered a prequel of sorts, it can also be read as a one-shot. We are introduced to Hadrian, a jaded and young directionless soldier returning home from the wilds of Calis after hearing about his father's death. He agrees to meet with Arcadius, an old friend at the university who claims to have a message from Hadrian's father before he died. Arcadius, however, inexplicably pairs Hadrian up with Royce, a depraved thief whose mistrust of everything and everyone is akin to that of a dog that has been kicked too often. The two men are sent on incomprehensible task to steal a book...which sounds simple enough, if only they can learn to work together without killing each other first.

For newcomers to the world and characters of Riyria, this book will be a great starting point. Returning fans will probably be even more thrilled, as it basically has all the details about Hadrian and Royce's first ever job together, and answers questions about how these two men -- who arguably are complete polar opposites of each other -- became a team. As an added bonus, we even get chapters focusing on Gwen, who ranks up there among my list of strongest female characters I've ever come across in fantasy fiction.

These are characters I've come to know well, and it's just so great to be able to return to them again, even if it's going back in time. My only regret is that Gwen's sections feel a bit rushed and a little glossed over, though rationally I can kind of see why I found this to be the case. Her presence in this book is definitely required, but at the same time the main focus must remain on Hadrian and Royce's quest. My excitement levels and hopes are lifted, however, for The Rose and the Thorn which is the follow-up to this, and it looks like it'll have a lot more Gwen and maybe it'll mean a deeper and more prominent role for her to play.

The thing I love about The Crown Tower is that it continues to read like all of the other Riyria novels in that they are fun, action-filled adventurous fantasy stories that have a traditional, straightforward and down-to-earth feel-good vibe. Hadrian and Royce are ever the source of good banter, even at this point where they still hate each other.

The book also has a feel of a puzzle piece that simply "fits", falling into place and filling out the timeline of the Riyria books without feeling forced or tacked on, unlike certain prequels of certain franchises I won't deign to mention here. You can tell with The Crown Tower as with all the books in the Riyria Revelations that the author has a grand plan, that everything happens for a reason and the presentation of it all is smooth and logical. The point is, I think this book would be great for any fan of fantasy, but if you've also read and loved the Riyria Revelations, this is a MUST-read.