Imagine this: You’re born into a powerful magical family, part of a storied lineage of mage-rulers. Everyone around you can control life itself. Giant trees grow when they are told to grow, animals rise to defend you and every living thing in your realm is connected, sensed innately no matter where they are. Then imagine that a childhood illness leaves you different, unable to control this life magic. In fact, it leaves you with something worse: a magic that, when you touch something alive, kills it. What kind of person could overcome such loneliness? A new heroine named Ryxander, who stands at the center of Melissa Caruso’s mysterious and wonderful The Obsidian Tower.
In the kingdom of Morgrain, there is a castle. In that castle is a great black tower. And inside the tower, behind innumerable and impenetrable enchantments is a door that should never be opened. As children, the mages of Morgrain recite a poem thousands of years old, a warning that ends with the line “Nothing must unseal the door.” No one knows what is contained in the tower, and Ryxander is the Warden charged with keeping it safe. When a visiting mage ventures too close to the magic of the tower, Ryx finds herself at the center of an international crisis and the only one who knows what’s beyond the door. To avert disaster, she must use all of her wits and talent to keep Morgrain, and the world, safe from unspeakable ruin.
Even from the very first page, I was hooked for one reason: the initial premise here is simple, full of tension and immediately engaging. Even as the central goal of not opening the door plays out, Caruso builds a vivid universe around it, filling the pages with personality and depth. Like a good mystery, Tower slowly feeds the reader with more and more clues, never fully revealing everything at once. Caruso builds and releases tension deftly on both large and small scales. Even short conversations Ryx has with scheming foreign nobles expand and contract as political and personal issues are explored.
Ryx, of course, serves as the host for these explorations. This book has moments of real pain and longing that have nothing to do with magic or towers. Not being able to have physical contact with anyone has changed her, and the choices she has to make to subvert or embrace this fact are beautiful and terrible. It is, therefore, instantly believable that she is made of stronger stuff, making her eventual confrontations with some very nasty magic all the more satisfying.
At the time of this writing, I’m restricted to my house as a global sickness isolates nearly everyone from each other. I can’t help but think that, on a smaller scale, Ryx’s isolation is something many readers can imagine first hand.