Every once in a while you stumble upon a great work of art within the fantasy genre. Take Eragon by Christopher Paolini for example. A young author writes a fantastic epic and well driven story, and succeeds. Not only that, Paolini wrote a sequel which, while not quite as good as Eragon, deserves just as much praise for the development of the various characters.
However, The Tower of Shadows is not one of these so called 'great works'. Rather, it is a terribly written, poorly plotted, and mindlessly pointless piece of fantasy fiction.
At first appearances, and at first glance, you get the idea that this is going to be a story that falls into many cliches, but has the potential to add some new and fascinating twists. The synopsis is gripping enough:(My version) "Long ago a demon called Apollyon broke free from his imprisonment. Two brothers are the only ones that survive in the village, taken to safety by the wizard Dale, and Apollyon was caged again. Wren, wandering into the village, also manages to escape with the help of Dale.
Some years later Cade, grown and possessed with great magical power, seeks vengeance for the horrible deaths of his parents. He hopes to bring Apollyon back and destroy the demon, forever banishing Apollyon from the world. He needs his brothers' blood--Corin--and a mythical dagger. Dale, however, hopes to protect Corin from the evil idealogy of his brother.
And so it begins..."
When you open the book, in the first 50 or 60 pages you start to ask yourself a few questions, realizing that the synopsis has just tricked you into reading something that might pass as a paper weight instead:
Who is the main character?
Honest to God question. In those first pages I mentioned you are introduced not only to the supposed main character (Wren), but to Dale, a wizard, two assassins who's names aren't important, but who play an important role, the bad guy (Cade), his powerful apprentice Damon, the brother Cade needs (Corin) and his friend Dusty and his Uncle or Father, or some such figure, Adriel (Dale's apprentice) and Wren's daughter (who's name escapes me at the moment). And mind you, we're inside all of these peoples' heads throughout those 60 or so pages. I wanted to know who was going to be the focus of the book, because with the POV jumping around all over the place I couldn't tell who was the central character. The synopsis told me it was Cade, the writing made it seem like it was Wren--though it on his daughter and other characters just as much on him.
Why does it take almost 100 pages before the story really starts going?
Now, I know in books of 400, 500, or more pages you wouldn't expect a full flowering of the plot in any way until probably around that 100 or so page mark. What I mean is, the plot is well on its way, it's heading slowly for the climax, and you have an idea of what is going on, even if you don't know all the facts, etc. Tower of Shadows is a 286 page book, this means that the central character should be obvious by page 10 and the plot should be well on its way by page 40 or 50. Rather, the plot doesn't kick off until you're so thoroughly bored with the pointless talk of the characters lives. Yes, we need that information, but not if you are going to waste our time and ignore the fact that there is supposed to be some evil stuff going on and the good guys are supposed to be gearing up for a fight.
Why do dragons of this world (Ellynrie) have four wings?
Now, for most of us fantasy readers or writers, we can dispell disbelief. But we also all know that dragons are enormous creatures of immense power and tend to have some sort of intelligence. We also know them to have two wings. So why four? I can't explain it. Theoretically speaking, a creature as large as a dragon with four wings would be incapable of much more than perhaps eating, sleeping, and reproducing. The brain mass needed to have some sort of sentience (even sentience to know to destroy human habitations on purpose) would be far too large and complex that such creatures would have to be more intelligent, or far more dominant than humans. Bowling never explains this. We're supposed to take it as it is. Unfortunately, I can see the problem with a four winged massive beast.
Alright, so those are some immediate questions. So now I'll address some other issues with the book.
First a positive.
Not all is bad with Tower of Shadows. Despite his constant switching of POV, Bowling's writing style is powerful. He can describe like nobody else. My biggest complaint in his writing was the excessive use of metaphors that really had no context in the story. The thing about metaphors is this: use them, but don't make it confusing. Despite that, if he had written this in the mind of Wren, fine tuned the plot and some other elements, I imagine this would have been a halfway decent novel.
Another issue with this novel that is less positive is the actual plot and action. First, the majority of the good guys get around on pure luck, despite the fact that Wren is supposed to be this amazingly accomplished fighter and for whatever reason Adriel is supposed to be quite powerful. Wren's daughter is, well, a useless and pointless character. She serves no purpose other than to drive Wren further on his quest for fear that that he might lose her. And if she had died I think his convictions would have been doubly strong. Instead, she parades around with Wren doing mostly nothing but crying, feeling bad for the mishaps that happen to her father, and doing insanely stupid things that any supposedly intelligent person wouldn't do: namely, if you can't fight, don't go running after the bad guy...
One of the hugest issues I had with the novel was the battle between Wren, the daughter, and Adriel. Now, Adriel can do some nifty stuff with magic, but not much really, and Wren is supposed to be a great fighter. But this is a dragon. Not a knight or some guy with a big knife. It's a friggen dragon. Does Wren kill it? Of course, he's a good guy. Does he have trouble? Nope. In fact, Bowling makes it seem like the act of killing this amazing beast was far simpler than fighting the assassins that had been trying to kill him for quite some time. So, he has harder times with a couple of humans who were easily killed by throwing knives and the like, but when it comes to a fire-breathing giant serpent, piece of cake.
So, essentially I thought this book was terrible. Bowling apparently began writing this in high school and published it I assume his freshman year of college as he is a sophomore now. Unfortunately for Ballantine, this is not a magical Paolini fluke. Rather, it is an example of why some young writers simply do not have the talent 'yet' to be great writers, or deserving of publication. This is not to say that I am jealous, as I have heard such arguments used before for people who write mean reviews. I applaud writers like Paolini and other debut authors. I'm a fan of J. K. Rowling, and others too. Tower of Shadows, plain and simple, is not a good book.