The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, Narrated by Adjoa Andoh

As much a collection of world-building elements as a story, The Raven Tower contains the same depth of political intrigue, examination of social structures, and mythological explorations one should expect if they’ve read other books from Ann Leckie. Much of the narrative is taken up by historical musings and the interactions of various gods, in particular The Strength and Patience of the Hill and The Myriad, two ancient gods who watched as humanity evolved and developed cultures and language.
Relayed to us by that ancient god, The Strength and Patience of the Hill, The Raven Tower is the story of Eolo, a soldier and the aide to Mawat, the next in line to serve as Lease to the Raven, God of Vastai.
Upon being called back home from the conflict at the border, Mawat discovers that his father, the previous Lease, has disappeared when he should have sacrificed himself upon the death of the most recent incarnation of the Raven. In his father’s place, Mawat’s uncle is sitting on the bench belonging to the Lease, proclaiming himself as such, in defiance of both custom and Mawat’s wishes. While Mawat mourns the father he believes to be dead and seethes with anger at his uncle’s presumptuousness and betrayal, Eolo sets out to solve the mystery of how any of this could have transpired. The truth, when revealed, might be too costly for those involved and far too dangerous for the kingdom of Iraden.
As interesting as the story of court intrigue, murder, and betrayal happens to be, I found myself wanting to hear more about the gods, their machinations, and the history of this world the deeper I delved into the story. Leckie has a knack for creating worlds that beg for the reader’s attention, drawing us in and making us crave more. The Ancillary books had a trilogy that allowed for greater satisfaction of this need, and I’m hoping that this won’t be the last time we visit the world she’s created with The Raven Tower.
The casual acceptance of Eolo as a trans-masculine character was a nice touch, without ever seeming shoehorned in or forced. This should come as no surprise to anyone who read the Imperial Radch trilogy, in which it was obvious that Leckie has a knack for exploring non-binary identities and cultures with the same deft hand that Ursula K. Le Guin brought to The Left Hand of Darkness. There are sure to be readers who dismiss this book because of that. But those are the same people who proclaim that they don’t want politics in their fantasy or science fiction, so it’s a simple thing to dismiss their opinions as uninformed, historically ignorant, and irrelevant.
Adjoa Andoh’s narration captures a wide breadth of characters and accents with seeming ease, though there were times when certain accents initially seemed a bit silly or cartoonish at first. As the audiobook continues, those accents seem less pronounced as the listener adjusts to hearing them and becomes acclimated to the environment cultivated within the narration. I certainly prefer this over the alternative, where every character sounds approximately the same, and there’s no variation where cultural differences should exist.

The Ritual by Adam Nevill, Narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies

The Ritual is a fantastic journey into the realm of folk horror, a literary exploration into the sort of narrative that evokes themes familiar to fans of movies like The Wicker Man or Midsommar. As four friends hike into the autumn wilderness of Sweden, they discover that not all shortcuts are meant to be taken, that there are secrets and horrors in hidden places, and they find tensions that refuse to remain beneath the surface as stress and fear take a heavy toll on the men.
The gloomy, sinister forest is brought to stark, claustrophobia-inducing life as Adam Nevill draws us deeper into the trees and brush as the relentless rainfall paints everything gray and lifeless. The characters of Hutch, Dom, Phil, and Luke are similarly well-drawn and three-dimensional in their portrayal. This realism serves to make the narrative all the more captivating as we become invested in the drama playing out between the hikers and the overwhelming sense of unease as we experience the disquieting events through Luke’s perspective.
By the time the four men discover they’re not alone in the woods, it’s far too late to turn back, and the desperate push forward presents challenges that grow increasingly difficult.
Now, because I’ve seen the movie adaptation as well, I’m going to compare the two. This portion of my post will include spoilers, so anyone seeking to avoid spoilers of either book or film should stop here.
The movie would have benefitted a great deal from incorporating elements that were exclusive to the novel, such as the multi-generational graveyard and the ancient, decrepit church Luke discovered when he ventured off on his own. I loved that whole section of the story, and I think it added something to the atmosphere of the narrative moving forward. Similarly, the familiarity Hutch had with some of the architecture and runic writing was a nice touch that I felt could have made the movie better. I also preferred the absence of the cowardice subplot, wherein Luke did nothing and allowed a fifth friend to die. Unfortunately, with the absence of that subplot, we also lost the element of blurred reality that I enjoyed a great deal in the movie, wherein the god of the forest used illusions and hallucinations to manipulate the men.
The movie was superior once Luke made it to the village near the end. The addition of Dom being present and alive for a portion of that section of the story was a nice touch that I think made for a better overall story. Sure, we had the reconciliation between Luke and Dom in the novel as well, but it felt more appropriate at the point when the men were in captivity and facing the very real probability of death. Removing the irritating caricatures of Loki and Fenris was a great choice, as I almost stopped with the book when those characters insisted on remaining present for altogether too much of the narrative. The random insertion of the fictional, murderous nordic black metal band, Blood Frenzy, felt like a pointless way to share the author’s familiarity with contemporary bands within the genre. Additionally, the portrayal of the god/monster within the movie was spectacular and exceeded anything I imagined from the book.
Overall, I think I enjoyed the movie a bit more than the book, which is an uncommon thing…but it does happen.
The audiobook narration provided by Matthew Lloyd Davies was spectacular. He even managed to superbly capture the accents of the characters I’d have preferred to do without. The narration certainly served to add depth and texture to the narrative, something that leapt from the page, so to speak, bringing an extra quality to the words penned by Nevill.