The Seventh Tower #1
by Garth Nix
Published by Scholastic
Scott's Rating: 2.5 out of 4
First up, it is important to note that this is NOT a Star Wars book. It is a new series of fantasy books produced by Lucas Books, the publishing division of Lucasfilm. This is the first book in The Seventh Tower series.
Tal is a young man who lives in a fantasy world. This world is covered by a magical black layer called the Veil which blocks out all sunlight. The world below is in total darkness. The only source of light comes from sunstones, magical rocks which store sunlight when taken above the veil into tall towers. The magic from the sunstones can emit light, heal wounds, and various other wondrous things. The whole culture Tal lives in is centered around the sunstones. The society is also broken into various castes designated by colors from the light spectrum. The Violet Order is the highest (consisting of the Empress) while the Red Order is one of the lowest groups. Below them are the Underfolk, the servants of the other orders. One of the privileges of being in the order is that you are given a Shadowguard - a spirit being that takes the place of your natural shadow. The shadowguards protect their owners, reflect their moods, and help carry out the wills of their masters. This society also lives in an enormous castle on a mountain isolated from the rest of the seemingly desolate planet.
One day Tal learns that his father is missing, presumed dead. He was in possession of their family sunstone. Now without it, they cannot heal Tal's sick mother and they could potentially be demoted in the society class structure. Tal tries various means to obtain a new sunstone, but nothing works. It appears that an enemy of the family is trying to prevent Tal from obtaining a new sunstone. Tal decides to steal a new one by climbing one of the towers through the Veil. Unfortunately, he is attacked during the climb by a powerful rogue shadowguard and falls to certain doom. However, Tal's shadowguard forms a glider shape and they glide to safety outside of the castle walls....and very far beyond.
Tal and his shadowguard land in a frozen, dark wasteland. Fortunately, he is rescued by an Eskimo-like group of nomads called Icecarls. They agree to help Tal return home if he'll help them get a sunstone, too. They send him on his way with a female warrior named Milla. She'd just as soon kill Tal as help him, but she must fulfill her quest. They must cross the bleak and dangerous ice to return Tal home.
This book pretty much spends most of its time setting up the premise. Doing that is a bit tedious, but when it gets down to the real story and the adventure, it finally gets interesting. This is a pretty cool new world with some unique concepts. The idea of the shadowguards is good. They not only provide a bit of magic and action, but they help convey unspoken emotions by their reactions. If a shadowguard forms the shape of a ferocious beats, you know the master is ticked. If it is a timid animal, the master is afraid. They make good sidekicks.
The Icecarls are much more interesting, though. Like Eskimos, they travel through the ice in whaling type boats hunting enormous beasts for food. The creatures, called Selskis, reminded me of the worms from Dune. The nomads are a tough warrior group that is a total contrast from Tal's people.
The book has some good action and some imaginative twists and situations. It does draw heavy inspiration from other fantasy and sci-fi (even Star Wars), but it puts a unique spin on those ideas. Overall it is an interesting read.
The setup and description of the complex culture was a bit confusing. Very little of it made sense until the end of the book, and even then there were some questions. Hopefully it will be clear later.
But some of the ideas just came across as goofy. Tal is part of the "Orange Order", he wears orange, and everything around him is orange. Kind of annoying. Then the people in the society flash light at each other such as "the Yellow Ray of Failed Ambition" or "Indigo Ray of Extreme Approval". I just didn't get into it.
Then, when Tal's Shadowguard forms a glider and catches him, they glide miles and miles from the castle. Why didn't the beastie just fly in circles or drop down a little faster? Or form a parachute? I realize there wouldn't be a story then, but this was a key event in the book. It set everything else in motion. It probably could have been done a little better.
I will probably give the second book a chance and read it. I wasn't thrilled with this first book, but I'm not ready to write the series off yet.
Tal burns out the eye of an attacking creature with his sunstone. That can't feel very good!