Review: The Garden Maze by Isaac Anderson
Fear the Four Towers is a sword and sorcery dungeon crawl featuring the awesome and much beloved characters from the earlier books in the series tackling puzzle rooms, monsters, and a false god. This third book continues the Hero’s Metal series, and fans will not be disappointed.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Fear the Four Towers. I encourage you to check it out!
Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from the author for the purpose of review. This in no way influences our opinions. (You can request a review here.)
This review contains minor spoilers.
Fear the Four Towers Publisher Description:
The Four Towers called, and Gorgonbane has answered.
With the murderous falselight repelled for now, and the devastating ultra-buipolad reduced to cinders by the Sun, it falls to our mighty heroes to brave the ancient accursed Towers.
What are they for? Who, or what, built them? Can whatever magics they hold contain the seemingly endless flood of corruption that is the falselight mass?
Agrathor, Pierce, Scythia, and their teams must find a way into the Towers, and beat the ever-ambitious Ess, and the coldly calculating Asel, to the invaluable secrets within, all while Axebourne pledges to hold the line.
But all is not as it seems within the Towers, as space, time, and even the purpose of the world are ripped away from apparent realities…
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One of the great pillars of the Hero’s Metal series is its characters. They were lovingly introduced in How Black the Sky and strengthened in Out of the Deep. Now they form groups and invade the Four Towers as a complex and unbreakable team.
In fact, the story is composed almost entirely of good guys. This makes for an interesting dynamic. There are familiar antagonists—Ess and Kash, the Falselight leader Asel and his master/father Poros—and one new false god to contend with, as well as monsters to fight and puzzles to solve. The conflict centers around these and drives the tension.
Notice, I did not say “infighting” or “drama.” The heroes’ confidence in and faithfulness to one another is strong. The result is a feeling of comradery: partaking in a great adventure with friends.
There are a lot of characters, but they are broken into groups, which makes them manageable, and the consistent settings—the unique tower for each group—makes them readily identifiable. The multiple point of view characters are consistent across the book, so the reader almost always returns to the same “heads” in each group and never jumps between viewpoints mid-scene.
Another aspect of the story that makes the multiple POV work is the episodic nature of the tale. It is broken into rooms of the towers, so that characters confront a problem or monster and generally solve it before the point of view changes. This prevents reader frustration from being asked to leave characters who are in the middle of something interesting. Furthermore, the way in which the towers interweave, bringing all the characters together at “checkpoint” rooms (and occasionally characters pass through rooms others have before) makes what each group is doing feel relevant.
The biggest difference between this book and the previous ones in the series is the setting. It is limited to the towers, rather than the many-layered planetary construct that readers explored with the heroes before. And yet, the towers echo the larger world in a way that makes them feel relevant and connected to the greater story, rather than a side quest.
They are each wonderous and unique, yet connected, even as the layers of the world are. They were built by an unknown actor for an unknown purpose, and yet still fall within the authority of the Blacksmith. And they are breaking.
Ramp Up the Tension
Initially, the interest of the towers and what the characters will encounter there—puzzles, robot-like opponents, and monsters—is engaging and provides plenty of enjoyment. The rules began clear: solve the puzzle or defeat the enemy in the room and then the heroes can progress forward. But before I tired of that as a reader, the game changed. Many of the rooms no longer work as intended and sometimes the characters have to break stuff (the right stuff) in order to proceed; sometimes they need divine assistance!
As the heroes climb, what appeared initially to be a linear journey becomes less predictable. Furthermore, early in the story there are no point of view characters in the most unusual tower—the Twisted Tower. There is a little foreshadowing early on, and when Pierce and his party cross from their tower into this other, the tension and action ramp up.
The characters continue going where they are not “supposed” to be and cross wits and weapons with the self-declared god of the towers.
Fear the Four Towers contains a motif on the concept of being alone. Many times, characters are separated from their companions by some magic of the towers so that they must confront a puzzle one their own.
At one point, Pierce must solve a riddle from sphynx-like cats. They argue with him, “All men are alone for every battle, are they not?” The plot makes no grand arguments, no character development around the idea, but Marquis’s take here is simple and optimistic: “No, they are not.”
Pierce is still plucky and inquisitive and readily engages the cats, although he cannot understand why they think the way that they do. His faith in both his friends and his God are firm, so he finds their questions baffling rather than unnerving.
First Pierce points out that in a battle, men fight together. The cats counter with nihilistic philosophical garbage (all too familiar) about the experience of isolated moments and the possibility that it is all an illusion and none of it matters. Pierce’s private reflection on this point is that he never felt alone on his travels, even when he physically was—he carried with him the family he left behind and the friends he made along the way. “And even if there had been no one else, there had always been the Blacksmith.”
The cats dismiss his argument about the Blacksmith as more illusion. They state, “Hope in what is unseen does not make a man less alone.” They have the last word in the argument because a mysterious Carpenter arrives. He reveals to Pierce that the enchanted statues were supposed to test his wisdom but are, in fact, broken.
So the final conclusion of that scene, borne out in every instance of isolation for the rest of the novel, is that Pierce was correct. The heroes can rely both on one another and on the Blacksmith. One of the most exciting character transformations happens to Deathgripz while “alone.”
The theme of God’s sovereignty was inescapable in How Black the Sky and Out of the Deep. In Fear the Four Towers it is still there!
I won’t dive into this too much except to say that it is refreshing to have faithful characters. They don’t waffle or doubt, but rejoice in their God. They genuinely wish to walk the Glorious Path, so there is no navel-gazing, bemoaning, or guilt-wallowing. The focus of the story is on their adventure.
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Fear the Four Towers is a fun change of pace, yet fits well within the series in setting, heavy metal action, and themes. I am eager to see the finally installment and epic conclusion to the series!
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