This is a review of The Tower in the Mist (Minstrels of Skaythe Book 1) by Deby Fredericks.
On one level, this is an exciting fantasy adventure story. But I found it significantly more than that.
Keilos, a mage and minstrel, understands that to survive he must “know the enemy.” In spite of being insulted and punched and injured by the group of female guards who capture him, and in spite of facing a very likely death, he doesn’t fight them. Instead, the song mage practices non-violent resistance–and finds it very, very difficult. But as a result, the seemingly “nameless thug guards” begin to reveal themselves as what they really are, people.
Author Deby Fredericks avoids the stereotype of the “all noble” hero, and shows instead a frightened man struggling both against his circumstances and himself. But his goal, and that of the members of his minstrel troupe which had separated for their mutual protection, is not just for them to escape the oppression of an overwhelming, hope-destroying society. It is for the people of the society themselves to escape–one person and one small group at a time.
This tale follows one small group, Keilos and his seven captors Zathi and her squad of Jaxynne, Razzeet, Keerin, Giniver, Sethamis, and Thersa. The book moves through eerie foreshadowing, a grippingly-detailed battle scene between the squad and a deadly towering and overpowering creature, a chance at escape, the dragon that’s not a dragon, the impending and awakening threat of death, the chilling discoveries in the tower itself and more. All these make for a gripping read. I had intended to glance at the first page or two, then go back and read it later. But I didn’t want to put it down, so read it all the way through in one sitting.
But there’s something deeper here. Too many people have a tendency in fiction and, tragically, in real life, of characterizing the people of a particular group as “bad guys.” It could be a nation, a political party, a religious group, an ethnicity, a sexual orientation. But in real life, the group that’s seen by its enemies as evil may include a loving parent, a kind animal caregiver, and a very good neighbor. And that’s even if members of that group do indeed abuse and torture and even deliver innocent people to their deaths. This story faces that head on. In real life, wars and battles have been fought–and lost–because people did not understand this principle: seeing people as monsters too often leads to failure and unnecessary tragedy. It is a critical principle that the prisoner Keilos well understands, as obviously does the author of this tale.
So for all the initial impression of the “nameless bad guy” guards, after a short while we begin to learn about and understand and feel for Zathi and Jaxynne, Razzeet, Keerin, Giniver, Sethamis, and Thersa. We learn that Keilos and his fellow minstrels and listeners are not the only victims; the oppressors are themselves oppressed.
The title The Tower in the Mist is both accurate and misleading; it is no ordinary tower and no ordinary mist. While this is an adventure story, like a well-written mystery, Fredericks foreshadows the story’s events and climax with a number of clues that both guide and misdirect the reader. (One small hint: look for the circles.)
On a blog, Fredericks wrote that she had reversed the genders of what she originally planned for her main characters; the prisoner became a man instead of a woman, and the guards became women instead of men. She said the story became much richer because of it.
This richly-written fantasy tale is worth reading as an adventure alone. But deeper than that, it can help open the mind to see the “bad guys” in real life as what they really are: people.
An opinion of an individual member of The Loveshade Family does not necessarily reflect the views of the whole family.