Customer Reviews: Tower Lord (A Raven's Shadow Novel)
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on July 9, 2014
I have a lot of the same criticisms, and share the same bafflement as just about every other reader. The practically unanimous consensus is that this book is NOWHERE near as good as the first. I thought Blood Song was a cut above story, and it really ended strong with great promise for more story to come. But to say Tower Lord is not as good as Blood Song is to miss the real story here.

Tower Lord is such a steep fall as to simply astonish you that it's from the same writer. This was not a story that had to be forced; Ryan ended BS with a lot of world to explore and seemed to have a clear handle on the pieces moving beyond the reader's vision. Yet, Tower Lord almost entirely avoids these pieces, and if anything, reveals less about the real threat to this world, the history, or the magical elements than what was explored in Blood Song. Things that don't get satisfactory treatment: the Seventh Order, the story of the One Who Waits, the Ally (same as One Who Waits?), the Ally's henchmen (3 of them?), the story of Vaelin's parents and what they were really up to with Vaelin being sent to the Sixth Order, what the Alpiran Empire did with Vaelin for five years, Vaelin's trial there (OK, pretty much anything with Vaelin), the deal with Frentis and his scars, etc. It's all very cursory, but that's what we all came here to read about. Not the endless marching through the forests.

If Ryan wanted to write the next Game of Thrones, he has succeeded only in writing a pale imitation to Dance With Dragons. This entire book is about characters traveling from one place to another, just like Tyrion, Brienne, Jaimie and seemingly everybody else in ADWD. The four characters in this book are eternally on the move with seemingly no change or consequence. This is extremely boring, and the endless battles and fights the characters get into do not liven things up--they all just blend together.

I was initially interested in the different character viewpoints, but that quickly soured. It's not just that the character arcs are predictable (utterly so!), but that every single character speaks with the SAME VOICE. Try reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. Say what you will about it's enormous length and numerous characters--each POV features a unique perspective and voice easily identifiable to that character. This is true of Jordan's characters across the sexes. Mat's chapters have an enormously different feel from Perrin's chapters, and the same for Nynaeve versus Elayne, and on and on. The same is true of many great authors.

Not so here, and this is really shocking. Vaelin, Lyrna, Frentis, and Reva's chapters all feel as if they are from the same POV with only exceedingly minor differences. Do you ever get tired of the reluctant hero cliché that plagues 99% of modern story and film? Well, you'll get your fill here because every single character is that way. All four are amazing warriors, leaders, and brilliant tacticians of course (within the confines of the story--you won't actually feel that way), and all four feel endlessly guilty about causing death and violence, even when they are only involved in defending themselves and others. I am so sick of the cliché of good people blaming themselves for the actions of evil ones, like the hero who blames himself because his implacably evil foe harms an innocent to get at the hero. This sort of thing happens all the time in this book, and everyone of these damn characters always reacts with same variation of "That guy's terrible cruelty is my fault because I'm the one he wants." In real life, when somebody does something mean, no matter how petty, most people don't sit around brooding and saying, "Y'know, really I've got some blame here for that guy cutting me off in traffic. Why, if only I'd left the house half an hour earlier, I wouldn't have been here for this guy to swoop in front of me, so that's on me." What the hell? This sort of writing is not only terrible on its face, it's been done to death for decades now. See Harry Potter. Hell, see the Wheel of Time. In this book (and unlike Blood Song), the unwarranted navel-gazing is constant with every character. Couldn't there be a single one who generally reacts to battle with the attitude that they did what they had to do? There should be some tall in the saddle John Waynes to counter balance the hand-wringing, head-hanging Jake Gyllenhalls in this book.

Like I said, all the characters feel the same. Lyrna and Reva don't "feel" like female characters. If Ryan hadn't thrown in a weird May-December lesbian romance with Reva, I probably would have forgotten the character was a girl. The lesbian angle also feels forced and distracting, as if Ryan was trying to hit all the bases. And of course, the romance is handled in a clichéd manner. Reva is religious and her feelings are a source of shame and torment to her (this is more declared than really felt in the writing), and of course the religious figures in the book all use it to treat her as scum. The modern parallels are too clumsily inserted, and I daresay not accurate. But whatever your feelings on the culture war angle, it's not original, and therefore it's not very interesting. It was cliché 15 years ago when American Beauty rode the tormented self-hating gay storyline to the Academy Awards red carpet. Yet here we are, still being fed the same bland pudding for the umpteenth time. It lost its flavor a long time ago.

Now let's get to the heart of problem: Vaelin Al Sorna. Our hero, the reason everyone is picking up this book in the first place. It's an exaggeration to say he's barely in this book. Sure, there's a character named Vaelin who appears in a few (very few) chapters, but I'm starting to wonder if he wasn't possessed by the One Who Waits off-screen because he's NOTHING at all like the character from the first book. Here, he's a haunted, passive, burnt out shell. Think Steven Seagal in On Deadly Ground versus Seagal in Hard to Kill. At the end of Blood Song, he was a renewed man burning with purpose. That purpose was to find Sherin, rescue Frentis, and figure out how to stop the One Who Waits. Clear. Simple. In Tower Lord, Vaelin has almost no thought of Sherin, and immediately abandons his mission to rescue Frentis at the request of the King. This is completely out of character for a man who finished the first book battle tested and ready to reclaim his own destiny. He was unshackled and ready to rumble. Forging your own path was a big theme of Blood Song, and it was the great conflict in his character that serving the King led him to do things he was personally opposed to, and the reader was there to see if Vaelin could reconcile the various conflicts of king, religion, morality, and personal desire.

That's not here, folks. Instead, we keep waiting for the characters to get to Alltor, and then Vaelin does something extraordinarily stupid as a military commander (but it works out no problem at all because FANTASY HERO), and there's a weirdly abrupt ending. Oh, and the one scene that promised to be interesting and connected to Blood Song--Lyrna's meeting with the Mahlessa--was instead cryptic and confusing.

Let's sum it up: boring plot, bland same-same characters, clumsy modern culture war crap, complete indifference to the Blood Song deep storyline, older than the pyramids guilty battle weary hero conscience crap, and a neutered unrecognizable Vaelin Al Sorna.

What the hell happened?
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on July 29, 2014
Blood Song is my favorite fantasy book of all time. I loved it so much, Tower Lord was the first book I ever pre-ordered. I don't regret reading Tower Lord, but it is a huge drop in quality from Blood Song. Here's why:

Blood Song is an epic tale that follows the life of Vaelin Al Sorna. As he takes a ship to his execution, he gives the royal scribe his version of his legendary accomplishments. We learn about his life, his friends, his first love, his powers, his trials, and the world. We grow with the characters and the story is full of mysteries and twists. The book ends with lots of momentum. We want to find out about the 'evil departed', Sister Sherin, the Blood Song, and the rest of the characters. By the time you finish that book, you really feel like you've grown up with Vaelin and the Brothers of the Sixth Order.

The first half of Tower Lord kills all of the momentum. The book begins with Vernier, the Royal Scribe, as a slave to the evil general who is attacking the realm. Then it skips backwards in time and breaks into five concurrent (but not interwoven) stories each told from a different point of view. Vaelin accepts the position as the Tower Lord in the north, where he must interact with the tribes. Reva a young girl brainwashed by a vengeful priest, is trained to assassinate Vaelin. Frentis, a pit fighter, is telepathically bound by a strange female assassin and must do her bidding. Lyrna is an ambassador to the northern tribes. Vernier must try to survive the whims of a cruel general as a slave.

Even though the story arcs make sense, the story arcs are clumsy and switching back and forth hurts the pacing because they aren't interwoven.

In those 5 story arcs, we can't root for the characters because everything is out of their control. Vaelin follows the blood song; nothing to root for here. Reva is misguided and she tries to assassinate Vaelin, so we have to root against her. Frentis must do whatever the crazy assassin woman wants him to do, so we just want him to endure the suffering and find a way to escape. Things fall to pieces around Lyrna and she is taken out of her element and must rely on a savage warrior woman named Davoka. Vernier must do whatever the mad general tells him to do or he'll get his head chopped off and there will be nobody to write their account in italics. So, with everything out of the main characters' control, the reader can't root for anything because the main characters all seem like puppets. This is especially painful because the chapters are written from their perspective.

Can Vaelin defy the Blood Song? Nope.
Can Reva kill Vaelin? Nope.
Can Frentis defy the immortal assassin? Nope.
Can Lyrna, a princess whose only experience with nature was a nice garden, survive in the wilds surrounded by bloodthirsty savages? Not a chance.
Can Vernier do anything that mildly strays from the evil General's orders? Nope.

So, the main characters should have been:
The Blood Song/Vaelin, the Nameless Assassin Woman who controls Frentis, Davoka the savage warrior who guides Lyrna, and the evil General who lays siege to the land and owns Vernier, and Reva who quests for a legendary sword; because these are the characters who are actually in control.

91 Characters who all seem the same:
With five completely independent story arcs, with almost no cross-overs, there are a ton of extraneous side characters with nothing to make them stand out. Physical descriptions and stylized behaviors are few and far between, so you can't really visualize what's going on. When you read a GRRM or Abercrombie book, it may take a while, but you actually get to know the characters. The drunk mercenary always has a drink in his hand. The headstrong young assassin is always feisty. The gambler is always trying his luck. In this book, the heroes all act like Vaelin and the side characters have almost nothing to distinguish them. So, reading about them becomes a chore.

Basic Plot:
The main characters must all do their part to save a city under siege. That's pretty much the whole point of the story.

The first 300 Pages:
After the first 300 pages, the characters get moving again and the book gets much better. Then there's battle after battle. But you need to struggle through 300 pages first.

Reva is a poorly written character. She goes from isolated young girl who was raised in a barn by a sadistic priest, to a master tactician and warrior in a month or two. It also makes it difficult because she really is the main character of Tower Lord and she's the worst character in it.

Strange Scenes:
We interrupt this castle siege for a single page awkward sex scene where a character has lesbian sex with her older aunt and talks about her gross feet. Seriously, what was that all about?!

The Ending:
I'm not even sure what happened, but I won't spoil it for anyone.

In order to enjoy the story, you have to trudge through 300 pages of pointless scenes before it gets going. The second half of the book is much better than the first half, but by the time you get to it, you're pretty uninterested. This book would have been so much better with 1-3 interwoven story arcs.

You've been warned, if you still want to read this book, read it.
If you're on the fence about it, wait for the next book in the series and see if the series recovers or gets worse.

If you liked this book, check out The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. It's a story about a 3 day battle with different points of view. It's done much better than this.
If you liked castle sieges, check out Legend by David Gemmell. It's a classic.
If you like multiple points of view, check out The Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. He's the master.
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on August 12, 2014
Oh, Anthony.

The first book was really pretty good. I would've given it 4 stars. A few run-on sentences jumped out here and there. But overall, the characters were engaging, the story was interesting, the fantasy was fun. And there was a cool twist at the end.

Now this. The writing is bad. SO BAD. So, so bad you guys. Anthony likes commas instead of periods. Anthony likes WORDS, SO MANY WORDS in every sentence. If I were to write this review as me, I would say: the book was bad. If I were to write this review as Anthony, I would say: "Reading this book brought a great level of destruction to my mood, greater than ever previously witnessed, as I turned the last page, I began to cry, as there could be no satisfactory conclusion found anywhere in sight, and the realization dawned upon me, like a dark storm cloud, that I had forced myself to read the whole thing for naught, whilst my heart longed for something so much better."

I might read book 3, but only if Anthony gets a new editor. I miss the Vaelin that had a personality.
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on July 13, 2014
I don't want to belabor the negative reviews and pile on this book. That I am posting at all is because oh how sorely disappointed I am. There was one review I read that struck to the heart of what is wrong with this book. If you bought this book expecting Blood Song #2 as many of us did and will continue to do so... Well that's not what you're getting. Blood Song was the haunting riveting coming of age of Vaelin Al Sorna. This book.. It's the story of Lyrna, Frentis, and Reva guest starring some guy named Vaelin. But don't be mistaken. It's not the same Vaelin from Book 1. This guy is some pacifist who spends the paltry pages devoted to him riding to and fro on a horse. Tower Lord? The name of the book is a travesty. Vaelin spent maybe 2 days as Tower Lord and made no meaningful contribution to being a Tower Lord except to leave the place soon after arriving. Blood Song #2? No that doesn't exist either as you have known it. It's now some Broadway tune you have to sing. Beware. If you do it too long, you die from a nosebleed. So don't expect it to be used in any meaningful way.

If you don't want to read about this Vaelin Al Boring, then you won't have to. The majority of the book is devoted to Superwoman Reva. Who's that? Some character we don't know or care about who is forced upon us as the heroine of Tower Lord. The 6th Order trains boys over 20 years to become amazing warriors. Who needs that? 2 weeks with Vaelin and no more than 5 sparring matches and you've got yourselves the world's best swordswoman and master of the bow. So now we can follow her on her adventures tackling her daddy issues and becoming the hero of LGBT rights. If that's not to your liking you can read about Frentis and his relationship issues. Or maybe Lyrna. The world's smartest woman with a pet shark.

How did we go from seeing Vaelin grow and develop his skills over time in Book 1 to this uninspiried insipid multiple POV mess of Book 2 featuring characters that break every notion of character development that happened in the first book? Overnight heroes with amazing magically developed skills and closet personal issues they have to deal with. It seems like Editorial intrusion in a big negative way. I can see some editor changing Anthony Ryan from a brilliant new on the scene writer, to GRRM lite. "Lets change to POV like Martin" "Let's add some strong female perspectives" "Best make her lesbian. Thats a niche we can target" "This mysterious danger from Beyond? Too confusing. Doesnt work the focus groups. Let's make it Evil Empire with generic slave soldiers"

I will be buying Book 3 when it comes out. But only because of the brilliance of Book 1. Please go back to your original story telling Anthony Ryan. And his editors.. Stay out his way. We don't want to read a book by GRRM or Robert Jordan lite. We want to discover more about the world and the character that we were introduced to in Book 1. What was promised in the titles. The Blood Song of Book 1 and the Tower Lord of Book 2. This book featured neither.
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on August 13, 2014
High expectations for this book were left unrealized.
Filled with cheezy politically correct drama and few plausible military stratagems as the allies seek to defend against the invading Volarian host. Despite being a highly disciplined and advanced force, the Volarians all but fall on their swords when any real resistance is offered. Towards the end of the book there is a major naval battle (use that term very loosely) where the Volarians are routed by an inferior Meldenian fleet employing flame catapults (which somehow the Volarians don't have - even though in other parts of the book their navy uses catapults) and a possessed shark (I guess it was a big shark).
The author spends much of the book on a soap box deriding the despicable enslaving Volarians yet throughout the allies employ torture and consistently slaughter helpless captives which in the end leave you wondering who the bad guys really are. The only clear message was 'hate breeds hate'. Very inspiring.
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on November 5, 2015
I am glad I did not listen to the "recommended reviews"... I almost did not purchase this book because of them and I am sooo glad I did. If you enjoyed the first book then you will most likely enjoy this one. The main difference is this book follows multiple viewpoints but they are in no way wasted. if you liked how the story was plotted and woven in the first book then it will feel much the same as threads weave in and out from each other leading to the conclusion. The intro's to each part of the book set the tone, just as in the first one, giving you a view of what is going to happen but leaving you wondering how and thats where your story comes in.

If have no complaints about this book and find it is an great followup to the original. This book is about war. As a fan of Glen Cook's Black Company I found this to be very well done and I recommend this to anyone who enjoyed book 1 and encourage fans of dark military fantasy to give the series a try. Again, the "recommended reviews" do NOT do this novel justice.
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on July 7, 2014
I will try my best not to be repetitive of other reviews. I loved Blood Song. This one, not so much.

As others have mentioned, a main flaw in this book is the lack of emphasis on the main character--Vaelin. Also lacking is what made the first book great, viz., the relationships between the brothers (and Vaelin and Lyrna). Nothing is as gripping as a tale of people who are bonded in friendship through hardship and toil, only to have their friendships tested by other loyalties, events, and agendas--all the while trying to unravel a mystery greater than all of them. Here, Ryan makes the fatal flaw of using characters to advance the plot, rather than using the plot to develop the characters. In Blood Song, yes there were great battles and political intrigue, but it was used as the means through which Vaelin developed. In Tower Lord, we have a straight up evil conspiracy plot and invasion, and the characters simply are plugged in to move the plot along.

Ryan changed from a strong first-person epic into a not-well-executed attempt at a grand epic. I found the multiple POVs annoying. He could have gotten by with just Vaelin and Lyrna. Another effect of the multiple POVs is that it "ruins" some of the reveals. Again, part of the joy of the original was watching Vaelin act based on incomplete information and figure things out. I really dislike it when the author provides the reader with more knowledge than the main character. The multiple POV seemed like a not to subtle way of cashing in on GOT readers.

1. Plot-wise, way too much time is spent on the Frentis slave killing spree arc. This could have been recounted by a story by the fire or flashback. Way too many pages were wasted on what seemed like a female version of the mustache twirling villain.
2. The concept of an invasion of the Realm was very compelling, but I felt the book would have been much better if Ryan had left Vaelin as sort of a loner trying to unravel the mysteries of the dark, rather than just showing up pulling a Johne Wayne ("I thought you were dead"; "Not hardly") In this regard there is a lot of incongruity with the ending of the previous novel as no one seems to know what happened to Vaelin. Yet, word of his defeat of the champion of one of the major powers (and a sea faring power at that) in what was set up as a huge spectacle was sure to make its way back to the Realm. It simply strains credulity that everyone thinks he died in prison.
3. I expected more focus on the Orders from the inside out rather than the play-by-play approach. There was so much potential with the plotting and conniving between the Aspects, the 7th Order, and their secrets. In this book, they are just thrown away as "just another goofy religion."
4. Vaelin has no personal conflict. He just literally "shows up" out of nowhere. He becomes a cliché--the superhero who can't wont use his powers. Perhaps part of the problem was that Ryan wrote Vaelin into a corner in the last book--the greatest warrior who ever lived. So, in this book, in order to keep some sense of tension and conflict, he makes Vaelin into a pacifist for most of the book. This device could have worked if he had Vaelin actually DOING something other than walking around a lot and talking.

5. it would have been helpful if Ryan managed to keep the numbers for the Orders straight. Mixing them up created a lot of confusion as I often had to re-read a paragraph to make sure he was talking about the same person.

6. Finally, while I understand the desire to use strong female leads, Reva just did not work for me. I got really tired of her emo internal whining. Vaelin's sister was a throwaway character. The story would have worked much better as a Vaelin/Lyrna dueling POVs, with their stories intersecting at some point.

7. its been mentioned in other reviews....but WHY they heavy LGBT focus? I read fantasy for an escape from reality, not some commentary/pandering to current social movements/events.

8. The plot elements make no sense. They are laughable. Hidden armies, super powerful animals, the reluctant "hero" who becomes a badass after a few weeks of "training" Other minor laughable plot points: Vaelin calls up the forces for his new command (all of whom hate him by the way) in response to a perceived threat, but then sends them all home. A few weeks later, he calls everyone up again ("Hey guys, I really mean it this time")

9. Almost NO CONNECTION with the previous book. By that I mean, none of the mysteries, plot elements, etc. in the previous book "pay off" in this one. Really, it is like the first book never happened/didn't mean anything. Sure the character names and place names are the same, but none of the "hooks" from Blood Song carry through.

10. The Title? This book is not about the "Tower Lord." In fact, Vaelin becomes Tower Lord, takes his new command, and promptly leaves all in the span of a chapter. There was so much potential for the mysterious "northern reaches." Instead we get 3 iterations of native American tribes (or GOT wildlings) trying to survive and Vaelin refusing to do anything because he suddenly feels bad about killing. A more apt title would be "Sword Sheather"

Bottom line: Ryan forgot why people loved the first book--Vaelin and Vaelin's relationships.

In sum, this book was a huge disappointment. I hope Mr. Ryan reads these reviews and takes them to heart. He clearly has talent and created a universe many fell in love with. Unfortunately, he ruined it in Tower Lord.
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on July 10, 2014
What a disappointment! Blood Song is one of my favorite books ever, and I waited impatiently for the sequel for almost two years. Sadly, Tower Lord fell far short of my expectations. I had a very difficult time finishing the book. Equally dividing the story among four characters made it hard to follow any one story line as it switched back and forth, and I thought the character development was lacking on Reva. Vaelin played a relatively minor role in this book, and was just a shadow of the person he was in Blood Song. Things simply dragged. I can see where Mr. Ryan is going with this story, but I'm sorry to say I'm not sure if I want to continue the journey with him.
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on July 4, 2014
This was on my most wanted list for 2014. Blood Song, the first in the series, is in my opinion one of the best fantasy books written in the last 10 years. It was an incredible immersing experience with great story and characters.

With this book on the other hand it's like the publisher told him: "Now listen here Mr. Ryan, you've made quite the impression with Blood Song. You have lots of fans raving about it ... let's milk it ... we'll introduce a couple of pointless characters stating that we're enriching and enlarging the book's perspective and universe, we'll limit what actually happens ... and voila TOWER LORD".

This should have been named Filler Lord in my opinion. As for the actual Tower Lord, the Raven's Shadow, you know, the character that the book was supposed to be about? Let's put it this way: for 30% percent of the book he travels to Northern Reaches, for 65% percent of the book he travels back from the Northern Reaches to save a city that is besieged for all the duration of the book and in the last 5% he swings his sword for like 2 pages and ...DONE. I give you Tower Lord.

Major disappointment. I liked the self-published Mr. Ryan better.
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on July 5, 2014
I wanted to give this at least three stars, I really did. I absolutely loved the first one, reading it three or four times since I bought it. I will quickly go over what I liked about the first book, as that ties directly to the parts I didn't like about this sequel. If you haven't read the first book, there may be spoilers, but I'll keep it free of second-book spoilers.

The way the first book had various introductory sections framed as dialogue between the main character, Vaelin al Sorna, and a scribe/historian, Verniers, was fantastic. A majority of the book, though, was Vaelin's first-hand account of his life; growing up in the Sixth Order, getting sent off to fight battle after battle, war upon war. Even more exciting was to see him come into his gift, the Blood Song. It was one of the hooks I really enjoyed about the book. Nothing overwhelmingly powerful, with dire consequences for overuse/misuse, and a great mystery that is teased at being better revealed in subsequent books.

In this one, Verniers is a slave (not really a spoiler, since you find this out in the first page), and so his dialogue between sections tends to be between him and his slave masters. My problem here was that in the first book there was an exciting dichotomy between Vaelin and Verniers, and the dialogue between them was greatly relevant to the story and gave a fun relief between sections. Now the section introductions with Verniers are less thrilling, not nearly as entertaining, and more of a distraction than a welcome relief between acts.

The author also switched to a story-telling method I tend not to like: jumping between several characters. Normally I think that this could be done well with up to three, maybe four, characters *at most*. I didn't like Game of Thrones because it had too many characters, many of whom I didn't care much for, that it jumped between. Wheel of Time managed to do a bit better, but there were still times when I skipped entire characters because their arcs were far less interesting than others, and knowing their stories didn't make a significant impact on the more interesting arcs anyway. Same with Tower Lord: you could skip a majority of some of the characters arcs and not be too baffled at the end. Maybe some cliff notes to dispel a few of the major questions, but mostly I found that the additional characters simply adding un-enjoyable fluff to the story.

Finally, the beginning and ending were extremely jarring. The beginning a significant amount of time has passed since the first book, throwing characters all over the place and you have no idea what's going on, and there's no slowing down to properly explain. I think there is some explanation of the important bits somewhere, but it's definitely not nearly close enough to the beginning of the book. This would have been a great use of Verniers in the beginning, to set the tone and the stage for the rest of the book... but all it sets is a general tone, and nothing of the stage. The ending seemed to rush a bit, and let me lacking overall. I loved the ending of the previous book, so having this one end so sourly was like adding salt to an open wound.

I don't regret buying and reading the book. If you like the first one and want to read the whole series, definitely get this book and read it once. Maybe twice, with the second time just before you read the next book.
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