In a world where the damned must climb an eternally growing tower only to die and try again, Daniel is giving a chance to start anew with his memories intact and the ability to slay the wraith that supervise the climbs. Behind the scenes, deities who feel the tower is a perversion work to eliminate its creator, and the tower’s creator has his own agenda to keep the end of the world at bay. Welcome to the Tower of Ruin.
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So, fun fact, I was made aware of this book over at the LitRPG Forum Discord, which is unusual in and of itself because I’ve been active on that Discord for almost two years but I don’t even use the forum proper. Anyways, author Wolfe Locke was writing that he released something over there and I was all “Oh I’ll have to read it sometime” and he was all “Well, that’s not good.”
I’m not an asshole, I swear.
At any rate, this book kind of floated to the top of my pile and I’m glad I gave it a shot because it’s solid. Shorter than I’d like (it is listed as a little over 320 pages but over a dozen of them alone are for a sample for another book) yet the premise and setup has me sold on book 2.
The book starts with the main character Daniel and a small crew of assorted individuals high inside a progressive tower. They are battle weary and not sure how much farther they can go. The crew is approached by a magnanimous Mr. Black who, after a show of strength, informs the team of what they already feel – they don’t have much rope left. But, Mr. Black informs them, he has a solution! He offers them a Chronos Hourglass, an item that will send someone back in time to when they first started climbing. They’ll be at level one with no stat boosts or any of their current equipment, but they will get to keep their memories of events prior. Even better, they will be giving a unique ability to kill a wight with their bare hands – a seemingly niche item, until one realizes that the custodians and watchers of this tower are all wights. This ability is expected to ultimately allow whoever goes back in time to slay the tower’s true owner and take ownership of the cursed plane it is on. The group considers what to do before sending Daniel back to the past…
… and things do not go as planned right out the bat. First off, this tower is constantly climbed and reset by a group of lost souls. A reset is literally nothing new, although the fact that Daniel gets to keep his memories is. Second, this tower is considered a perversion as it never truly had an end, and as a result plenty of powerful players would love the chance to overthrow its owner. Furthering the complexity of things, the owner himself is using this tower as something of a training grounds in hopes of protecting his domain from an even greater threat. There’s layers here.
Complicating things even further, this climb-through sees the introduction of a gacha element. There are fifty pound gold coins that appear hidden on levels, or whenever a player is killed by another player. They can be redeemed for items. These items are usually worthless, but sometimes the plot dictates they aren’t. What this element does do is completely skew the expectations Daniel has in regards to how everyone acts and who will survive with him.
The first book really focuses on the set-up and the first floor, which is in a nice twice a post-apocalyptical and abandoned airport complete with a sandstorm. It feels short, but it also packs a lot of action into that time. There are a few set-piece fights that work really well, and the pacing works not just on the individual fights but for the entire floor as a whole. The main character, in his past lives, survived by being timid and cautious. He breaks out of that shell in a way that’s believable, even as he isn’t strong like he used to be. The fights are visceral and the blows have weight to them. There were times I had an idea of what was going to happen, only to be caught off guard at the imaginative nature of a new threat, or how an acquired power didn’t work the way a character expected.
The novel is a bit stat-light and modifier-heavy, which might be a detractor, and it can be hard to use those stats to determine who should have an upper hand (besides Sturgess. That’s a horrible joke readers will understand later.) The gacha element that is added in the newest run has some interesting side-effects that I enjoyed, but its use as an actual source of items genuinely felt like it only benefitted a person when the plot needed it to. I could see these being a detraction later on, and I’m hoping the author keeps an eye on that.
Overall, a very enjoyable book. This novel is easy to recommend for fans of old school Ravenloft, or who just want a dark tower climb where the stakes are real. I’ve really got to hand it to the author (in a way that Sturgess can’t) – you’ve sold me on checking out the rest of your catalogue. Kudos, and a round of applause (a thing poor Sturgess can’t do.)