The Darkest Tower

Castalia House wisely decided to re-publish the Award winning Best Novel for 2016 SOMEWHITHER in a new multivolume format.

The second volume is out now:


Just to avoid confusion: this is the same story as SOMEWHITHER, merely broken into neat, bite-sized bits.


THE UNWITHERING REALM is a massive tale of a greater and darker evil with longer reach than anything Man can imagine, of despair without bounds, of pain beyond measure, and of the faith required to surmount all three. It is a story of inexorable destiny written in the stars and the stubborn courage that is required to defy it.

In THE DARKEST TOWER, Ilya Muromets has fallen into the hands of the arrogant Astrologers who rule the multiverse through their scientific mastery of the stars. Imprisoned in their mighty Dark Tower, there is no plan he can envision that has not already been anticipated and thwarted through the evil arts of his torturers.

But Ilya is bound and determined to be a hero, and heroes do not quit simply because they face impossible odds.

THE DARKEST TOWER is the second book in THE UNWITHERING REALM, the Dragon Award-winning series by science fiction grandmaster John C. Wright, author of THE GOLDEN AGE, MOTH & COBWEB, and AWAKE IN THE NIGHT LAND.

There seem to be no customer reviews, positive or negative, on Amazon. Help me out, please, dear readers!

Let me cheat slightly, and post some praise by reviewers from Goodreads:

Occasionally while reading a book, there comes a point where I pause, smile and tell myself, “This one will be special.” Sometimes it’s a particularly riveting action scene, or it’s a clever turn of phrase, or a personally relevant reference. Somewhither is full of all three, and they might work for different readers. For me, it’s found near the start of the book, when Ilya, the protagonist who is not yet the hero, explains why he had made the decision to-literally-rush headlong into danger.

“It was because of the guy I wanted not to be.”

Who says that? Especially now, when self-esteem appears inversely related to achievement, when everyone is special and everyone is a hero? This protagonist does, and the contrarian that I am, I immediately suspected he would, in fact become one of the more memorable heroes by the time the story is done. And I was not wrong.

Somewhither presents a world that is both recognizable and surreal, taking comfortable sci-fi and fantasy elements and using them as only Mr. Wright can. A young man on a quest? Check. A beautiful love interest? Of course. A Big Bad of world-shattering proportions? You bet. A team of quirky sidekicks? Oh yes, big time. The novel takes all of these pieces and lifts them into the stratosphere. There scope is bigger, the questions weightier, and the over-reaching vision is like nothing you might expect to come out from the sum of its parts.

The tone of the novel, to match both the age and the attitude of the first-person narrator, is surprisingly light for a work of this ambition. It sidetracks in riffing on the tropes of modern storytelling (no, the hero assures us during one of the many tense moments, this is not a “found footage” story, and he will not keel over in Chapter 2, leaving us only with his blood stained diary!) It laments the influence that Star Trek might have on anyone traveling between the worlds. And, just to make sure everyone remembers that the story, fantastic though it might be, is actually rooted in reality, we get an off-hand mention of Planned Parenthood. In hands of a lesser writer, it could have easily been a mess, but we’re talking about the writer who gave us The Golden Age trilogy, so have a little faith.

Speaking of faith… Prayers in general, and Catholic references in particular do play an important role. If, like me, you’re not a Christian, you may even need to Google a few items. (IS there actually a patron saint of throat ailments? Apparently, yes.) I will tell no more, for fear of spoilers, except to say that the inclusion of faith is both necessary to the story and organic to the character.

The pacing is near perfect, alternating between breathtaking, at times extremely violent, action and the slower sections that allow the reader to absorb the wealth of information about the world. Although Amazon estimates the novel at over 500 pages, it comes to the end almost too quickly and provides just enough closure to make us impatient for the sequel, which, rumor has it, is in the works. I, for one, can’t wait.

One problem I honestly never, ever expected before becoming an author, since I (like all authors) am a raging egotist, was that overpraise would make me blush. You would think, like an overweight housecat, any author would love being stroked. Well, in reality my sense of fairness always makes me clear my throat and say something self-deprecating to put the comments back in balance.

Not this time. I am trying to sell a product, so I will keep my personal opinions to myself. The readers are satisfied, which means the boss likes my work.

Refusing to take a compliment is also a type of pride, odd as it sounds, because it means you are arguing in your heart with your boss.

The polite thing to do is to say thanks.

Thanks, boss. I aim to please.

Here is another:

It’s really impossible for me to be objective about this book. Objectively, I know it is not perfect: in some parts it drags a bit, and really did we need quite so many grisly descriptions of gore and violence? Nobody talks the way these people talk, and tonally it’s all over the map.

BUT. Okay, if you have ever read any John C Wright, you know what his books are like. They are crazy and big with ideas and bombast and action and beautiful maidens and larger-than-the-universe spaceships and doughty heroes and over-the-top melodrama, and they are just awesome. Well this is the John C Wrightiest of all John C Wright books, and if the idea of an Undying Boyscout Hero teaming up with a Biblical prophet, a monkey assassin girl, a dark elf-taught version of the Shadow, and that torso guy from the Bugs Bunny cartoons against vampires, werewolves, sea monsters, and above all the endless masters of the undying Tower of Babel, bent on subjugating all possible worlds of the multiverse, appeals to you, then you will love this book. There are Knights Templar, there are sea-witches, interdimensional portals, anti-gravity magic, enchanted swords, probably time travel, and lots of and lots and lots of fighting. It is so epically awesome I should probably stop babbling and just let you go ahead and read it, because you know you want to.

If all of the above does not appeal to you, then you should give this book a pass. I can absolutely guarantee it is not for everybody. But if you love pulp adventure, classic fantasy, sci fi, Biblical epics, historical adventure, Samurai flicks, Monster movies, and Apocalypses, and you want to see all those elements tossed into a blender and served up in a tall frosty mug of awesome, then this book is for you.

Tall frosty mug of awesome, eh? I like that.

Let me post a negative review, out of a sense of fairness:

I was pulled into this book because I’m a sucker for anything linguistics-fiction related and the writing seemed very Heinlein-esque. Unfortunately, the book didn’t pay off the promise. I liked the “voice”, and the flavor of the narrative, but the story and characters fell flat for me. The worst bits involved long, long sections of writing that added nothing, didn’t engage, and should have been edited out.

The focus on religion was too much. I enjoyed Frankowski’s Cross Time Engineer, so religion and women-as-brainless-objects are things I can tolerate if the story is fun.

The “hero” was busy spouting off facts to the exclusion of involving the reader. He didn’t really have any credible growth arc, the way Heinlein heroes do. For someone who grew up in a quasi-military household, he didn’t sell the concept of the boyscout who obeys orders but has tons of self initiative. That point is key to this kind of story. Didn’t work for me.

Oh, and no good linguistics fun.

“The Martian” was a much, much better book that approached the same hyper competence genre. Reading them both so closely together probably made this one look worse in comparison. In the end, I just didn’t find anything to like.

Let me give a bit of advice to other writers out there: if there is a reader who thinks things like this “For someone who grew up in a quasi-military household, he didn’t sell the concept of the boyscout who obeys orders but has tons of self initiative” you should neither take it to heart nor puzzle about what to do with your writing to get through to such a reader.

He has a fixed idea in his head that it is not your business to dislodge, and this idea prevents him from seeing or understanding the book you just wrote.

If he has never met anyone in the military, or never met a boy scout, or he has some weird idea that obedient people never show initiative, your humble little book cannot make up for that defect in his experience.

You have to write the book in the worldview you know, that fits the reality according to your understanding. To a flat-earther, depicting a round world breaks the suspension of disbelief; to anyone who has ever met any Christians, portraying all Christians as evil bigots breaks the suspension of disbelief. It is something simply alien to their view of the world, too alien to accept, even for the sake of the story.

There are people who can read things outside their own worldview or political perspective, or books that do not share their prejudices. Any Christian picking up Homer, for example, or any Protestant picking up Dante. But most casual readers are not reading books as a self examination session: they just want to be entertained.

And that is your job as a writer. We are in the clown business, not the teaching business nor the preaching business.

Making people laugh is honest work. No shame in being a clown.

Again, likewise, when you write about a female character who (1) sails around the world as a teenager (2) takes control of her father’s business when he is dragged away to the madhouse (3) is actually a spy for an interdimensional military organization (4) is as bold as Joan of Arc… but the reader dismisses her as “women-as-brainless-objects” … your writing cannot reach that reader.

Nothing you write on the page will actually reach his eyeball, climb up his optic nerve, and make any neurological changes, however tiny, in his brain. He has a fixed idea that prevents him from enjoying something that should and could be right up his alley, but that is his business, not yours.

You cannot blame him, and you cannot blame yourself.

You cannot fix his psychological blindspots, and if he is going to fix them, it is going to be when he is doing some deep thinking about himself and his place in the world, not the moment when he is taking an afternoon off to read a silly pulp novel of weird action and fantastic adventure.

It is just a fact of life. If the same guy had read the same thing on a different day, or in a different mood, he would get it. He would be able to read what you wrote.

Never complain about reviews. Just be happy someone is reading your book at all. Many authors never even get that …