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REVIEW: Towers Fall by Karina Sumner-Smith

The final installment of Karina Sumner-Smith’s Towers trilogy is finally here. While I haven’t devotedly followed the trail of this trilogy, I’ve admired it and been a fan from afar, ever since I reviewed the first book Radiant in July 2014. Mainly, I was relieved to read a book featuring two leading female characters that didn’t focus on some kind of bitter rivalry between the two or pit them against each other for a shallow end. Xhea and Shai are fantastic characters, both on their own and as friends, and it’s their relationship that really binds the series together.

So that being said, yeah, Towers Fall was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, albeit a bit different in terms of style.

When this book opens, Xhea is crippled by the events of the previous book, Defiant, which leaves her needing the assistance of a cane. Not only that, but her magic is tethered and bound inside her, making her magical connection to Shai (the powerful Radiant ghost that everyone wants to get their hands on) weak and vulnerable. As if that’s not enough to worry about, the Central Spire (the center of the floating Towers, where the privileged and elite live in comfort) has decided that the inhabitants of the poor Lower City have three days to evacuate before they destroy everything.

No pressure.

Unlike Radiant, Towers Fall is a mainly internal journey for both girls, but especially for Xhea, who becomes the book’s central focus as the story tends to follow her more so than Shai. Xhea makes an important discovery early on in the novel that convinces her that she and Shai have the potential, together, to battle the corruption of the Central Spire, save the Lower City, and usher in a new age where people of low means are not exploited either in life or in death. It’s the ultimate form of revolution wherein the inhabitants of the Lower City, as well as other ghosts like Shai whose magic is siphoned off to provide power for the Central Spire, can potentially reclaim their lives.

But not all revolutions are begun by fast-paced action and heroics: there’s planning, risks, and sacrifices that all need to be taken into account, hence the fact that this book is much more internal than external. There’s more thought than action, which while I appreciated as a fresher take on post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels, sometimes contributed to pacing problems. Internal journeys can be satisfying if you know what you’re in for, but I found myself at certain points of the novel peeking ahead by a page or two to see when the next “thing” would happen. The writing itself is beautiful and immersive regardless of internal or external acts, but again, the pacing sometimes dragged on as a result of the lack of in-person action.

As well as being an internal journey, it’s also an emotional one for both girls. I remember being in such awe of their connection during the course of Radiant, and I normally wouldn’t have thought it possible, but their friendship only grows deeper in Towers Fall. Luckily, Sumner-Smith avoids making the girls too similar to one another where it feels like they’re the same person: they spend much of the book being separated from each other, which gives them both time to develop as their own characters instead of constantly conflating them together as ‘Xhea and Shai.’

And you really feel their despair at being separated: it’s almost like someone has their hand in your chest and they’re squeezing your organs together. These girls care about each other so much, and again it’s a beautiful thing when you can read a novel with two leading ladies that aren’t pitted against each other and are, in fact, the best of friends and arguably the only people who understand one another. The fact that Shai is literally tethered to Xhea’s body by a string of magic only solidifies this not-so-subtle metaphor that they are meant to be together, a unit, strengthened by their bond.

Towers Fall is absolutely a satisfying conclusion to the Radiant trilogy. The emotional stakes are high, and while there’s always a danger for final installments to focus more on action rather than character arcs, Sumner-Smith doesn’t fall into that trap. This book is still very much Xhea and Shai’s story as well as a story about saving a people from harsh inequality. It’s what I wish a lot more final installments were like, and so despite its (admittedly few) flaws, Towers Fall succeeds. I highly recommend this series as a whole to anybody looking for something fresh and new in the post-apocalypse/dystopian genre.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Gabrielle Taub on Twitter
Gabrielle Taub
Fantasy Reviewer at Girls in Capes
Gabby, the Fantasy Reviewer at Girls in Capes, is a graduate of New York University. She enjoys reading (about Captain America), writing (about Captain America), and spending time getting lost among the bookshelves at Strand Bookstore – probably while thinking about Captain America.
Gabrielle Taub
Written by Gabrielle Taub

Gabby, the Fantasy Reviewer at Girls in Capes, is a graduate of New York University. She enjoys reading (about Captain America), writing (about Captain America), and spending time getting lost among the bookshelves at Strand Bookstore – probably while thinking about Captain America.