And so the Sancti trilogy ends… It goes without saying, although I’ll say it, that you would be bonkers to read the final part of a trilogy without having read the other two (Sanctus and The Key). If you haven’t, then please advance no further – spoilers for the first novels are inevitable. Please enjoy the treat you have in store by reading them first, by which point nothing will prevent you from savouring The Tower.
With the publication of The Tower there is the excitement that I may well always feel at the prospect of a new read by Simon Toyne but now it is offset by the sadness at closing the pages on one of the finest thriller series that I have read. Instead of a potentially endless sequence of excellent thrillers, Toyne has given us a tightly structured set of three. Each is different from the others, bringing in new characters, bringing about the demise of other familiar ones, but the story of the most ancient city of Ruin, the Citadel at its heart, and the Sancti monks within it, continue to define the structure and spirit of the novels, from beginning to end. Now, we’re at that end and it’s time to prise open the Citadel and reveal its secrets while at the same time opening up the story to its global significance and beyond.
The Tower exists in two spaces – two stories, eight months apart at first and with the time closing in. In one, we pick up the threads of Gabriel and Liv at a time when the Blight unleashed in The Key threatens to burst from the Citadel. While one rushes back to the heart of Ruin in order to confine the disease, the other is in the desert, deciphering and fulfilling a prophecy that we have slowly begun to unravel through Sanctus and The Key. In the other timeline, we are taken to the United States and the efforts of two FBI agents to solve a puzzle that threatens mankind’s entire involvement in the exploration of the stars.
Something utterly and literally compelling is happening. Ships are returning to port, towns and posts are abandoned, men and women are searching for home. At the same time, the southern US is besieged by snow whereas the northern states are seared by heat. Something has happened to change the nature of things. And while these two seemingly disparate threads unwind, The Tower knits them together into a pageturner of a thriller that is as much about the nature of man, his future and his past, as it is about disease, bombs and destruction.
The nature of the novel means that we spend less time with Gabriel and Liv – and, indeed, Gabriel and Liv themselves spend very little time together here at all. But that is because the story has moved on. We now need to follow FBI special agents Franklin and Shepherd, both fascinating individuals in their own right. The ancient city of Ruin – such a fantastic creation by Toyne – is not the only place suffering a religious crisis. It seems as if the whole of the United States is also re-evaluating its position to God and the heavens. I enjoyed learning about Franklin and Shepherd a great deal, just as I was intrigued by what Liv was experiencing in the desert. Toyne isn’t afraid to make his characters pay the ultimate sacrifice, as we have seen in the other novels (especially The Key) and there is more of the same to worry about here.
There is little information in The Tower about what is going on in the rest of the world outside of the US and the Middle East and that is a minor flaw. With events of such magnitude going on in the US one would expect to hear more about the other continents. However, I was so wrapped up in the story that this was something I only thought about after it ended. After all, in The Tower, Toyne has expanded the story out of Ruin and the desert and spread it across the world. The mix of the ancient – Ruin – with the state of the art – NASA – worked very well indeed.
You would want a thriller to be exciting and indeed this is, but all three novels are more than that. There’s an intelligence and philosophy to them as they examine the nature of religious belief and confidence inside the human soul, as well as the capacity to love and nurture. The ending may not be what you expected. Simon Toyne surprises and he makes you think. He also writes superbly.
These are no ordinary thrillers. The characters themselves – especially Gabriel and Liv – not ordinary. The supernatural or the heavenly mixes well with the pressured atmosphere of the novels, especially when we venture deep into the enormous but claustrophobic Citadel. As the trilogy ends two questions are paramount – what will be next for Simon Toyne and how long will I have to wait?
P.S. Do check out page 205. I have a cameo…..