As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Note: This review covers the third book in a trilogy, and it contains spoilers for the previous books in the series after the fifth paragraph. You may prefer to read my review of The Obsidian Tower (book 1) or my review of The Quicksilver Court (book 2).

The Ivory Tomb concludes Melissa Caruso’s Rooks and Ruin trilogy, a standalone series set about 150 years after her Swords and Fire trilogy (The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir, The Unbound Empire). Rooks and Ruin follows Ryx, the appointed protector of her Witch Lord grandmother’s castle. For 4000 years, her family has been responsible for making sure The Door That Must Never Be Opened in the building’s Black Tower remains shut, but things go horribly wrong when a visiting ambassador breaks their millennia-long streak of success as guardians. To make matters even worse, Ryx—whose touch kills living things—accidentally comes into contact with the diplomat while trying to keep her from opening the Door, further enflaming political tensions.

This incident starts the series’ main story, which involves learning about what happened last time the Door was opened while trying to prevent the same horrors from happening again. Ryx also discovers the truth about her own strange magic that is so unlike the rest of her family’s powers, which bring life instead of taking it away, and grapples with self-acceptance.

I adored the first book in this trilogy, The Obsidian Tower. It’s filled with interpersonal drama with friends and foes alike gathered in the castle while a murderer runs rampant, and it kept me pondering who may or may not be trustworthy. It also did a fantastic job setting up the mysteries surrounding the Door and Ryx’s powers, and I could hardly put it down. Even better, I kept thinking about it after I did have to set it down.

However, I didn’t love the next book, The Quicksilver Court, the same way as the first. It’s still very good with some memorable scenes and lines of dialogue (and the great reveal about Ryx’s powers), but I didn’t find it nearly as riveting as the first book. The palace setting wasn’t as captivating as the family castle with its history and occasional rooms of bone, and the interpersonal connections were less compelling. This installment delved more into the pasts of Ryx’s friends in the Rookery, and I didn’t think these characters had enough depth or charisma to carry that amount of focus.

And though I found it to be more of a page-turner than the second book, The Ivory Tomb is my least favorite of the three. It’s a good, well-paced book with amusing dialogue, and I found it extremely readable after the first 40 pages or so. Yet, I also found that there weren’t parts or lines that stuck with me after I finished it. It just didn’t have that special spark that takes a story to the next level—and given that I felt similarly about parts of the previous book, I didn’t love this series nearly as much as Swords and Fire despite my love for the first book in the trilogy.

From this point forward, there will be spoilers for the first two books in this series.

The Ivory Tomb starts shortly after the end of the previous book, which revealed that all nine of the demons who nearly destroyed the world are once again running loose. Ryx is still trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s one of them—sort of—since her grandmother saved her life by letting one of the demons merge with her when she was deathly ill as a baby. This was one of the most benevolent demons but also one of the most destructive ones: Disaster. After Ryx learns that she’s part Disaster (which really explains so much), the memories of her life as a demon start to come back in bits and pieces, but there’s still a lot that she doesn’t remember from that time.

I have never liked amnesia as a story device. Fortunately, this novel’s brisk pacing meant there were enough other things happening that I kept turning the pages, and this case is at least a little different from the norm since Ryx retains her human memories. However, the holes in her memory contributed to my overall feeling that this could have been a stronger book. Ryx’s (very understandable) concerns about how her friends would react to the news that she was the legendary demon who nearly destroyed the world were compelling, but the fact that she couldn’t remember much of her personal history with the other demons made their interactions kind of lackluster.

A major part of this book’s storyline involves Ryx encountering the various demons who are wreaking havoc on the world. The others remembered her, for better or worse, but she tended to just have vague memories and feelings related to them. These interactions between Ryx and the other demons are a sort of family drama since she thinks of them as kin: she doesn’t necessarily like all of them, but she feels obligated to at least try to reason with them and work out a peaceful solution. However, I found this rather lifeless compared to all the human family drama in the first book, where it was clear why tensions existed between these people. There were obvious reasons they had messy relationships; it wasn’t just someone being shocked Ryx didn’t remember what happened between them, only for Ryx to eventually recall what had happened and fill the reader in after the fact. This probably would have worked for me if the new demons had more personality, but they’re rather one-dimensional beings named after their primary drive or power. Of course, this makes sense for these types of characters, but they still could have been imbued with some charisma that made them stand out more.

I couldn’t help but compare this to the Swords and Fire trilogy (although at least part of my preference for this series was due to the political drama and the way it played with fantasy tropes). Amalia, the protagonist, had no personal history with a lot of the Witch Lords she met, but they each had quirks and charm that made them captivating even if they only briefly appeared. But it was more than just that: the characters in the earlier series were more vibrant in general. The relationships Amalia had with people seemed better fleshed out and defined—including those with characters she met along the way, though to be fair, Ryx did have less people experience since exuding death made it difficult to get close to others—and the scenes and dialogue sparkled, particularly in the second and third books. Rooks and Ruin seemed more like it was going through the motions without giving it that extra shine, especially when it came to the characters in the Rookery. (I actually did like badass warrior Ashe and scholarly Bastian, whose little bits of dimension and duality worked better for me than the attempts made with the other two members. Even so, I didn’t find them nearly as memorable as many of the characters in Swords and Fire.)

But like I said earlier, I thought that The Ivory Tomb was a good book, as you can see from my rating. After the first few chapters, it kept me interested in finding out what happened until the very end, and I enjoyed it more than many of the books I read or sampled last year. It still had the same elements that I liked about the previous installment, particularly Ryx’s relationship with the mage Severin and the foxlike chimera who is more than he appears, Whisper. (I really liked Whisper. A lot.)

The Ivory Tomb just didn’t have that special spark, that tricky-to-define heart, that would have made the characters and story live in my memory as other books have—the way The Obsidian Tower did, or the way the Swords and Fire series did.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Rooks and Ruin Excerpts:

  1. The Obsidian Tower
  2. The Quicksilver Court

Reviews of Previous Book(s) in the Rooks and Ruin trilogy:

  1. The Obsidian Tower
  2. The Quicksilver Court