Tough Traveling: Strongholds

Back in 2014, the idea for Tough Traveling started with Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn who came up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in (and inspired by) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre by Diana Wynn Jones. It was widely successful, with over fifty bloggers participating at one point before it went on hiatus. But now Tough Traveling is back, with huge thanks to Laura from Fantasy Faction for reviving the feature! Every first of the month we’ll be posting a list of books that fit a particular theme, with the next month’s theme also to be announced. Interested in participating? Well, grab your traveling packs and come along! You are welcome to post your Tough Traveling lists anytime during the month.

August’s topic is:


The Tough Guide offers information on various kinds of fantasy strongholds. For example, you might be looking for CASTLES, complete with ‘frowning battlements, slit windows and multiple defensible spiral stairways inside’ and which ‘occasionally adorn the heights for pictorial effect’. Or perhaps TOWERS, which ‘stand alone in WASTE AREAS and almost always belong to wizards.’ Towers are often ‘several storeys high, round, doorless, virtually windowless, and composed of smooth blocks of masonry that make them very hard to climb. The Rule is that there is also a strong no-entry SPELL, often backed up by a guardian DEMON.’

Weisshaupt, Dragon Age

Weisshaupt is the formidable fortress built in -305 Ancient to battle the First Blight. This is the Grey Warden stronghold that BioWare refuses to let players visit, save for in the Fade or in books like The Last Flight. This is where the griffons hung out. I know my Grey Warden from Dragon Age: Origins is all up in there researching how to stop the darkspawn once and for all, but for now, I must content myself with dealing with them damn mages and templars and their pesky dispute.

Indigo Cloud Court, Books of the Raksura

For Moon, home is where he won’t be mistaken for a Fell and chased away. He finally finds that when he learns that he is a Raksura and becomes consort to the sister queen of the Indigo Cloud Court. Unfortunately, the actual Fell are crafty creatures and they successfully infiltrate the Raksura’s home. Though the Raksura eventually defeat them, their home is destroyed and they must find a new stronghold to call home.

The Death Stars and Starkiller Base, Star Wars

I know it’s a pretty big galaxy, but you’d think someone would have noticed the Empire or the First Order gathering up a whole lotta supplies and building materials to construct not one, but three massive world destroying contraptions. Good thing someone keeps building them with exhaust ports, perfect for sneaking in and blowing up the whole thing, or the good guys keep making friends with janitors who know a thing or two.

1407 Graymalkin Lane, X-Men

The X-Men and their friends and foes have had several strongholds over the years. But nothing is stronger than the place you call home. Okay maybe it’s not that strong, since the Xavier Mansion is a constant target and has been destroyed several times. Maybe the X-Men should consider going Magneto’s route and taking up residence on an asteroid.

Everywhere in The Walking Dead

When the zombie apocalypse hits, you don’t really want to be wandering about in it. It’s important to find a strong base of operations to work with. Rick Grimes and his team are pretty good at finding such places. Unfortunately, there’s always someone around to mess things up. We’d like to blame them walkers, but the truth is, it’s you, Rick. You’re the one who keeps ruining everything. Let’s lead the zombie hord away, he says. Let’s go fight Negan, he says. Please just die and let everyone live in Alexandria in peace?

This week, I’m going to tackle this topic a little differently, focusing on a single type of stronghold — Towers. These tall structures can be places to keep your treasures safe, but they can also be prisons to keep the bad stuff locked up. Sometimes, fantasy characters badly want to get their hands on what’s inside, while other times, they’re desperately trying to break free from its walls. In any case, most towers in Fantasyland are usually considered good strongholds because of how tough it is to get in or out, as some of my examples will illustrate:

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

This omnibus collects the first two books of the Riyria Revelations series, the second of which is Avempartha, a story about our heroes Hadrian and Royce who are thieves hired to break into an ancient, inaccessible elven tower to steal a legendary relic — a sword that is said to be the only weapon capable of slaying a magical beast that has been terrorizing the nearby countryside.

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

This second book of the Gentleman Bastard series also features a tower that our thieving protagonists have to try and break into, though this time the target in question is the Sinspire, the largest and most luxurious gambling house on the island city of Tal Verrar. Run by a ruthless man named Requin, the casino has a strict rule that anyone caught cheating would be killed, though this policy has never stopped Locke and Jean. Determined to get at the Sinspire’s riches, the two have hatched up an elaborate plan to con their way up all nine floors to the top of the tower where Requin’s vault is kept.

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier

My last two examples feature towers holding priceless treasures and wealth that characters want to steal. Some towers though, you simply don’t want anything to do with. In Tower of Thorns, our protagonists Blackthorn nd Grim are approached by a noblewoman, who claims that a howling creature has taken up residence in an old tower on her land. Its mournful calls driving the surrounding populace to depression and madness, and as unpleasant as the idea might be, something must be done about it. However, the tower is inaccessible due to a hedge of thorns surrounding its base, and it soon becomes clear that any means to vanquish the monster would have to be magical.

The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams

Like I said, some towers can also be used as prisons — tough to break in, even harder to break out — and you’ll find an example of one of these in The Emperor’s Knife. One would definitely not want to be a younger male child of the royal family in this book. Following tradition, the Emperor Beyon’s brothers were all killed the day their father died and he took the throne in order to prevent any challengers to his rule. That is, all except Prince Sarmin, who was kept locked up in a tower as a secret backup. You know, just in case.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

You’ll find another example of a prison tower in Ink and Bone, a tale of alternate history where all books are the property of the Great Library of Alexandria, that powerful bastion of knowledge that never succumbed to destruction in this reality. The scholars of the Library strictly govern the distribution of books to the public, using a complex alchemical process to deliver content to an individual’s personal Codex. Few of their alchemists, called Obscurists, are born every generation, which is they are kept collared and locked up. When Jess’s friend Morgan is found to be an Obscurist, he must stop her from ending up in the Iron Tower, where she would be forced to live for the rest of her life, breeding future alchemists.

15 Comments on “Tough Traveling: Strongholds”

  1. I will always see Xavier’s School For Gifted Children as Luthor Mansions from Smallville, even though I know Hatley castle has been used in lots of other films and TV shows, including Arrow, more recently.


  2. Indigo Cloud Court looks kinda cool, and yay for Xavier’s (maybe Avengers Mansion too- but it also gets blown up frequently)! I always rather did like Asteroid M. Seemed cozy… 🙂

    the Iron Tower and Tower of Thorms sound pretty good too.


  3. I totally forgot about the Sinspire – that’s a great choice, especially with all the levels they have to slowly work their way up, and the impenetrable vault. The Xavier mansion is a great one too.

    I’ve been meaning to read more Juliet Marillier (I’ve only read Daughter of the Forest so far). Tower of Thorns sounds like a good one.


  4. I love your addition of 1407 Graymalkin Lane and Death Star! I chose Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building.

    I’m not familiar with the rest but they sound very interesting.


  5. Pingback: Tough Travels #5: Strongholds | Zezee with Books

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