Michael J. Sullivan’s road to publication is the dream of every self-published writer out there. After having released the first five books in his epic fantasy series the Riyria Revelations by his own means and seeing his books met with fulgurant enthusiasm (and sales figures), Orbit opted to pick up all six of the books in his series. Theft of Swords - the Orbit published omnibus version of the first two books - showcases Sullivan’s lean prose and fun, classically oriented storytelling style. Though overly simplistic in some regards, the first volume in Sullivan’s series is an enjoyable and well-crafted one.
They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly.
Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles - until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the kind and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom.
Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman survive long enough to unravel the first part of an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires?
And so begins a tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.
Theft of Swords’ first part, The Crown Conspiracy - originally published as the first book in the Riyria Revelations - introduces readers to Sullivan’s style of storytelling, his world and its characters with great ease. Sullivan’s strong characterization means that only a few pages in the two ironically moral thieves that serve as protagonists, Royce and Hadrian, feel like old friends. It’s easy too to get a grasp for the world the novel is set in. Unlike many other epic fantasies, most readers should be quick to orientate themselves within Avryn.
Sullivan’s simple, effortless prose also translates to well-plotted but somewhat rudimentary tale. Hired to steel a famous sword by a mysterious stranger, Royce and Hadrian, unbeknownst to themselves, step into a far larger conspiracy. From this basic premise, Theft of Swords expands along the lines of many of fantasy that has come before it. Unashamedly so. And so ensue: a journey across the kingdom; an encounter with a very old, very powerful magician; knights in armor; and crumbling castles (with princess inside).
One of Sullivan’s stated intents with the Riyria Revelations is to go against the current ‘dark & gritty’ fantasy movement in search of the good, clean epics of decades past. This goal is certainly achieved, and undoubtedly in an entertaining manner, but there’s still the feeling that something’s missing when The Crown Conspiracy concludes. As this volume’s second tome, Avempartha, opens it’s not quite a reset, but it feels a lot like a new episode of a highly episodic television show rather than the second novel of a fantasy epic.
But soon enough, those characters and plot arcs that were introduced in The Crown Conspiracy resurface (other than Royce & Hadrian, who are present from the start) - if a bit conveniently - and the story picks up, highlight heavily for the first time that there is an overall arch to the Riyria Revelations which has yet to be fully revealed. Even more so than in the first part of Theft of Swords, excitement, mystery and heartfelt character moments abound. Avempartha also confirms that Sullivan’s greater strength, rather than plotting or worldbuilding, is characterization. Royce and Hadrian, of course, are the true stars but the strong, colorful cast of supporting characters aren’t to be undone either.
So verdict? How well do(es) Sullivan’s first (two) book(s) stack up? Remarkably well, I would say. Some will obviously point out its inherent lack of originality, its propensity for predictability or its rather simplistic outlook. That sounds bad, I know. But Theft of Swords, because of these faults, also happens to fall into one of the best categories of books - those that are unrestricted by any need to be anything more than fun-oriented, trope-embracing reads. Because of this, Sullivan’s first is a gripping page-turner with memorable characters, and serves as a solid opener to a new series. Theft of Swords was released by Orbit in both the US and the UK earlier this month.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 14 and up
Michael J. Sullivan's Website: http://www.riyria.blogspot.com/
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