The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan
|Book Name:||Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron|
|Author:||Michael J. Sullivan|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Epic Fantasy / Fantasy|
|Release Date:||Original release 2008 - New release 2011|
Hello again, Faction readers! First of all, I want to say thank you to everyone who read my first article on Peter V. Brett. I really appreciated all the comments, especially those that disagreed with my take on his works! I enjoy hearing different opinions and it shows how differently we all can interpret the same work.
This week I want to talk about a new author I myself discovered earlier this year, and was easily the biggest surprise of anything I’ve read in the last few years. That author is Michael J. Sullivan, and I found the first five books in his The Riyria Revelations shortly after I received a Kindle for Christmas. Without a Kindle, I may not have discovered this series at all, as until this fall it was only available directly from the publisher (Ridan Publishing, run by Sullivan’s wife Robin) or in ebook form.
I was searching through the Amazon store when the following tagline caught my eye: “THEY KILLED THE KING. THEY PINNED IT ON TWO MEN. THEY CHOSE POORLY.” Simple but intriguing, I grabbed the book, thinking it would be the story of a neat fantasy ‘heist’ or something. It certainly was, but I was completely unprepared for where that caper would eventually lead. I refuse to spoil anything here, because this series needs to be experienced to truly be appreciated (that’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ to it!)
A Buddy Story
This series is thrilling, laugh-out-loud-funny, heartbreaking, chilling, and whip-smart at every turn. It is Sullivan’s debut as a fantasy author, and he clearly takes his story very seriously. In comments posted on Amazon, he admits he took a risk with the first book, The Crown Conspiracy, which reads very quickly and is over before you even realize it’s the end. It’s a fun, engaging read, but it is very skeletal in structure and truthfully offers little reason (story wise) to read beyond the first book. Sullivan trusts that the reader will be engaged enough by the characters to pick up the second book, during which the overarching story truly begins.
It’s an interesting and calculated risk, but very rewarding for the reader who chooses to continue the story of Royce and Hadrian, the titular mercenary group Riyria (an elven word meaning ‘two.’) With these two characters, Sullivan creates a classic ‘buddy story’ and the verbal exchanges between the heroes are cited frequently in reviews as high points and reason enough to continue the series.
Both men have deep back-stories that are only briefly touched on in the first book but eventually impact the story in surprising and dramatic ways. Royce is a cynical thief with a (very) dark past, and Hadrian is an optimistic, noble ex-soldier with a (very) dark past. That’s not new of course, but Sullivan successfully puts his own stamp on the idea with some clever twists and turns along the way.
The stories introduce many fascinating characters, but it is ultimately the friendship between Royce and Hadrian that drives the story. Personally I came to care a great deal for the heroes and I would get quite annoyed when the inevitable ‘bad things’ happened to them. Even if the story wasn’t as engaging as it (eventually) is, I would have kept reading for Royce and Hadrian’s story alone.
Politics and Religion
As the story progresses, Sullivan introduces political and religious themes that are staples of many fantasy stories, and uses them effectively to push his story to new levels of drama and intrigue. He even introduces has his own cunning ‘Moriarty’ who makes life very difficult for our heroes.
Race and discrimination are also addressed in serious, often chilling, ways. All I will say here is that elves do not have very nice lives in this particular world. Dwarves exist as well, but don’t factor directly in the story often (with one notable exception). The racial tension, while not pretty, is shown in a straightforward manner, allowing the reader to react naturally to what is presented.
The attitude toward religious figures in the book is often mistrustful, which made me wonder if Sullivan’s upbringing was similar to mine! However, even these characters are presented honestly and allowed to develop over the course of the story. Even if you don’t like a character, Sullivan often makes sure you at least know their reasons for being what they are.
Sword and Sorcery
The combat and swordplay is very well thought out, and is presented in a traditional swashbuckling style that I found refreshing and well detailed. Hadrian is our resident swordsman here, and he rarely disappoints with his ability and courage. This is a medieval world, and the rules of chivalry apply! Jousting and mounted combat are presented as well, and explained in excellent detail.
Royce, in turn, represents the dirtier side of combat, and his style contrasts interestingly with Hadrian’s, adding variety to the frequent fight scenes. Royce strikes from concealment, and has no qualms about stabbing a foe in the back. This in turn, allows for entertaining banter as the two criticize each other after fights.
Magic, that tried and true pillar of our genre, is on display here as well. Unlike hand-to-hand combat, however, magic remains in the shadows, and the practice of it is deeply frowned upon, if not outright forbidden, by the powers-that-be. In fact, Sullivan keeps magic so exclusive that there are only two or three actual practitioners encountered throughout the course of the story. This keeps magic mysterious, and the actual use of magic is usually saved for dramatic moments which turn the story.
In Riyria , Michael J. Sullivan doesn’t do anything new, he instead takes standard tropes of fantasy and does them his way, but the result is a rollicking read for any fan of the genre. In many ways I found it a welcome return to the classic fantasies I read in high school, but with very clever twists and some very adult themes.
Do yourself a favor, grab the first book (either the original Crown Conspiracy or the brand new printing titled Theft of Swords, to be released by Orbit this fall) and join Royce and Hadrian on their adventures. Believe me, the less you know going in the better. I greatly enjoyed how the story grew as I read, and I am waiting desperately for the final book to be released this January.
Thanks to you once more, Faction readers, and I will speak to you again soon!