Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan – Spoiler Free Review
|Book Name:||Age of Myth|
|Author:||Michael J. Sullivan|
|Publisher(s):||Del Rey (US) Ballantine Books Inc. (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Epic Fantasy|
|Release Date:||June 28, 2016 (US) June 7, 2016 (UK)|
“History is written by the victors.” It was Winston Churchill that said it first, and the adage has been repeated countless times over the decades. What we take as true, as fact, as history is very often nothing more than the winner’s version of events. Separating the fact from fiction—that’s the hard part. Churchill’s theory holds as true in Elan as it does in the real world. And from that premise springs Age of Myth, the first volume in Michael J. Sullivan’s six-book Legends of the First Empire, a series dedicated to telling the true story of the history of Elan.
Age of Myth is the tenth book set in Sullivan’s fictional world of Elan. Until now, the focus has been squarely upon Messrs. Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater and their travails as the thief/mercenary organization Riyria. And while their story is (hopefully only temporarily) over, Sullivan has no intention of abandoning their stomping ground. Indeed, with Age of Myth he’s gone back millennia to examine just how Royce and Hadrian’s status quo came to be. The fruits of Sullivan’s labor rarely disappoint, and Age of Myth is no exception. It is another rollicking tale—filled with humor and heart as much as swords and sorcery.
Is Age of Myth the story of Persephone, the wife of the leader of Dahl Rhen? Is it the story of Raithe, the reluctant warrior? Of Malcom, the freed slave? Of Arion, the elven magician? Of Suri, the human mystic? Yes…and no. Certainly, Sullivan has crafted characters that are three dimensional, sympathetic and fun. But they also have a depth and an air of mystery that doesn’t dissipate by book’s end. Does that mean that the book is plot-driven as opposed to character-driven? I honestly don’t know. As someone who has read all of Sullivan’s Riyria output, I have a difficult time looking at Age of Myth with virgin eyes. To me, it feels like the characters are driving the plot. But I can see how critics may say otherwise.
Where Age of Myth differs from other “prequels” in that it is not beholden to the material that came before it. Age of Myth is anything but a fill-in-the-blank series designed to flesh out the history and lore teased in the Riyria novels. Sullivan dispensed with that notion in talking about the book prior to its release, and the story he tells is tantamount to dousing the history of Elan with gasoline and lighting it on fire. It is a very interesting approach to a prequel.
At its heart, Age of Myth is the story of how a war between men and elves began. That’s the shiny, familiar, entertaining surface. That is the tale that new readers—those unfamiliar with Royce, Hadrian, Arista and the rest—will read. And they’ll take it a face value and it will be an enjoyable story—one that will keep readers coming back for subsequent volumes. It is fantasy for the masses—not too heavy, but not without substance. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but it never feels like a joke. Think the Tennant Doctor Who or Geoff John’s Green Lantern comics of the early 21st Century. Unfathomable depth just beneath a bright, glassy surface. Or maybe it is an onion. Either way.
Sullivan, who writes an entire series before publishing the first volume, has taken his Riyria tales and turned them on their ear. The history of Elan—which plays a major role in the Riyria tales—is undercut almost immediately. Sullivan rewards his loyal readers by instantly yanking the rug out from under them, subverting his own material and creating an environment where second-guessing becomes second-nature. All the while, crafting a tale that is as entertaining and accessible to new readers as it is to longtime fans. It is an impressive feat, and one that should be lauded. The end of the novel—while satisfying in its own right—is clearly only the beginning of the story. And that’s where Sullivan excels. I defy anyone—old reader or new—to get to the last page of this book and not let out an audible gasp.
The genius of Sullivan’s writing lies in its unadorned simplicity. The prose is straightforward, crisp and in the modern vernacular. He has a very distinct voice, and he uses it to craft tales with broad appeal. Sullivan respects not only his reader, but also his potential reader. He never presumes familiarity with his last chapter, let alone his last book or last series. He’s no classicist and will never be mistaken for a Rothfuss or Bakker—Sullivan’s prose is utterly without pretense. He crafts sturdy, entertaining books that have a beginning, middle and end. He respects his audience enough not to leave them hanging, and for that I am grateful. He does yeoman’s work.
It isn’t a perfect book by any means. Sullivan, in his foreword, talks about his writing process and reiterates that the First Empire series does not require prior knowledge of the Riyria books. But I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, it should have. I think Sullivan sacrifices bits and pieces of plot for the sake of being accessible to new readers. And while his intentions are noble, I caught myself on more than one occasion thinking that I was reading Elan for Dummies. There’s no question Sullivan respects his audience. But I think the time has come for him to trust us as well. Not every book needs to be a jumping on point. Stories of this quality benefit from continuity that reaches a level above that of mere Easter eggs. It is a minor criticism, but one I think is valid. Sullivan can be guilty of a little literary handholding every now and then.
Age of Myth is a win on all fronts. Minor criticisms aside, I’ve found that Sullivan has crafted yet another entertaining tale filled with action, adventure, humor and heart. I think that’s what he sets out to do with each and every book, and so far he’s managed to do it through all ten books set in Elan. He knows the story he wants to tell, and tells it in the best way he can. What more could a reader want? Age of Myth is another worthy entry in Michael J. Sullivan’s oeuvre and one that any fan of fantasy would be well-served by reading.