Reading Realms reviews the first volume of The Riyria Revelations: Theft of Swords from Michael J. Sullivan
Rating: 4 1/2 stars
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 king 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 in order to keep a secret too terrible for the world to know?
Theft of Swords is really two books in one. Michael J. Sullivan's The Riyria Revelations first came out as six separate books. The first novel was published from a small publisher, and when they had financial troubles Sullivan published books two through five himself. After building an audience, Orbit bought the six-part series to release in three editions. This first edition contains The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha. They can truly be read as two separate stand-alone stories if the reader wished to take a break between them, but with Sullivan's fast-paced writing style and the quality of these stories I can't imagine someone wanting to take a break.
Both stories are tied together, as the title suggests, with the theft of a sword in one way or another being a theme to both novels. In the first, The Crown Conspiracy, stealing a sword is simply a catapult to launch the main characters into a deeper and more twisting tale that really focuses on stealing the crown of a king. However, it doesn't get too bogged down in politics and reads more like an adventurous sword and sorcery tale than a political high fantasy.
The two main characters, Royce and Hadrian, are both well-crafted and well-handled. They make a good team, playing off of each other both when interacting with other characters and the reader. Sullivan doesn't skimp on the supporting cast either, as all of the characters that play a role in the story are interesting. The point of view is usually held by the two thieves, but sometimes switches to the princess, Arista, of the kingdom central to the plot. She remains a key supporting character; some migh say she is even another lead in the second book as well.
The second book, Avempartha, deals with the hunt for a monster terrorizing a small village and amusingly turns into the old "rescue the princess from the dragon tale" in a way. Both of these stories can stand alone, but elements built in which deal with the politics of the world and the big players in it continue from the first book to the next. Sullivan is building a bigger story on the whole, but still offers a complete one within each of these two books.
For readers interested in the fantasy elements of a novel, the magic is light but does play a role. Magic throughout the land is now seen as witchcraft and most knowledge of it has been lost as the church has campaigned against it. Royce and Hadrian play their part in releasing an ancient wizard and he plays a slightly larger role in book two than in one, but due to his condition he doesn't sling much magic around. The focus is definitely on the swordplay, adventure and mystery.
Humans are the major race throughout the land, though elves, dwarves, goblins and more exist as part of this world. The races have been driven apart by belief, time and war; and throughout most of the human regions elves are little more than slaves and dwarves few and far between. The second book gives a reader more to the history of this world and a deeper look into the other races even though the story still sits as a mostly human tale. Readers that like their fantasy magic-light and not overdone with Tolkienesque races should still enjoy Sullivan's work, even though those elements are still part of this saga.
Theft of Swords is, more than anything else, fun. It's not overly dark and bloody, though death and battle is serious; it's more about the adventure these two rogues constantly find themselves mixed up in. And though this might not be considered epic fantasy, pieces of what makes a story epic are there, slowly added to the puzzle as the series progresses.
Readers that enjoy fast-paced adventure stories and like books such as Brent Week's Night Angel trilogy or Rachel Aaron's Eli Moonpress saga will love Sullivan's work as well. I'd recommend this story to really any fantasy fan and it has been one of my favorite reads so far this year.
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