Monday, June 30, 2014

BOOK REVIEWS: The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan

I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been so caught up in what I’ve been reading (a lengthy fantasy trilogy: The Riyria Revelations) that I haven’t been able to (or wanted to) come up for air. It’s a wonderful experience, being so immersed in another world, and one that hasn’t happened in quite some time. I’ve been fortunate to have taken two long car rides the past two weekends, which gave me a lot of time to indulge the obsession. I could not put these books down.

It was more than a year ago, maybe two, that I read a review of Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan over at Confessions of an Avid Reader. Although I don’t read much fantasy, the genre is a cousin in a way to historical fiction so I do read some, and the review stirred my interest. I think it was something about the relationship between the protagonists that caught my eye. I love a good "buddy" adventure with strong male protagonists. So I bought the book.

Needing a book for my long car ride and being a little behind on my TBR pile challenge, I decided to bring along Theft of Swords. Wow! Those hours in the car sped by. Not only that, but I had to stop at a bookstore before we set out on the return journey to buy book two of the trilogy (thankfully it was in stock at Barnes and Noble!) and, since book three was also in stock, I bought that too. I turned the last page last night.

Now I have the task of three reviews in one. Since I don’t want to put in any spoilers, the reviews will be pretty superficial. Here goes.

In Theft of Swords, we meet the heroes, or anti-heroes, of the tales, Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater. Royce is a thief, perhaps the most accomplished thief in the whole empire. He is partnered by Hadrian, a mercenary, a swordsman of unparalleled skill. Royce is an orphan who grew up in bitter poverty and has a very cynical view of the world. He has his own idea of right and wrong and is loyal only to Hadrian and to whoever has recently paid them the most. Hadrian is more of an idealist and has a conscience. He can kill anyone but that doesn’t mean he will. As the book opens, they are engaged in one job that is fairly routine for them, but that is strewn with exciting obstacles to thrill the reader, and one that turns out to have more political consequences than were initially apparent. Immediately after that job is complete, another presents itself. A simple task. Stealing a sword. Unfortunately, as they are stealing the weapon, they are caught in a room with a murdered king and are framed for the assassination. This sets off the adventure. A whirlwind of political intrigue, scheming sorcerers and witches, familial/dynastic betrayals, elves and dwarves, fantastic beasts, ancient lore and prophecies–and Hadrian and Royce have to puzzle and battle their way through it all, relying on their instincts, their unique skills, and each other. They get things wrong along the way, which makes the perils even more threatening, and the book even harder to put down. The conclusion is satisfying but the story is addictive.

Rise of Empire is a fairly typical "middle" book for a trilogy. It was the slowest of the three and may be the one with the most world-building and explanations. But these were necessary to put the meat on the bones of the tale. It filled in a lot of Hadrian’s backstory and gave clues to Royce’s backstory as well, although the clues are not subtle. This is not a book that you have to ponder over or read paragraphs multiple times to figure out what you might be missing. It’s escapism and adventure. The line between the good guys and bad guys does keep shifting, but as long as you stick with Hadrian and Royce, you’re on the good side. Again, the adventures keep on coming. The powerful empire is taking over and the kingdom that Royce and Hadrian had helped to save in book one is once again threatened. But the empire that's rising is evil and there is more at stake than the kingdom of Melengar, so Royce and Hadrian have their own reasons for taking on the series of tasks that keep the plot flying. Complicating things, and adding to them, are the emotional entanglements. Royce, the cynic, is deeply committed to a woman named Gwen. (She is a seer and, a bit of a cliche, she is a prostitute with a heart of gold.) Between Hadrian and Gwen, Royce’s embittered heart is beginning to soften. And, of course, the reader is rooting for Hadrian to find a love interest also. This book ends with cliffhangers all around, so I barely paused between book two and book three.

Heir of Novron is the final book. Here, the empire is winning and will mark their victory by putting to death captives who Hadrian and Royce care about (or at least, who Hadrian cares about.) When Hadrian goes to the rescue and is also captured, Royce must make an attempt to rescue Hadrian. We’ve seen them in death defying situations before. We know they’ll get out. The question is how, and the entertainment is in seeing them outwit or outfight their opponents, or in watching them fumble through by doing the unexpected. Or, even being rescued in some unlikely way by an outside force. However, the evil empire isn’t the worst of their problems. The elves are on the march and they are unstoppable. It looks as though the human race is about to be wiped away. The evil lurking behind the empire is the only thing possibly standing in the way of the elves, that and the empress who doesn’t know how to stop them. But the empress has enlisted the help of Hadrian, Royce, a wizardress, and a few others who have aided or been aided by our heroes in past adventures. They have one final impossible task to perform. Is it their destiny to save the world? Or is it all in a days’ work for them? Because as a reader, I was pretty sure the world was in no real danger if they were on the job. But it was a close one. And it makes for vastly entertaining reading.

The author has also written a series that is a prequel. When I catch my breath, I’m going to have to read that too.