Saturday, March 14, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan

I had a little time off and managed to get some reading done. I wanted to read something just for fun, so I chose a book that I’ve been saving: The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan. A while back, I read the trilogy The Riyria Revelations and fell in love with the books and the world Sullivan created. I was thrilled that he went back and wrote prequels, The Riyria Chronicles, so I hurried out and bought them too. I read the first book, The Crown Tower, right away These are pure escapist fantasy adventure fun. The problem was, I was then left with only one remaining book. I couldn’t bring myself to read it all at once because once I finished, there would be no more!

Well, more than six months passed, and I thought I may as well read it now.

This novel picks up a little while after The Crown Tower leaves off. Royce and Hadrian, the ill-matched team of thief and assassin, are recovered from their previous adventures, thanks to the seer/prostitute, Gwen DeLancy. They’ve moved on. However, they haven’t ever really thanked her properly and Royce, in particular, can’t forget her. So, they are on their way back to Medford.

Meanwhile, in Medford, a young servant in the castle is working his way up to the position of castle guard, just like his father. Reuben Hilfred is clumsy and ill-trained, but one thing he has going for him is his utter devotion to the princess, Arista. This all becomes important later, and throughout the series.

When Royce and Hadrian reach Medford House, Gwen’s brothel, they are surprised to be turned away. Gwen refuses to see them. They soon learn that it’s because she has been severely beaten by an important nobleman. Because Gwen fears how the pair will react if they find out, she tries to hide her injuries from them. She’s right to be concerned. Royce wants revenge. On the other hand, she has no need to be concerned. This is, after all, Royce and Hadrian.

There is more going on than meets the eye. While Royce and Hadrian are avenging the wrong done to Gwen, there are more sinister forces at work in Medford that are setting the stage for a larger battle in the Empire. This book fills in some of the gaps between The Crown Tower and The Riyria Revelations. Once again, because it’s a prequel, we already know what will come down the road. And we already know the skeleton of what will happen in this book. Still, it’s worth the read to have the stories fleshed out. Hilfred was a minor character in the later books. Here, his backstory brings him more fully to life. The same is true for the nobleman in the thieves’ circle, Viscount Albert.

If I have one complaint, it’s that there is comparatively less of Royce and Hadrian, with more attention paid to the other characters in the series and more time setting the blocks into place for the rest of the plot. The story is always most entertaining when we are watching the interplay between Hadrian and Royce and there wasn’t enough of that in this book. But maybe that’s just because it’s the last one available and I’m already missing them.

If you like fantasy adventure, this series is wonderful. The best place to start is with Theft of Swords. It’s better to read them in the order they were published rather than the chronological order. Enjoy!