If you follow e-publications, you’ve likely already heard about Michael J. Sullivan and his Riyria Revelations, but I’ll repeat it for those who are like me and desperately hanging on to old fashioned paper and ink books. Sullivan originally self-published this series in e-book format. One thing lead to another… and sixty-thousand copies later, Orbit picked him up for traditional publication of all six of his completed novels. Theft of Swords is Orbit’s omnibus edition of The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, and it was released in November of 2011. Rise of Empire, the following two-book omnibus, was released in December of 2011 with the last, Heir of Novron, released in January of 2012. Because Theft of Swords is really two books, I’m dividing most of this review between the two and discussing them separately.
The Crown Conspiracy
The opening book introduces us to our title characters: the Riyria, a master theif named Royce Melborn and a master swordsman named Hadrian Blackwater. They work independently of the thieves guilds found throughout the human kingdoms of their world, doing a bit of heavy lifting for those who can pay their fee. At the beginning of the book, a foreign baron hires them to steal a sword. This conveniently places them in the perfect spot to take the fall for the murder of a king. The rest of the plot revolves around their escape and learning who the true murderers are.
Sullivan is a skilled writer. There are wonderful descriptions, nice introspective reflections for all of the characters who are granted point of view, and nicely flowing prose. There is absolutely nothing wrong, and a whole lot of right, happening on that front. This book was originally turned down for publication (though it has always been agented) for one reason, in my opinion: it’s not innovative. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining, but it’s missing that little extra that grabs you by the back of the neck and won’t let you walk away, not even for a second. It’s a thief and a mercenary in a medieval world with elves and dwarves. And that’s it.
The second book starts two years after the end of the first, and we find our heroes a kingdom over from where we left them, attempting to tie up a loose end. They’re given no rest, however, before being sent off on their next adventure. A young farmer’s daughter spins them a tale of woe and convinces them to return with her to her village. Once there, they are to steal a magical weapon and help her defend her village from a vile beast which has been picking them off one by one for years. Rather than money, this time around they seem to be working for information: the man who gave her their name mysteriously disappeared in the previous book, much to the chagrin of all involved. Royce and Hadrian would dearly love to know where he’s been, why he’s turned up now, and just how he knew where to find them.
Sullivan’s storytelling picks up in this book. He litters both books with a lot of pieces of seemingly interesting though irrelevant information. However, you should be taking notes on all of this, right from page one of the previous novel, as it’s all important and interconnected, and the bread crumbs are much more liberally placed in this book. At this point, Sullivan’s characters really seem to develop that extra dimension that is essential for great writing. The plot here is also not as conventional as its predecessor, though it’s still filled with standard tropes. For me, all this led to Avempartha being a much more entertaining read than The Crown Conspiracy.
Why you should read this book
If you’re looking for something that’s earth-shakingly good and will be that milestone read to which you return, keep looking. If, however, you’re looking for a nice, dirty romp through fantasy tropes, this is a good one. It’s complex enough to be interesting while familiar enough to be comforting. You won’t be challenged, you won’t be tortured, but it is entertaining and tailor made for fantasy fans.