Michael J. Sullivan is one of my favorite authors. Not only is he generally a great guy, but he also wrote one of my top series, The Riyria Revelations. The books are about as middle the road fantasy as they come, containing elves, magic, swords, dragons, sorcerers, and everything else you need for your generic cliche fantasy book. Except, the books are about as far from generic or cliche as possible. The Riyria Revelations are the home cooked meal of fantasy, something made with warmth and heart, something that simply tastes better than when anyone else makes it. The setting is great, the characters are great, and the plot is great. It is an incredible introductory series to the genre for new adult readers, and they will renew your faith in the classics in the face of all the bland LotR knock-offs in the world. The first three books Sullivan wrote follow the lovable duo of Hadrian and Royce, and readers loved them so much that Sullivan wrote three more prequels about them. However, now Sullivan is beginning a new series that is mostly independent of its predecessors, and I was eager to see what he could do with a new slate. Thanks to Netgalley I was able to get my hands on the new book, Age of Myth, early in exchange for the following unbiased review.
Age of Myth is the first of a five part series about the initial interactions between elves, dwarves, and humans. The story follows the POVs of several characters, but primarily focuses on a few humans dealing with the fallout of violating a treaty with the elves by entering their land. The elves are a superior race with god like skills and abilities and the humans find themselves scrambling to preserve their entire existence after offending their betters. If this plot sounds familiar, it is because you’ve read it roughly a million times before. However, as I said before about The Riyria Revelations, Sullivan sets the bar high for neo-classical fantasy, and Age of Myth is no exception. As with his previous novels, the power of the story is less from its setting and more from its cast of loveable characters. I will not spoil them for you here, but the main group of protagonists consists of about six characters from different walks of life that have a synergy to them that makes them a joy to read. The characters are just plain fun, while also being deep enough to keep you wanting more. There was not a single character in the story, from side character to antagonist, that I genuinely didn’t just enjoy reading about. The dialogue is laugh out loud funny and everyone feels like people you know in your life.
A particular thing I want to give Sullivan credit for is that in Age of Myth, it feels like he has learned from past mistakes and weaknesses in the Riyria series. The book as a whole simply feels more polished. The pacing is more even than his earlier novels and the world and cultures are more fleshed out. Sullivan managed to make his world more appealing in this new entry, while still keeping the characters as captivating as in his other work. There is something clean about the book that really spoke to me. While there are no outlandish reveals, there are some nice twists and turns and the narrative is expertly woven so that the book flows from one scene to the next while keeping you excited and invested. The trials that the protagonists face seem small compared to lots of other fantasy novels, but this makes the story feel more human and relatable more than anything else. Hell, one of the antagonists is a bear and it was terrifying. Age of Myth somehow manages to feel fantastical and down to Earth at the same time, which is nothing short of magical.
My complaints about Age of Myth are just a few bits of nitpicking. One small issue I had with the book is that I wish the perspectives felt slightly more even. There were a few POVs I wish I got to hear from more, but at the same time I get the sense that Sullivan intentionally kept us out of a few characters’ heads to keep things from us, so I suspect this complaint will be remedied in future books. My other problem with the story is that sometimes the pacing actually felt a little too fast. I tore through the book, and when I found myself at the end I wished I had gotten a little more page time with various characters at certain scenes.
However, my complaints are extremely minor and at the end of the novel I found dread sinking in when I realized how long I will have to wait for book two, Age of Swords. With Age of Myth, I feel like I got to see an improved and more mature Sullivan who has only gotten better with each writing experience he tucked under his belt. Not only is Age of Myth his best book yet, I get the sense that this is only the beginning of a series I am going to enjoy a lot. The Quill to Live enthusiastically recommends Age of Myth, and I suspect it will likely be on this year’s top 10 list.