The Riyria Revelations – Classic Fantasy At Its Best

I am wildly behind on books to review due to two hulking 1000 page behemoths (To Green Angel Tower and Oathbringer), so I have decided to talk a little bit about a series I love: The Riyria Revelations by Michael J Sullivan. This self-published marvel came out in 2008 with the first of six books, The Crown Conspiracy. The books were so well received that Orbit picked Sullivan up as an author and created three compilation books, each containing two of the previously self-published novels. Since then, Sullivan has gone on to make four spin off books and two novels of a prequel series.

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What makes Sullivan’s work stand out so much is a dedication to older fantasy tropes with incredible execution. Riyria follows the story of Hadrian and Royce, a human swordsman and half-elf rogue who are trying to steal a sword when they are framed for the murder of a king. It’s a classic fantasy plot and the story is built around a world where elves and humans don’t like each other, in particular because the elves are a superior race in most ways. After the framed murder is resolved, the duo need to go on a quest to find a powerful wizard, journey to ancient cities to locate powerful artifacts, and find a chosen one to lead the humans in a coming conflict against the elves. All of these themes you have likely heard before, they have been around in fantasy since Tolkien.

However, Riyria doesn’t feel at all like books that are just trying to rip off older classics to sell a copy. The book is incredibly original, but uses popular classic tropes in its story, which results in a book that evokes all sorts of warm and positive feelings about it that remind me of how I felt reading fantasy when I was younger. Riyria came out during a period where fantasy was trying to find the next best thing. Grimdark and parodies were both getting really big and no one wanted to tell a classic quest tale in order to stand out from the pack. As a result, Riyria really does stand out to me as one of the most wholesome things published in the last decade that everyone will enjoy.

On top of being fun, the series is really funny. The first book opens with Hadrian and Royce being ambushed by bandits while they argue like an old married couple. In the middle of their domestic spat, they also make time to critique the robbers technique and give some helpful pointers for future robberies so that the bandits might have a little more success. You can read the first pages on the amazon link on the book picture, I guarantee you will not be able to do it without smiling. The entire series is that funny, constantly having fun contextual humor and witty one liners. It is a very easy read, especially in our current landscape of dark and depressing books.

Despite all the great things I have said so far about the books, their true strengths are their characters: in particular Hadrian and Royce. While the side cast is also excellent (in particular Esrahaddon who might be the best wizard since Gandalf), the two leads steal the show and have anchored themselves in my top character list forever. They are deep, interesting, grow as the series progresses, and I never get tired of their witty banter and clashing ideals.

If you are looking for a classic fantasy with good deal of humor and a lot of heart, I recommend you check out Riyria. The delinquent duo of Hadrian and Royce still continue to sit in my top character lists to this day and I can’t imagine anyone not laughing at some of the scenes in the story. You will have a good time.

-Andrew

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Age Of Swords – Needs A Whetstone

18052164One of my favorite authors is Michael J. Sullivan. In one of my first ever posts on the site I described his work as “the comforting home cooked meal of fantasy” and I stand by that statement. I would not describe his work as boundary pushing, but his classical fantasy stories have always been something I look forward too as I never get tired of them. He currently is working on his third series set in the same world, set of five “Ages” that set up the world for his other books. You can find my review of the first book in the series, Age of Myth, here – but today I want to talk about book number two that just came out, Age of Swords. This review has mild spoilers for the first novel.

Age of Myth is set in a time in Sullivan’s world that is almost prehistoric, where humans have barely invented fire. The world he has created is dominated primarily by three races, humans, elves, and dwarfs. The first book shows that the power structure between these three is decidedly one sided: with humans at the bottom of the food chain worshiping the elves (and the dwarves somewhere in the middle after losing a war to the elves badly due to powerful magic). The aptly named Age of Myth sees a shift in this power structure as the humans stop revering the elves as gods, and instead see them as powerful oppressors that need to be thrown down with an Age of Swords. The story in book two is about answering the question: how do we beat a race of semi-immortals who have magic that can shatter mountains?

Age of Swords expands Sullivan’s series a lot from the first book in a variety of different ways. First, we are introduced to a large number of new characters and POVs that tell the story. While some of these new characters had minor appearances in the first book, they are much more fleshed out in Swords. Sullivan states in a foreword at the beginning of Swords that his cast for the series was simply too large to introduce in one book, and I find I agree with him. While I like almost all his characters, the cast is enormous and I found myself a little overwhelmed by it at some points. However, while it was a lot to take in at first I eventually found myself adjusting to, and appreciating, the number of characters.

On top of expanding the cast, Age of Swords does a fantastic job of fleshing out the world and culture of Sullivan’s world. In his previous novels and series, he focused heavily on humans and left the culture of the other races a bit to your imagination. In Swords we get to dive a little more into the elves, but more importantly into the story of the Dwarves. Something interesting about Sullivan’s writing is that what often feels like lazy copying on other authors, feels like intentional tribute with him. The plot lines around the Dwarves in Age of Swords surrounds them being ousted from their homeland by essentially a Balrog. While that sounds like he ripped of Tolkien, it feels like more of a reimagining of the classing LotR story that Sullivan has made his own. It was by far my favorite part of the story and it left me wondering why we don’t spend more time with dwarves in classic fantasy and why everyone is so obsessed with elves.

On the the other hand, while I had a lot of fun with Age of Swords, it definitely had some issues. The first and foremost is that while the book does a good job continuing to develop the plot, it definitely feels like a bridge book that just exists to set up the sequels. The actual movement of the plot in the story felt extremely small compared to Sullivan’s other work – and some of the character development felt forced. In addition to this, I did not enjoy one of the key plot devices of the book. Humans start the novel in the stone age, with nothing but basic tools and knowledge of various crafts. Age of Swords see humans go through a period of innovation where about three people invent about 100 things a piece that radically change the level of technology for humans. These things range from major inventions, such as the wheel and bow and arrow, to smaller things like belts and pockets. The innovation itself feels like it is a bit too much too quickly, and the discoveries that lead to the various inventions can often feel forced and repetitive. This becomes a serious issue for me because inventing these things felt like it took up almost a third of the page space.

In the end I enjoyed Age of Swords, though I think it is unfortunately Sullivan’s weakest book to date. This has not made me think any less of him as one of my favorite authors, and I am hoping that the hiccups that I experienced in this novel will only serve to expand the plot further in the sequels.

Rating: Age of Swords – 6.0/10

Age of Myth – A New Era Of Sullivan

17664893Michael 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.

Rating: 9.0/10