Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan
Review by Ryan Lawler
They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly.
There’s no ancient evil to defeat, no destined orphan, just two guys in the wrong place at the wrong time…Team Riyria make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in a plot to murder the king. Can a self-serving thief and an idealistic swordsman survive long enough to unravel the first part of an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires in order to keep a secret too terrible for the world to know.
Synopsis sourced from the authors website (http://www.riyria.blogspot.com.au/p/books_19.html)
Michael J. Sullivan is one of the most talked about authors around the fantasy community at the moment. His independently published six book series, The Riyria Revelations, has sold a bucket load of ebooks, and these big sales lead to a lucrative offer from Orbit. The first two volumes, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, have been combined into an omnibus edition called Theft of Swords that introduces us to the world of Melengar and two thieves who somehow manage to become entangled in every wrong place at all the wrong times. Theft of Swords is a excellent addition to the fantasy genre, one that tells a fun and modern story with a traditional Tolkien styled setting, and one that you should not hesitate in adding to your library.
Theft of Swords begins with the assassination of a king, setting in motion a number of events that leads to the blame being laid squarely on our two heroes, Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, who were only in the area to steal a sword. While the two thieves battle to stay alive, making friends in high places and breaking into and out of some very secure locations, the church is making a play to unite Melengar under one banner, which would see them rule the world in the name of a long dead empire. As opposed to most multi-book series, the two volumes in Theft of Swords are very much two self contained stories with a distinct beginning, middle and end, while the overarching world domination storyline often plays second fiddle to the main story and is used more as a world building element than a plot element. These first two volumes are packed full of conspiracy and deception, Sullivan showing a rare deft touch to lead readers down the garden path with one hand while building a marvellous and complex story with the other hand. The pacing can get quite slow at times but the two stories are quite short and well placed action scenes flow so well that you end up getting pulled out of the slow scenes quite quickly. The humour balances the darker themes nicely, and the writing is very smooth, allowing you to easily become fully immersed in the story.
For such a complex story the immediate setting and world building is a little light, especially when compared to works from other popular authors like Sanderson, Weeks and Brett. There is a religion, there are some politics, and there is a rich history to the world, but Sullivan doles it out in very sparse doses, relying on the story and characters to do the majority of the grunt work. Some people may not like this, but I think it works very well for the type of story that Sullivan wants to tell and I imagine that by the time I get to Heir Of Novron I will have learned a great deal about this world without even realising it.
For all the strengths listed above, it is the characters that are the strongest part of this story. Royce is the brains of the operations, the practical realist who is short on sympathy as little has ever been afforded to him. Hadrian is the muscle of the operations and a foil for Royce in almost every way, being far more optimistic and much more sympathetic to the plight of others. As team Riyria they make a very formidable duo capable of breaking into the most secure strongholds and stealing just about anything. But there is far more to each of them than meets the eye, and not only is it evident to me as a reader, but it is also evident to the support characters who interact with them. Sullivan places his own spin on the traditional fantasy roles, with characters like Ezrahaddon the wizard and Arista the princess both departing significantly from what their traditional role says they should be. The dialogue and interactions between all these characters is snappy, witty, and feels very natural.
Theft of Swords is a fun fantasy full of wonderful characters, deadly conspiracies, and intricate action sequences. There isn’t a great deal of original material, and you can easily describe this series as Scott Lynch meets J.R.R. Tolkien, but the way Sullivan puts all the material together and the way that he gets his characters to interact with that material makes this book feel fresh despite the familiarity. If you are a looking to start a new series that has already been completed, look no further than Theft of Swords and The Riyria Revelations.
Timothy from Cambridge, UK
This is an enjoyable read. Aside from minor complaints about travelling sequences and repetative explanations of deep history my only significanct problem with the book is the lack of attention to the relationship between the two central characters. I like Royce and Hadrian well enough (Hadrian more than Royce, but I guess that is the point) Hadrian is the good natured big man who is pretty sharp most of the time, and Royce is the badass with a clearly dodgey past. All the scenes when they are on their own work really well. It is only when they act together that it doesn't feel quite right. They are supposed to be this near legendary (amongst thieves) partnership, but I just could not get a feel for how they related to each other. They are just two cool people doing stuff together. At no point in the book did I get the impression that they needed each other or could do things together that they could not do alone. This is a pretty big problem for a book of this nature and thus loses it three stars (the fourth is for the descriptive scenes which were pretty boring) So this review sounds fairly negative but that is just because I was focusing on what was wrong with the book and not what it did right. Sullivan has done something I really didn't think was possible which is write a powerful and mysterious wizard character that did not annoy me every time he was on screen. Not to mention the plot slowly ambling along in the background which is really sinister even if it is unsubtle at times. So yes I would recommend this book. It is not without flaws but for a series to read whilst waiting for the next big book in another series to come out (Mr Sanderson I am looking at you!) it is a gem.
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