Age of Legend by Michael J Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #4)

As Michael J Sullivan continues to make his way through his increasingly expansive prequel series to the much loved Riyria Revelations and the Riyria Chronicles, we as readers are invited inside the evolution of a story alongside the author as he discovers the many trails and hidden stops along the journey.

Originally intended to be only a trilogy, the series has now expanded to six books – and a subsequent trilogy has been announced that is apparently intended to bridge part of the gap. In Age of Legend, the fourth book of six, we are returned to the lives and fortunes and fate of Rhune and Fhrey and Dherg. The series’ main cast of characters return, for the most part, and secondary characters through the series up to this point begin to take on a greater responsibility.

And through it all is the underlying and pervasive contrast between history as it is being written and history as it is remembered. This has been an integral part of The Legends of the First Empire series – the idea of how historical reality can be twisted by the winners and by time. What Royce and Hadrian “know” as myth and legend and history sometimes bears only little resemblance to the reality of what actually takes place for Persephone, Suri, and Gifford.

I will highlight just two points that detract from this book being on the same plane of excellence as Sullivan’s other books: Firstly, for some reason, I have tremendous difficulty getting into these books. I read a lot, and I read widely, and when I return to a Sullivan book I always feel as if the tone and style of the prose is … lesser than I would wish from a bestselling fantasy author. The flip side of this, however, is that by the third or fourth chapter I’ve left my concerns behind and find myself hooked, line and sinker.

My second critique is a lot less subjective and has to do with what appears to be the stretch marks (so to speak) evident in Age of Legend, resulting from the series morphing from three books into six. In a book with 456 numbered pages, 74 pages consist of bonus material. When you reach the final page, you are not aware of it until you flip the page to find a note from the author. That’s 15% of the book lost.

And it shows. This book, more than any others that I have read by Sullivan, felt lacking – as if an entire storyline was erased, or in this case, a novella-length story which has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into a full length book. To borrow a well-loved quote, it feels “all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” (The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien)

But even though Age of Legend felt a little on the thin side, it was nevertheless a wonderful addition to the series. The story that it presages relies heavily on the work done here, and there are tremendously beautiful nuggets throughout the book. The nuance of Tressa’s character, the burgeoning maturity of Mawyndulë, and the continued maturing of Suri serve as character defining (or potentially defining) themes which tantalise the mind for the final two books of the series.

The mythological scale of what is on the horizon similarly heralds exciting reading ahead, and the subtle religious undertones that have hovered underneath the series so far reach a full-scale revelation as the story comes to a close.

So while I may have minor qualms, they are just that – minor. And maybe, in the same way, that no author is able to maintain a perfect reputation, so too do I think that maybe neither does each new entry in a series have to yield the same heights and depth and intricacy. Stretched and thin, maybe, Age of Legend is nevertheless tremendously compelling, and a continued reminder of Michael J. Sullivan’s breathtaking imagination. 


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