The characters are beautifully fleshed out, the story flows with a pace that never lets you stop
I think it is probably safe to say at this point that Michael J. Sullivan is one of my favourite authors. While spots at the top of my ‘list’ are hard to secure, Sullivan’s ability to craft an engaging and captivating fantasy world surpasses most any other fantasy author out there, and puts him alongside names like Sanderson and Jordan.
I received Age of Swords a little later, for one reason or another, but when it finally arrived on my doorstep I was eager to dive right in. The second book in Sullivan’s The Legends of the First Empire series, Age of Swords follows on quite quickly after the series’ first book, Age of Myth. The characters are the same, which allows us to not only experience the growth and exploration of the first book’s lead characters, but we are also now able to step into the minds of a few characters who had been smaller in stature in the first book.
This was one of the tricky parts for me. Sullivan has a gift for being able to keep you in a single character's’ point of view for just the right amount of time, before moving you along the chain. However, if you are faced with a character you simply do not like, no length of time is the right amount of time. This is probably the specific intention of the author by bringing us into the petty and petulant mind of the fane’s son, Mawyndulë – so job well done, I guess. But even so, it can be frustrating when you turn the page out of one chapter only to find you have to enter back into the insanely immature mind of a elvish princeling.
I similarly found myself struggling with Gifford, though again, I suspect Gifford is intended to well up in us emotions and feelings that are difficult to deal with.
In the overall scheme of the book, however, these two character points of view are relatively minor when you compare it against the rest of the characters and the focal point of the overarching story. While I was less enamoured with Raithe this time around, though he also played less of a role in this book than he did in Age of Myth. Instead, we got to spend even more time with Persephone, Brin, Roan, Moya, and my favourite, Suri.
Suri remains my favourite character from this series, though Brin and Moya are fairly close behind – I just hope for the time when we are introduced to Moya’s point of view (I suspect Sullivan will never let us into Brin’s mind, as she is the author of the eponymous The Book of Brin that heralds each new chapter). The character of Suri is beautifully fleshed out in this book, as the author dives deep into her mind and emotions, looking for what makes her tick and relishing in prying open her humanity.
I was particularly impressed by the way Sullivan managed to swerve the story away from where it first appears to be headed. There is no authorial contrivance at work but rather simple stepping stones placed subtly throughout the first half of the book which allows the author to take us down an altogether different experience – and one that I much preferred to what I had expected.
Which is really one of the greater lessons to learn when reading authors as skilful as Sullivan – trust their ability to take you in the best direction. Even if I am forced to spend painful minutes stuck in the mind of what is essentially a 15-year-old boy (though scaled for elvish lifespans) I am able to realise that I am reading something well-written and important to the overall story being told.
I will say, I’m getting a little tired of the author’s desperate desire to invent every known object known to mankind, and name them accordingly – those are unfortunately contrived moments that pull me straight out of an otherwise fantastic story.
That aside, however, Age of Swords marks yet another entry into evidence detailing Michael J. Sullivan’s captivating storytelling. The characters are beautifully fleshed out, the story flows with a pace that never lets you stop, and yet never borders on frantic or slow. With every addition to this universe, Sullivan proves he is one of the most talented and captivating authors currently at work.
It’d be a shame to miss out.
Review by Joshua S Hill
Michael J. Sullivan is a full time author whose self published series, The Riyria Revelations, hit the big time selling more than 70,000 copies in a very short time. Picked up by Orbit in the middle of last year just after th [...]
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