Age of War by Michael J Sullivan (Legends of the First Empire #3)

Being able to craft a fantasy story is no easy feat: Most of us who read fantasy know this, and it is one of the things we love most about the genre – the tireless work and creativity that goes into creating the books we read.

There are a lot of authors who can craft a fantasy story which we love – that’s what Fantasy Book Review is presaged on.

But there are always going to be a few authors every generation who are able to accomplish more, and to go beyond the norm, in a way that other authors wouldn’t be capable of. Whatever the reason and whatever the evidence, there are some authors who are a cut above the rest.

Michael J Sullivan is one of those authors. In my opinion, he has been for a while. But with his The Legends of the First Empire series, I believe Sullivan is cementing himself as one of the current generation’s finest fantasy writers.

Age of War is the third book in his First Empire series which takes place approximately 3,000 years before the events of the books that first brought Michael J Sullivan to prominence - the Ryria Revelations and Chronicles, extolling the adventures of Royce and Hadrian. As such, the new series has sought to tell the beginning of the world in which we first visited.

However, what has been most impressive about The Legends of the First Empire series is that Sullivan knows that history is written by the victors and can be twisted and warped to suit the needs of said victors – or even simply misconstrued and misplaced over time. As such, while the story we read is relatively in line with the vague historical notes that were given us in the original books, some things have been changed – and in this Sullivan shows a mastery of his craft that very few can and have matched.

Looking at Age of War in particular we find that, what was supposed to be the final book of the series is now the third of six. Sullivan’s customary ‘Author’s Note’ fills us in on a few of the reasons for this, but what’s important is that it doesn’t feel like this was ham-fistedly rearranged to meet the purpose of an author’s bank balance. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I don’t know how Sullivan ever imagined he could get away with this being the final book of the series – by the time I finished, and with his Author’s Note in mind, I was baffled by the idea that he could have left the series finished.

In a way, though, Age of War does bring us the conclusion to some tales – which I won’t hint at for those who haven’t read the book yet. Some characters depart the stage in one way or another, while others are left with a lot of work to do.

One of the book’s most important scenes, in my opinion, comes in the last few chapters, where Persephone gives voice to what I imagine is a commonly-held opinion for many women. Heroism is not always something done once and never again – sometimes, heroism is boring, laborious, dangerous, and long. Persephone’s mixed grief and anger that closes the book is, hopefully, challenging for many readers – especially of the male variety. Without diminishing Michael J Sullivan’s talent, I felt reading this final scene the hand of his wife, Robin, giving it a realism that might otherwise have been absent.

Another character, who I will leave completely unnamed, provides us with another example of Sullivan’s mastery of his craft. Instead of suddenly reverting to a Deus ex machina and solving things from upon high, we are treated to a mysterious but powerful performance that, in many ways, leaves us with more questions than answers and, while it impacts the story greatly, it does so with such a lack of guile and such strong empathy and emotion that you immediately forgive the potentially heavy-handed intrusion.

In the end, Age of War serves to exemplify why Michael J Sullivan is one of the greatest living fantasy authors, a master of his craft who has excelled at both character and plot, emotion and action, fantasy and fiction. For some, Age of War might represent the walking of a very fine line between failure, but for Sullivan it seems he walks a bridge a mile wide.

10/10 Michael J Sullivan is one of the greatest living fantasy authors

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