Saturday, 17 March 2012

Review: Theft of Swords: The Riyria Revelations (Riyria Revelations 1) by Michael J. Sullivan

This is actually a pair of stories: The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.

The Crown Conspiracy introduces the pair of talented mercenaries Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn. They’re an interesting pair. Hadrian’s a skilled swordsman and honourable chap, and Royce is a sneaky fellow of questionable moral values. Despite that, there’s a nice fit to their pairing and some good chemistry.

They take on a job that seems too good to be true, and it is. A king ends up dead, and there are a number of suspicious royals who could be the culprit. The plot explores who’s actually guilty and the reasoning behind the regicide. The author does a good job of fostering that ambiguity, and Hadrian and Royce are a strong double act. However, I think there was a slight lack of pace in the middle part of the book.

Early on there’s a bit of info-dumping regarding lore (history of the world, particularly the fallen empire and the church). I quite like the lore (it’s not hugely original, but unlike most stories with dwarves and elves they aren’t gone or dying or suchlike), which is something of a saving grace. I also like the three political movements (not sure if Mr. Sullivan did this intentionally, but they’re similar to the Polybius model) of democracy, royalty and empire.

It’s a properly old-fashioned story, no grim and gritty swearing or explicit violence/sex. That’s not a black mark, of course, just an observation that it bucks the modern trend for gruesome realism.

I thought The Crown Conspiracy was reasonably good.

Avempartha was much more to my taste. The story was more focused, the action more engaging, the pace felt faster and the characters from The Crown Conspiracy are developed a bit further.

Thrace Wood, a village girl, hires Hadrian and Royce to help save Dahlgren, her village, from a monster. It turns out the beast is a relic of the ancient world, an elf-created being that cannot be harmed by ordinary weapons. Happily, a nearby but inaccessible tower (Avempartha) reputedly holds the weapon that can kill it.

We learn a bit more about elves, the heir to Novron (the demi-god first emperor) and something more of dwarves. The present day political situation is also developed somewhat.

I liked Avempartha quite a lot. I think I’ll get the other Riyria books, though I’m not sure whether I’ll get them straight away or go for something else first.


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