Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Read This Series! (You're Welcome) - Review of "The Riyria Revelations"

Titles: 1- Theft of Swords (Salt Lake County Library Reader's Choice Nominee, July-October 2012)
            2 - Rise of Empire
            3 - Heir of Novron
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publication Date: 2011, 2012
Summary (from Goodreads of Theft of Swords) - Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles-until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom. 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? And so begins the first tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

My Review:

Twice a year, Salt Lake County Library (where I work) holds their Reader's Choice program.  For four months, readers are presented with a selection of books chosen by the Reader's Choice committee and those of us who have volunteered to review and help whittle down the list.  The books that get chosen are ones that the committee and reviewers feel would appeal to a wider audience.  If you're not typically interested in genre fantasy, they try to choose novels that would be considered fantasy, but have more literary qualities or other aspects from other genres so they'll appeal to more people, to varying degrees of success.  There was one book featured a few cycles ago that was more slutty romance than fantasy and I couldn't finish it.  You don't love all the books on the RC list, but there are some gems that are worth searching out.

The last RC cycle was my favorite so far.  I substituted at the Bingham Creek Library for a few days the last week of June and they asked me to help unpack the new Reader's Choice books.  And there were a quite a few books that I saw that I wanted to read, but the one I knew I just had to read was Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan.  I had never heard of it before, but reading the synopsis and finding out it's just the kind of high epic fantasy that I like, I knew I had to read it and vote on it so the RC committee might be persuaded to include more of that genre in the future.

Now, you all are thinking "But you hadn't read it yet! How could you know you'd love it?"  Honestly - I didn't.  But I wanted to give it a fair shot since I knew a lot of other people wouldn't.  When I tried to (very kindly and gently) suggest it to people, they were kind of put off by how long it was, even after I explained it was two books in one and that it read really quick.  But I will say this - in my job subbing at all the county libraries, I caught glances of many of their vote tallies.  And everyone that submitted a ballot for Theft of Swords gave it a 4 or a 5, that being the highest you could rank it. And that ranking is well-deserved (too bad more people read the shorter rom-com novel about the guy spying on his co-workers' emails and voted on that - even if it was good...)

You all know what I read and watch.  I am a high-epic-fantasy nut to the core.  I'm counting down the days to the final Wheel of Time book (20 days, everyone!) I've read and re-read Lord of the Rings and I'm all geeked-out over The Hobbit.  Harry Potter's in my wheelhouse, so is anything Terry Brooks has ever written - and I love Brandon Sanderson's novels.  I'm an ardent supporter of Shannon Hale and Jessica Day George and tons of other great YA fantasy authors.  I'm also the tiniest bit of a snob, though.  The fantasy I choose to read has to be good.  I have to be interested in it right off the bat or I'll put it aside (you do a lot of reading as a librarian and you have to mix-in your "Fun For Me" reading with your "I Have to Read This For Work" reading).  As with any major genre, you're going to run into good stuff along with complete and utter crap, so you do have to be careful.

Since I started working at the library, I've been more choosy about the books I buy.  In the past, I've bought books that I thought I'd like, but it turns out I hated them and I was mad because I spent money on stuff I didn't like.  But since I can get anything I want for free at the library, only the very best get a place on my shelf.  After I finished Theft of Swords, I read Rise of Empire and Heir of Novron.  And I immediately wanted the whole series for myself.  I got Theft of Swords after Reader's Choice ended because the library puts excess RC books on the book sale, so I was able to get that one for cheap.  Once Christmas is over and I have some gift card money to work with, I am going to purchase the other two because the whole series is certainly worth owning.

Okay, done with story time - Actual Review! (and it goes without saying that Spoilers Abound! Not to mention Excesses of Readerly-Gushing).

Short Answer:  I've made it my unofficial goal to get as many people as possible to read this series because it deserves to be read and loved and passed around to all my high-fantasy-loving friends and neighbors.

Slightly Longer (and More Entertaining) Answer: The Riyria Revelations follows two thieves - Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn.  Hadrian and Royce are about as different as two guys could be, but they are best friends.  Hadrian has a sunny, winning personality (which creates a bit of a mood whiplash when he starts killing people).  Royce is that Little Dark Raincloud and he doesn't have much in the way of people-skills.  They call themselves Riyria (which in this world is Elvish for "two") and they hire themselves out to whoever needs something stolen.  They live for their next job and not much else.

One of the best things about these guys? They are every that your typical Epic Fantasy Heroes are, but they also can be snarky and sarcastic when the occasion calls for it - and even sometimes when it doesn't. These books didn't take me long to read, but I would have spent less time reading them (and probably enjoyed them a lot less, let's be honest) if I wasn't laughing so much.  The characters would be having a serious conversation when either Royce or Hadrian would throw in a zinger at just the right moment.  The humor in this is along the lines of Firefly or The Avengers (now that I think of it, if these ever became movies, Joss Whedon would be a great choice to direct) - there are some dead-serious moments to be sure (the end of Heir of Novron just about tore my heart out - it's the end of the series. No one is guaranteed to survive), but there is plenty of humor and heart to get you through the tough parts.

The rest of the chracters are just wonderful.  I love Myron, the monk of Winds Abbey.  He's the third son of an earl and he was shipped off as a boy to the Abbey because his father already had his heir.  He's spent his entire life dedicated to the Abbey and Maribor, the God of Men.  Consquently, Myron knows little of the world and is completely naive to everything (including women - the scene where he sees a girl for the first time is absolutely precious).  Myron also acts as moral compass of the group and he has very few inhibitions about speaking his mind.  Without spoiling too much, there's a scene at the end of Heir of Novron that had me jumping up and down going "YAY MYRON!" because it Was. Just. So. Awesome! (and Myron probably didn't even realize how awesome he was - but he was).

Who else - oh! The siblings Essendon! Alric and Arista are phenomenal   There was a point where I wasn't quite sure if I was supposed to cheer for them or not. Alric was kind of a spoiled brat at the beginning, but he turned out to be a pretty good king of Melangar.  Arista - I loved Arista throughout the entire series.  She felt like a real person with her own fears and worries and second-guessing of herself, but she still does what she thinks is right - even if it turns out that she gets tossed in a prison by a man she thought of as a second father (damn you, Saldur! I'm glad that bastard got killed off).  By the end, Arista almost becomes the third member of Riyria. Not because Royce or Hadrian say she can (okay, maybe Hadrian has a thing or two to say about it) - she just sort of fits in with the heroes of the story.

Another thing I love about Riyria is that each book stands on its own.  Yes, there are strong plot threads running through the whole series, but each installment has its own episodic stand-alone story.  The only thing I can think of to compare it to would be the Russell T Davies Doctor Who seasons where each episode (or two-parter) has it's own adventure, story and characters, but there's a common theme building up to a Big Damn Finale.

There is just enough world-building in this story that you're aware that it's a fantasy world, but it doesn't become too bogged down in it's own "specialness" (I have no idea what else to call it).  Don't get me wrong - I love a well-thought-out and meticulously crafted fantasy world as much as the next geek.  But sometimes, it's nice to focus on the characters rather than the maps and various other minutiae.  I do feel like there could be more exploration of this world in another series, if Sullivan chose to write more (and I would not complain if he did - oh look, there's a prequel series set to be released next summer).

Shut up and take my money!!
Speaking of covers - the cover art for these is fantastic.  One complaint I've had as a fantasy fan over the years is some of the cover art for fantasy novels doesn't exactly scream "READ ME! I'M AWESOME!"  Yes, yes, I know you're not supposed to judge by outward appearances and stuff, but it would be nice if cover artists would take into consideration that I may be reading these books around my relatives who give me sour looks when they see that (A) I'm reading again and (B) I'm reading something weird. Luckily, I don't have this problem with Riyria because I could stare at that cover art all day (not like that, you sickos!)

This is something that comes under If I Only Had More Hours In The Day, but I love that this series was initially self-published.  This is the kind of success story that gives me hope that one day, that book that I keep writing and re-working and re-tooling (and re-screaming over - is that a word?) could see even some moderate success (I don't presume to think that what I'm working on is half as good as The Riyria Revelations, but stranger things have happened).  I would love to go through some stuff on Smashwords and other self-publish outlets, just to see what's out there.  I'm certain there are some other treasures piled in the self-published ebook bin (granted - there's a lot of crap I'd have to sift through) and it would be cool to be someone who finds this stuff early (I have a few hipster tendencies, you know. Not a lot, but a few).

Bottom Line: This series deserves to be sitting next to people's copies of Lord of the Rings and Wheel of Time and I can give no higher praise than that.


  1. All I can say is...Wow. Thank you so much for your efforts to get the book in the Reader's Choice to begin with and for a great, and wonderful review. But most importantly things for spreading the word. If this series ever does "take off" it will only be in small part due to me and the will be because of people like you who make it happen.

    Thanks for making my day, my week, and giving me something good to end the year with.

    Michael J. Sullivan, author of The Riyria Revelations.

    1. Oh my goodness - thank you for writing such a fantastic series! I'm honored that you'd read my review and left a comment. Theft of Swords was certainly the highlight of this year's Reader's Choice. I'm looking forward to "The Crown Tower" next summer.