Reread: “Rise of Empire” by Michael J. Sullivan

Rise of Empire is the second volume of the Riyria Revelations, containing the third and fourth books of the series, Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm. I’m going to keep this review short, since it’s obvious that I really enjoy this series. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be rereading it instead of reading something from my massive pile of unread books. For more Royce and Hadrian reviews, see The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn, The Death of Dulgath, and Theft of Swords.

In Nyphron Rising, the Church of Nyphron has finally implemented its centuries-old plan to unite most of the kingdoms of Avryn into an empire under newly crowned emperor Modina. However, Melengar and the Nationalists from Delgos remain thorns in the new empire’s side, and Prince Alric and Princess Arista are determined to keep the resistance alive. As the official royal protectors, Royce and Hadrian are crucial to the war effort. This is definitely a war book, although it doesn’t focus too much on the battles, it’s about war and its effects. I used to think that Arista was an annoying character, but upon rereading this, I actually really like her. She’s naive at first, but she grows and comes into her own in this book, and she’s probably one of my favorite characters.

The Emerald Storm is probably the most depressing of the books, it’s the part in the series where everything goes wrong and our heroes seem like they have no chance of winning. If this was a trilogy, this would be the second book. The tone of Royce and Hadrian’s story is more like an adventure novel, a lot of it is set on a ship, and there’s a mission into barbarian jungles. I don’t  find ships particularly interesting, so I was glad that despite being named after the ship, the book had a significant portion of time off the ship. I wasn’t a big fan of the warlord and goblin plotline, I felt like they were reduced to stock “evil” characters in a series that usually focuses more on individuals and not their race. I probably enjoyed Arista’s story the most, she realizes that the war may not be the most important thing going on, and changes her plans.

I’m already halfway through Heir of Novron (I had to, after the way Rise of Empire ended), so expect that review soon.


Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #2)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


Reread: “Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

My recent reads of Age of Myth and the three Riyria Chronicles have put me in a very Royce-and-Hadrian mood, so I figured I would go back to where it all began and reread the Riyria Revelations series. These books were the first one published about the world of Elan, although they’re the latest by internal chronology. I got the whole series from Orbit in 2015 and really enjoyed them, but I raced through them too quickly to review them properly.

The Riyria Revelations was originally self-published as six novels. When Orbit bought the rights, they released the books in three volumes, each containing two books. Theft of Swords is the first of these, combining the first two books The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.

Royce, a cynical ex-assassin, and Hadrian, an idealistic master swordsman, call themselves Riyria. Riyria specializes in solving impossible problems for mostly rich people – stealing a lady’s private diary from a locked tower for her lover to save face, that sort of thing.

In The Crown Conspiracy, when they’re offered a huge amount of money for stealing a sword, they break their usual roles to take the job. Of course, it’s too good to be true and they end up being framed for the murder of the king. But this is Riyria, and the conspirators who framed them get far more than they bargained for. The Crown Conspiracy is a pretty standard fantasy story, it feels standalone, and probably would be if it didn’t introduce so many characters that are important later. There’s a spoiled prince, an independent princess, kidnappings, treachery, a mysterious wizard, and so on. The crisis is averted by the end, and Royce and Hadrian think nothing more of it.

Avempartha picks up a couple of years later, and (in case the title of the book didn’t make this obvious) once again involves Royce and Hadrian being hired to steal a sword. This time they’re hired by a poor peasant girl, Thrace, to retrieve the only weapon that can kill a magical creature plaguing her village from an impregnable elven fortress. To add to the mystery, Thrace was told how to find them by the mysterious wizard in the first book that Royce and Hadrian haven’t heard from in years. This book starts exploring the central mystery of the Riyria Revelations a lot more, and there’s more magic, evil plans, and so on, but not everything is resolved by the end. It’s still mostly a satisfying standalone story, but there are threads left dangling. Characters from the first book – Arista, Mauvin, and Fanen, among others return, and they’re welcome.

A few other thoughts:

  • I remember Arista being much more annoying from my previous read. Maybe it’s in the next couple of books? She’s still mostly in her comfort zone so far, and I don’t remember what happens next exactly, but I don’t think it’s good for her.
  • Royce is a lot nicer than he is in the Riyria Chronicles, which is nice to see. He doesn’t even seem to be totally serious about killing people anymore.
  • Hilfred is a far more poignant character after reading The Rose and the Thorn.
  • Thrace’s story arc is probably my favorite (from what I remember), I’m looking forward to reading that.

If you haven’t already read this series and you’re a fan of cozy fantasy with some great twists, I recommend you pick it up!


Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelations, #1)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Death of Dulgath” by Michael J. Sullivan

I’ve had The Death of Dulgath for over a year now, I participated in the Kickstarter that funded its publication. Now that I’ve finally read The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn, I was able to get around to reading it!

Royce and Hadrian have been partners for about three years now, and they’re comfortable with each other. They’re running low on funds when Albert comes to them with an offer that seems almost too good to be true – analyzing a noble’s security and figuring out the best way to assassinate her so that her sheriff can protect against it. Of course, things are never as easy as they look, and Lady Dulgath is no ordinary woman.

This was probably my favorite of the Riyria Chronicles – the origin story told in the first two books was fun, but didn’t stand alone quite as much. I would read a series where Royce and Hadrian decide to become detectives and solve cozy mysteries in cute little towns, because that’s what this feels like, and it’s great. I mean, they’re not investigating a murder, they’re just trying to learn about their client and explain the oddness of the county of Dulgath, but there is murder along the way, so it’s close enough. And the worldbuilding is expanded considerably as the mystery gets revealed, which was nice.

Some of the common Riyria weaknesses continue here (especially the villain’s Plan Infodump), which takes a little bit of the tension out of the story. That’s a known quantity, though, and so I didn’t mind. I do hope there are more Riyria Chronicles, I’d read them in a heartbeat.


The Death of Dulgath by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #3)
Mascot Books, 2015 | Buy the book


“The Rose and the Thorn” by Michael J. Sullivan

After I reviewed The Crown Tower, I immediately started reading The Rose and the Thorn. Based on past experience I’m forcing myself to review each book before I read the next one in the series, otherwise the stories start to blur together and I can’t separate the books enough to review each one individually.

The Rose and the Thorn is the second book in the Riyria Chronicles series of standalones. Whereas the first book, The Crown Tower, told the story of how Royce and Hadrian became partners, this book tells the story of how they came to form Riyria and ended up in the arrangement we see them in at the beginning of Theft of Swords. A year after the events of The Crown Tower, Royce and Hadrian are back in Medford and stop by at Gwen’s – only she won’t see them because she’s been beaten up, and she’s trying to protect them from getting themselves killed trying to help her. Of course, this is Royce and Hadrian, and they can take care of themselves. We also get some additional viewpoints at Castle Essendon, the seat of the royal family of Melengar, as a plot against them unfolds.

This was a fun story, it was nice to see Royce and Hadrian settle into their element. Plus, we are introduced to early versions of more of the Riyria Revelations cast. I always think of these books as cozy, but there’s actually a fair amount of death and destruction and darkness, exemplified by Royce’s actions. Royce is terrifying, and I don’t know why I think of him as lovable.

The last chapter of this book (The Visitor) really frustrated me, though – its only purpose seemed to be to set up Theft of Swords with all the subtlety of a hammer. Foreshadowing is great, but the most fun thing about it is putting things together from what seem like inconsequential details upon first glance. I already thought the references to an unrevealed co-conspirator were fairly obvious, but to tack on a whole chapter laying it all out in the open felt like overkill. And reading this chapter also made me figure out the feeling I have when reading Sullivan’s books that I haven’t been able to articulate in my previous reviews – the dialogue in his books is always a little bit too on-the-nose for his characters to feel completely real. Especially the villains – they often explain their plans concisely and articulately at some point.

Despite my complaints, I still really enjoy these books, and I’m hurriedly reviewing this book so that I can get to The Death of Dulgath. I’m particularly excited about that one because it feels like it’ll be more of a standalone adventure and not so much of the origin story that the first two books have been. And after that, I’m also contemplating a reread of the Riyria Revelations.


The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #2)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Crown Tower” by Michael J. Sullivan

Reading Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan made me want to go back (to the future!) and read some more Riyria. I’ve read the entirety of the Riyria Revelations series, but I hadn’t read any of the standalone Riyria Chronicles yet – starting with this book, The Crown Tower. I don’t have any of the Riyria Revelations books reviewed because I raced through them so fast, so I’m forcing myself to go slower with this series.

The Crown Tower is the origin story of Riyria – it tells the story of how Royce and Hadrian first met and their first adventure together – robbing the Patriarch of the Nyphron church. Gwen is also a viewpoint character, and the book covers how she met Royce and Hadrian as well. I don’t remember the minor details of the Riyria Revelations books enough to comment on how much of this story is referenced in them (if at all), but some of the major plot points are definitely foreshadowed.

I enjoyed this book. More Royce and Hadrian is never a bad thing, and it was interesting meeting them when they aren’t quite the people I was used to. There isn’t really much of an antagonist – the conflict is just Royce and Hadrian’s intense dislike of each other. There are people after them, but it’s not personal.

I was a little disappointed at how little control Royce and Hadrian had over their meeting – they are literally forced together by Arcadius. Gwen displays a little more initiative, but she is also bound by prophecy. I would have been much less sympathetic to how everything happened if I hadn’t read the Riyria Revelations series, so I would definitely recommend reading that series first, starting with Theft of Swords.

Now that I’ve reviewed this, I can go ahead and read The Rose and the Thorn!


The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Chronicles, #1)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Obelisk Gate” by N.K. Jemisin

I absolutely loved The Fifth Season when I read it a couple of weeks ago – it made my top five books of 2016 despite reading it in late December. I immediately requested a review copy of The Obelisk Gate, and the fantastic Ellen Wright of Orbit (who also happen to be thanked profusely in the acknowledgements of this book) got it to me very quickly.

I’m avoiding spoilers for both The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate in this review, which is going to be a little tricky. At the end of The Fifth Season, we (and Essun) find out a little about what exactly is wrong with the world of the Stillness. The Obelisk Gate picks up pretty much exactly at that ending. We get a couple of new viewpoints – Schaffa, Syenite’s former guardian, and Nassun, Essun’s missing daughter who has been through more in a year that a person should have to bear in a lifetime.

We delve more into the world of the Stillness into this book, Essun isn’t as focused on her grief since she’s had some time to process things, and she’s lost Nassun’s trail. Her purpose changes, and she finds a community and starts paying attention to the wider world again. It turns into a more conventional (but still excellent) fantasy story – politics, alliances, defending your home from a threat, figuring out how to save the world. Nassun and Schaffa’s stories explore other plans for the world that are being made in parallel to Essun’s story, but have the potential to establish even more conflict.

This world is utterly brutal, and it’s shaped the people who live in it to be pretty monstrous as well. I’m not usually a fan of protagonists who commit heinous acts, but even though all three protagonists do this multiple times, N.K. Jemisin writes so well that I ended up feeling (almost) nothing but sympathy for them. Broken as they are, they’re the only people with the power to change things, and they’re reasonably well-intentioned. Some of the events makes it easier to understand why people are scared of orogenes, though, and I hope there are going to be some consequences in the third book for them. Right now the main consequences seem to be that the protagonists feel bad about themselves, but that doesn’t stop them from not being in control of themselves later.

Even though this was an outstanding book, it’s still very much a middle book, and by the end, the pieces are in place for what seems like it’s going to be an explosive (in multiple ways) finale. Only about six more months to wait for The Stone Sky!


The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth, #2)
Orbit Books, 2016 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Heart of What Was Lost” by Tad Williams

I read Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series back in 2012, and while I didn’t absolutely love it (see my review here), I still have pretty good memories of it. I was excited to hear that the author was finally going to be returning to the world of Osten Ard with a whole bunch of new books, beginning with this short novel – The Heart of What Was Lost.

At the end of To Green Angel Tower, the Norns have been defeated at Hayholt, but wars are not generally over with a single decisive battle. As the Norns retreat, they pillage and destroy villages, and the new king sends his armies to make sure the Norns don’t bother his kingdom again. This novel tells the story of the actual end of the war from different perspectives – the commander of the human army Duke Isgrimnur (who was pretty prominent in the original trilogy), human soldier Porto, who is far from home, and Norn engineer Viyeki, who is with the force retreating from Hayholt.

This is very much a grim war book, and it made for more intense reading than I expected. It was very interesting to see a Norn viewpoint – they were faceless implacable enemies previously, and now we know a lot more about their culture and motivations. They’re the ones we end up rooting for (despite some horrible acts they commit), because the alternative seems to be genocide, and now that we know they’re not just evil killing machines, they don’t deserve that.

I think this book would work perfectly well as a standalone and as an introduction to the world of Osten Ard. I didn’t remember much of the events of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and I thought it was a complete story. Having said that, I liked the complexity that it added to the ending of the original series, one of my biggest complaints was that everything was tied up far too neatly in To Green Angel Tower. And the ending of The Heart of What Was Lost is most definitely not “happily ever after” – it makes me look forward to reading The Witchwood Crown (the first book of the new trilogy) when it comes out later this year. I’m especially excited that Viyeki is confirmed to be in it.


Also, this is completely unrelated, but fantasy books need more original names. I recently read The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington, this one is The Heart of What Was Lost. To make things even more confusing, the second James Islington book is going to be titled An Echo of Things To Come, and Tad Williams is writing another Osten Ard book called The Shadow of Things To Come


The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams
DAW Books, 2017 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Unfettered II” edited by Shawn Speakman

I’ve been waiting for my pre-order of Unfettered II to arrive for weeks, so I was pretty excited when it finally got here last week. Unfettered II is an anthology of mostly fantasy stories, with no underlying theme at all. Editor Shawn Speakman created the first Unfettered to help with his medical debt, and I originally bought it because it contained a story that was deleted from the final book of Wheel of Time. Unfettered II was created to help other authors get out of medical debt, and contains stories from many authors that I like – Michael J. Sullivan, Django Wexler, Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, and of course, Brandon Sanderson (the impetus for me ordering this collection – a chance to read a little bit of Oathbringer ahead of its release in November.)

Overall, I thought it was a solid collection of stories. There aren’t really any total clunkers, which was surprising, I usually at least dislike two or three stories in any anthology I read. Since there’s no theme, there are a wide variety of tones and themes, and I thought that helped keep the book from getting too repetitive or boring.

Some of my favorite stories:

And Men Will Mine the Mountain for Our Souls by Seanan McGuire: This is a lyrical and tragic story about the last stand of dragons who know they are about to be destroyed by humans and can’t do anything about it. The imagery in this story is just stunning.

Day One by Jim Butcher: A Dresden Files story featuring a side character. I’ve only read the first Dresden Files book, but I’ve read a handful of stories set in the world in various anthologies, and they’re all great and just make me want to read the series. Considering I own the first eight or so books, I should really get around to it. Anyway, back to the story – it’s a nice story about a nerdy medical examiner going on his first mission as a knight and building his confidence, and it was fun and heartwarming.

Magic Beans by Django Wexler: This story was originally written for a coffee shop erotica anthology, and so it has lots of sex in a coffee shop. It’s fun and weird and has a ton of heart. I don’t have much else to say about it.

The Hedgewitch by Sarah Beth Durst: I thought the world of this story was really cool – the people live in huge trees and are constantly under threat of attack by sprites. The protagonist, Hanna, has the magic to control the sprites, but is terrified of them after they killed her family, and has to learn to accept her place in the world. There’s nothing better than a well done coming of age story! Based on this story, I think I’m going to read the author’s novel set in the same world (bonus: it also features Hanna in some capacity.)

A Duel of Evils by Anthony Ryan: This is another story that made me want to go out and get the author’s work set in the same world (although in this case, Blood Song has been on my wishlist forever.) It’s written in the form of a historical document, and I love in-universe writing. The author of the document is chronicling the fall of a city, and he’s trying to be objective and academic about an event that clearly had crazy magical stuff happening. That kind of writing can fail horribly, but in this case, it works really well.

The Raven by Erin Lindsey: I love a villain that you can empathize with, and that’s the intent of this story. We follow Tom, a prince who is trying to do the right thing for his kingdom, but is blocked at every turn by the king (his brother), who has the best of intentions. You understand and agree with every single choice he makes, even though you can see why it’s wrong. Apparently Tom is the antagonist of Lindsey’s novel The Bloodbound, and I’m definitely going to seek it out.

The Gunnie by Charlaine Harris: I liked this alternate history gritty western type story featuring young mercenary Lizbeth. Lizbeth works as part of a crew that protects traveling families from bandits. When her latest job goes horribly wrong, she has to singlehandedly complete her mission. I liked that this story wasn’t just about Lizbeth being a hero, it also follows what happens to her and how she feels once she’s back home.

I would have expected The Thrill by Brandon Sanderson to be on my favorites too, but I wasn’t that impressed by it. We don’t learn much about the world or any secrets about Dalinar’s life (unlike Edgedancer, the awesome Stormlight novella that was in Arcanum Unbounded.) The bigger disappointment was that I felt like Dalinar’s voice was too generic – he’s young and quippy like a lot of other Sanderson characters, and he didn’t have any of the gravitas that characterizes present day Dalinar. I know part of the point is that Dalinar is very different than he used to be, but he didn’t even seem like the same person. I still enjoyed reading it though, and I have enough faith in Brandon Sanderson that the complete story will make more sense – I just didn’t love the excerpt as its own story.


Unfettered II by Shawn Speakman
Grim Oak Press, 2016 | Buy the book


“Age of Myth” by Michael J. Sullivan

This is another book that I received in the recent LibraryThing Secret Santa that I participated in. I’m a fan of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series, so I was looking forward to reading this book since it’s a prequel. It’s set 3,000 years before the events of Riyria which sounds like a lot, but since that’s a normal lifespan for an elf of this world, it actually has more connections than I thought it would.

Our band of heroes are Raithe, a human that kills an elf (called Fhrey in the books) and accidentally proves that they aren’t gods, Persephone, the widow of the chieftain of Dahl Rehn, who has to look after her people in a time of change, Suri, a half-wild girl who has grown up in the woods and possesses a power she thinks she understands, and Arion, a respected elven mage venturing outside of her home for the first time. Raithe killing the elf brings long simmering resentments to the surface, and war between men and the elves seems inevitable.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I think of the Riyria Revelations series as comfort fantasy – heroes rising from an unlikely place, evil plots needing foiling, oppression needing to be to stopped, and this is exactly what Age of Myth was too. The world is different – humans are barely surviving, and their standard of living is pretty low, but otherwise the themes and characterization seemed pretty similar. The book is often not very subtle (the character of Gryndal, for example), but that’s okay – it’s still fun, and there are some epic moments.

I keep talking about Riyria Revelations, but I should make clear that this book stands perfectly well on its own as the start of a new series. Any references to things in Riyria are just Easter eggs.


Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan (The Legends of the First Empire, #1)
Del Rey, 2016 | Buy the book


“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin

I read the first two books of Jemisin’s Inheritance series a few years ago – I liked them okay but I wasn’t blown away, so I was in no hurry to read more of her work. However, when I received The Killing Moon for a recent LibraryThing Christmas swap I participated in, I remembered that I had a review copy of The Fifth Season on my shelf, and it also won the Hugo this year, so I figured I should read it. I’m glad I did, because it’s fantastic!

The Fifth Season is set on a world where people are used to dealing with apocalypses, they happen every couple of centuries. A new cataclysm has just started though, and this one may not be survivable despite the widespread disaster preparation. We follow three viewpoints – Essun, Damaya, and Syenite, and it’s not immediately clear how they are all connected, or even if they take place at the same time. I thought of Essun’s viewpoint as the main one though, since it’s clearly taking place after the cataclysm. Essun is an orogene (born with the feared earth magic), whose husband has just murdered her young son for possessing magic and taken off with her daughter in tow. As she tracks him, we see the world starting to fall apart around her.

I loved this book. The characters are fantastic – Essun’s grief is raw and visceral and scary, and it’s rare that I’ve seen those depths explored in fantasy, the only comparison I can think of is Robin Hobb. Damaya and Syenite also leap off the page, and when you finally find out how the three viewpoint characters are connected, it packs a huge emotional punch. That doesn’t even count the secondary characters, who are three-dimensional and haunting.

I keep using the word fantastic, but I’m not sure how else I can describe this book! The world is unique and completely immersive, Jemisin has thought through every little detail of how a society that has to deal with apocalypses frequently would do things. It is a harsh world with harsh people, but there’s also kindness when it can be afforded. And there is a good explanation (or the beginning of one) for why the world ended up the way it is – the Stillness is not a world without science.

I kept hearing The Fifth Season described as both apocalyptic and magical, and I wasn’t sure exactly how those two separate genres would work together. Everything just falls into place, though! Highly recommended, and I can’t wait to read The Obelisk Gate.


The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth, #1)
Orbit Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.