Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

“War has come to Melengar and once more Royce and Hadrian are hired to make a desperate gamble and form an alliance with the Nationalists whom are fighting the Imperialists in the south. As the power of the Nyphron Empire grows, so does Royce’s suspicion that the wizard Esrahaddon is using the thieves as pawns in his own grab for power. To find the truth, he must unravel the secret of Hadrian’s past–what he discovers may end their friendship and break Riyria in two.”

Action and adventure abound in these two novels.  Sullivan doesn’t confine his setting to a single area, either.  Our intrepid adventurers find themselves in cities, jungles, and on board a seagoing ship, just to name a few.  I enjoyed the variety of places that the main characters travel to, and it makes certain that the narrative doesn’t grow stale.  My favorite location in this volume was the inner workings of a vast fortress, with enough gears and levers to put Big Ben to shame.

While Hadrian and Royce are smart—especially Royce—one of their adversaries is just as smart, if not smarter.  Much of the plot involves a delicate interplay as plans are thwarted and others come to fruition.  The antagonist remains a few steps ahead of our heroes, and he foils the good guys’ plans with style and panache.  I have to admire the way the author unfolds the complicated machinations and keeps readers guessing as to who will emerge triumphant.

Readers are also kept guessing as to Hadrian’s backstory.  Sullivan reveals quite a few details, but some of it is deliberately skewed to turn it into something of a red herring.  The author balances all these little twists and turns so that each time you think you know what’s going on, it’s believable—and then, when the perspective changes, you can look back and see how this new interpretation was there all along.  It’s an enjoyable roller coaster of a plot.

Even though you get different views on many of the characters as the books progress, they’re all still interesting and likeable.  The friendship between Hadrian and Royce is strong and believable, Princess Arista grows and changes as events push her into ever more desperate actions, and the tragic Thrace will tug at your heartstrings.  These are people whom, if they were real, I’d love to sit down and chat with.

Not as dark or as gut-wrenching as many contemporary fantasy tales, Rise of Empire nevertheless carves out its own niche in the genre and proves that a good tale doesn’t have to surpass a PG rating.  This is a series that I can recommend to teenagers as well as adults, and that makes this reviewer extremely happy.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

“The New Empire intends to celebrate its victory over the Nationalists with a day that will never be forgotten. On the high holiday of Wintertide, they plan to execute two traitors (Degan Gaunt and the Witch of Melengar) as well as force the Empress into a marriage of their own design. But they didn’t account for Royce and Hadrian finally locating the Heir of Novron—or the pair’s desire to wreak havoc on the New Empire’s carefully crafted scheme.”

Okay, I’ll just come out and say it: Michael J. Sullivan is officially one of my all-time favorite authors now.  Holy cow, this duology was packed with action and surprises and red herrings and jaw-dropping revelations.  I blazed through nearly 700 pages without a second thought.  In fact, there’s so much that I loved about this book that it’s hard to know where to start.

First, we have the characters.  Sullivan has done an excellent job of letting Royce, Hadrian, and the other long-running characters grow and change.  We’ve watched Royce becoming slowly more compassionate, Hadrian acquiring a harder edge than we’ve previously seen, and the princess Arista going from pampered noble to tough survivor.  In this volume, war comes to the fledgling Empire, and nobody is immune to the chaos and devastation it causes.

Next is the pacing.  With the characters split into a couple of different locations, the author has to jump back and forth between storylines.  He does so with a deft touch and a great instinct for where to leave the action of one plotline and turn to another.  It kept me obsessively reading and even had me tempted to skip ahead chapters to see what happened next… except that the action right in front of me was just as interesting!  Although this was evident throughout the entire series, it’s especially noticeable in this last book, as all the various hints and mysteries begin to unravel and come to light.

What I really loved about this book—and this series—is that the author doesn’t try to be edgy or dark or controversial.  When he wrote this story, he just wanted to tell a good story, with some good characters.  Because of this, you’ll see some themes or elements that are classic to fantasy novels, and you know what?… that’s okay.  It’s more than okay.  It’s all done so well that an incredible tale came out of these common tropes.  There’s no sex, very little cursing, and what violence there is serves the plot and isn’t gratuitous.

Sullivan has given us lucky readers a story that is exciting, funny, dramatic, and tear-inducing by turns.  I honestly cried a couple of times, caught my breath on a few occasions, and nearly screamed out loud near the end.  And if that isn’t the sign of a great book, I don’t know what is.  I cannot recommend Sullivan’s work highly enough.  If you haven’t picked up this series yet, do yourself a huge favor and get them immediately.  Trust me, when you get to the thrills and adventure of Heir of Novron, you’ll be glad you listened to me.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

“There’s no ancient evil to defeat or orphan destined for greatness, just unlikely heroes and classic adventure. Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, are two enterprising rogues who end up running for their lives when they’re framed for the murder of the king. Trapped in a conspiracy that goes beyond the overthrow of a tiny kingdom, their only hope is unraveling an ancient mystery before it’s too late.”

This volume contains two of Sullivan’s original novels: The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.  The author has said that the first novel is a bit on the shallow side, because he was attempting to add layers of complexity to the series as he went along.  He also wrote the entire series before publishing any of it, and so he was able to build in those layers as he went.  I do have to agree that The Crown Conspiracy is a little on the fluffy end of the spectrum, but I still found it to be enjoyable.  Avempartha delves a bit deeper into the machinations of his world’s power players and does exceed the first novel.

I really liked Royce and Hadrian.  I described them to my husband as what would happen if the current incarnations of Holmes and Watson were on the team from TNT’s Leverage.The pair interacts in a believable way, with all the bickering and comradeship that you’d expect from longtime friends.  Readers get to know these two slowly, as they progress from simple thieves and con artists to taking a hand in events that will shape an empire.

I was impressed with Sullivan’s pacing and plot.  While each of the novels that I’ve read thus far follows a typical progression for an action-oriented story, there are plenty of twists and turns along the way.  The author knows when to ramp up the action, when to provide bits of information, and how long to build up to a major event.  It was like following a trail through the forest and seeing markers letting me know just a bit of what’s up ahead.  I kept reading as Sullivan led me from one event to the next, and I got very engrossed in the tale as a result.

One other thing that I appreciated is Sullivan’s decision to not include graphic language, violence or sex.  While I do enjoy some of the grittier sci-fi and fantasy novels out there, I found these books to be a refreshing change.  The author didn’t skimp on action, and he didn’t skimp on people dying or being in peril.  He did, however, refrain from shock value and in-your-face descriptions.  This is a series that I would have no hesitation with recommending to a younger reader, and anything that gets kids reading gets my vote.

Sullivan may not be well-known in the fantasy market, but I predict that will start changing rather quickly.  Theft of Swords has action, politics, heroes, villains, battles and magic, all wrapped up in a package with two unforgettable main characters.  Thankfully, there are two more omnibus editions to go, because I’m not ready to leave this series yet!

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

1 24 25 26