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.)

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