Bookbanter Column: Get Lost in a Good Fantasy Series, Part 2: The Riyria Revelations (July 20, 2012)

Some years ago, author Michael J. Sullivan began writing a fantasy for his daughter: a story that she would enjoy hearing, but also one that he would enjoy reading.

It eventually turned into a six-book epic fantasy series that was published through an independent press.

What was perhaps most unique about the Riyria Revelations was that Sullivan had all six books completely plotted and planned to serve as individual, stand-alone novels, but also linked together into a long series.

The series slowly but surely gained momentum and a following, as more readers and fans were discovered, and the books received more ratings and reviews on the likes of Good Reads and Amazon, and Sullivan received more and more interview requests, including with yours truly.

His popularity and success grew to such a point that after the release of the fifth book in the series, Sullivan finally got that big publishing contract with Orbit Books, who released the series in three volumes late last year and early this year, with two books in each volume.

This is the story of two thieves who change and grow and develop through each of the six books, as readers become so attached to them that by the end they feel like family. It is also the story of what heritage and history means, and that the past is never truly gone, but also that sometimes these things don’t have to matter as much as people think they do, and it’s important to enjoy life however you can.

Theft of Swords: In The Crown Conspiracy our main characters are nothing but low-life thieves: Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, although they’re very good at their jobs.  The story begins with the introduction of these intrepid characters and their next heist to steal a particular item within the impenetrable confines of the king’s castle.  But as soon as they have their hands on the item, the trap is sprung, and they find themselves part of an elaborate plot.  At their feet lies the lifeless body of the king.

From here, the story kicks into high-gear, taking the reader on a wild ride.  In this world it is important to know who your friends are and who are your enemies; it is also important to keep your enemies closest.  As the story unfolds, we learn that while they may be common thieves, they are very smart people.  They also realize that the idea of being a good person is starting to rub off on them, as they no longer do anything for a fast buck.

By the end of the book, everything seems to have sorted itself out.  Royce and Hadrian are now doing very well for themselves, as well as being close friends of the king.  But clearly all is not as it should, since this is the first book in the series.

In Avempartha, our intrepid duo returns in the second installment of The Riyria Revelations to solve another mystery and fight another day.

Before Royce and Hadrian barely have time to settle after the fun had in The Crown Conspiracy, they find themselves pulled into a new problem: a young woman needs their help as her village is being attacked by an unknown nocturnal creature.

The town of Dahlgren is an idyllic place, except now it is visited each night by an ancient monster looking to terrorize and kill everyone.  Royce and Hadrian know they can’t take on this beast by themselves, at least not without some impressive magic, and call on the help of their old friend and brilliant wizard, Esrahaddon.  Hadrian does his best to protect the town and its people, fortifying it, and having everyone hide out in the fortress each night.  Meanwhile Royce and Esrahaddon journey to the ancient elven tower known as Avempartha.  There they hope to confront the beast and kill it.  But everything doesn’t go according to plan, as it never does, and Hadrian learns some very important things about himself.

Rise of Empire: In Nyphron Rising, things take a turn for the worse as war comes sweeping through to Melengar and its people have little hope and respect for their recent, young king.  Princess Arista has been running around playing diplomat and trying to secure allies for Melengar, with nothing to show for it.  Meanwhile the enemy Nyphron Empire continues to grow in strength and numbers.  Arista has one more trick up her sleeve, and with the help of her good friends, Royce and Hadrian, goes on this last journey far south in a last effort to secure an ally, but also to unravel a mystery of Hadrian’s past.  Surprising results are revealed about our unknown thief that ties into the whole story of the Riyria Revelations.  The wizard Esrahaddon continues to be up to no good, while we learn more of the enigmatic man known as Degan Gaunt.

Sullivan does a great job with Nyphron Rising, after setting necessary groundwork and story and setting with the first two books, he opens it up on an epic scale, traveling his invented world, and educating readers on how future events are going to affect everyone across Elan, and why the forgotten history is important.  Royce and Hadrian continue to be the entertaining and interesting characters that they are, while Arista opens up her emotional side.

With the events of Nyphron Rising now at a close, the elusive duo, Royce and Hadrian aren’t sure what do to next.  Royce has plans to retire and relax, settle down with his lady love and enjoy the rest of his days, while Hadrian has dark shadows of his past and heritage to confront and accept, while deciding he is on a mission to find the lost heir of Novron.  It takes Royce all of three seconds and little convincing to decide that Hadrian won’t last long without him, and together the two set out, following the clues that lead them to the mighty trading vessel, the Emerald Storm.  They know nothing of seamanship and what to do aboard such a large vessel, but knowing one of the crewmen, they’re able to get added to the crew and begin the journey through the mysterious and interesting lands of Elan.  Naturally, there is lots of adventure on the high seas, not to mention some strange guests on the Emerald Storm, as well as the enigmatic cargo.  Meanwhile an important subplot is furthered along with the princess, who is bored with her station, looking to make her life more interesting, and gets some answers.

Heir of Novron: In Wintertide, on this year’s holiday of the same name, a special celebration has been planned.  The New Empire wants to make a big deal of its victory over the Nationalists, and has some important public executions planned: the villainous Degan Gaunt and the Witch of Melengar.  The only problem is that Royce and Hadrian are in town and they happen to be good friends with both of those people and have plans of springing them free whatever it takes.

Sullivan clearly had fun with Wintertide, playing around with Hadrian engaging in a joust, even though he doesn’t know much about the whole nobility and chivalry thing, but he sure knows how to fight.  And how having friends in the most unlikeliest of places often proves invaluable.  Fans will enjoy this penultimate chapter, with Sullivan’s strong descriptions and scenes of the winter festivities; of the sounds, sights and smells.  It’s an enjoyable, thrilling tale before the final showdown.

In Percepliquis, the beginning of the end has begun: the elves of old have crossed the Nidwalden River in large numbers and are coming to take over; they threaten the entire continent of Elan.  The people have little hope left; they know they don’t stand a chance against these powerful elves.  And it all comes down to Novron’s heir, who must make a stand, and the only way he can do that is by finding the sacred horn.  It will involve an arduous quest, with a strong group of warriors who also possess intellect.  They will have to travel deep beneath the ground, in search of the ancient, ruined city of Percepliquis, following an old diary that may not even be true.  Fortunately, Royce and Hadrian are coming along for the ride, so if these intrepid few have any chance of finding the horn and saving the people of Elan, only these two will be able to make it happen.

In the longest volume yet, Sullivan has outdone himself here with lots going on: multiple storylines, lots of action, lots of conflict between friends and enemies, important details from the previous books brought to light, travels through various terrains, and an ultimate duel.  With the thrill of a top-rate action movie, combined with the epic grandeur of Tolkien’s Return of the King, this is a final showdown you won’t be able to stop reading, let alone put down.  Who will live; who will die?  In this grand finale, anything can happen . .. you won’t want to miss it.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

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“Percepliquis” by Michael J. Sullivan (Ridan Publishing, 2012)

Percepliquis
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This moment has been subtly building for the last five books, and now it is finally here.  When Michael J. Sullivan set out to write the five-book series of the Riyria Revelations, his goal wasn’t to write an intrinsically-linked series of books, nor was it to write five stand-alone fantasy novels; it was to do a combination of the two.  Readers can enjoy each of these books in their own right, as the entertaining stories that they are, but at the same time there are sub-plot and elements embedded in there, building a comprehensive story that comes to a climax in this final volume, Percepliquis

The beginning of the end has begun: the elves of old have crossed the Nidwalden River in large numbers and are coming to take over; they threaten the entire continent of Elan.  The people have little hope left; they know they don’t stand a chance against these powerful elves.  And it all comes down to Novron’s heir, who must make a stand, and the only way he can do that is by finding the sacred horn.  It will involve an arduous quest, with a strong group of warriors who also possess intellect.  They will have to travel deep beneath the ground, in search of the ancient, ruined city of Percepliquis, following an old diary that may not even be true.  Fortunately, Royce and Hadrian are coming along for the ride, so if these intrepid few have any chance of finding the horn and saving the people of Elan, only these two will be able to make it happen.

In the longest volume yet, Sullivan has outdone himself here with lots going on: multiple storylines, lots of action, lots of conflict between friends and enemies, important details from the previous books brought to light, travels through various terrains, and an ultimate duel.  With the thrill of a top-rate action movie, combined with the epic grandeur of Tolkien’s Return of the King, this is a final showdown you won’t be able to stop reading, let alone put down.  Who will live; who will die?  In this grand finale, anything can happen . .. you won’t want to miss it.

Originally written on February 6, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Percepliquis from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .
Crown Conspiracy Avempartha Nyphron Rising Emerald Storm 

“Wintertide” by Michael J. Sullivan (Ridan Publishing, 2010)

Wintertide
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In the fifth and penultimate volume of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations, he once again manages to play off a familiar fantasy storyline, in this case the art of the joust and power of the nobility within a city, and with his unique cast of characters, makes Wintertide feel completely original.  While readers of the series may be familiar with Royce and Hadrian, it’s the adventures they get up to in this book that really make it worthwhile, with an ending that sets up for a grand finale in the final book of the series.  Wintertide is the quiet before the storm.

On this year’s holiday of the same name, a special celebration has been planned.  The New Empire wants to make a big deal of its victory over the Nationalists, and has some important public executions planned: the villainous Degan Gaunt and the Witch of Melengar.  The only problem is that Royce and Hadrian are in town and they happen to be good friends with both of those people and have plans of springing them free whatever it takes.

Sullivan clearly had fun with Wintertide, playing around with Hadrian engaging in a joust, even though he doesn’t know much about the whole nobility and chivalry thing, but he sure knows how to fight.  And how having friends in the most unlikeliest of places often proves invaluable.  Fans will enjoy this penultimate chapter, with Sullivan’s strong descriptions and scenes of the winter festivities; of the sounds, sights and smells.  It’s an enjoyable, thrilling tale before the final showdown.

Originally written on February 8, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

You might also like . . .
Crown Conspiracy  Avempartha  Nyphron Rising  Emerald Storm

“Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit, 2011)

Part One of Three

Theft of Swords
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What began as a challenge to entertain his daughter has taken Michael J. Sullivan on an unusual but productive publishing career, through self-publishing and promotion on to publication with Orbit books.  The Riyria Revelations at first seems a familiar fantasy series, with predictable tropes, but it’s how Sullivan uses them, and its strong, unique and interesting characters, that make this series one well worth reading.  Theft of Swords collects the first two volumes of the six-book series in a nice, weighty quality paperback.

In The Crown Conspiracy our main characters are nothing but low-life thieves: Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, although they’re very good at their jobs.  The story begins with the introduction of these intrepid characters and their next heist to steal a particular item within the impenetrable confines of the king’s castle.  But as soon as they have their hands on the item, the trap is sprung, and they find themselves part of an elaborate plot.  At their feet lies the lifeless body of the king.

From here, the story kicks into high-gear, taking the reader on a wild ride.  In this world it is important to know who your friends are and who are your enemies; it is also important to keep your enemies closest.  As the story unfolds, we learn that while they may be common thieves, they are very smart people.  They also realize that the idea of being a good person is starting to rub off on them, as they no longer do anything for a fast buck.

By the end of the book, everything seems to have sorted itself out.  Royce and Hadrian are now doing very well for themselves, as well as being close friends of the king.  But clearly all is not as it should, since this is the first book in the series.

In Avempartha, our intrepid duo returns in the second installment of The Riyria Revelations to solve another mystery and fight another day.  Before Royce and Hadrian barely have time to settle after the fun had in The Crown Conspiracy, they find themselves pulled into a new problem: a young woman needs their help as her village is being attacked by an unknown nocturnal creature.

The town of Dahlgren is an idyllic place, except now it is visited each night by an ancient monster looking to terrorize and kill everyone.  Royce and Hadrian know they can’t take on this beast by themselves, at least not without some impressive magic, and call on the help of their old friend and brilliant wizard, Esrahaddon.  Hadrian does his best to protect the town and its people, fortifying it, and having everyone hide out in the fortress each night.  Meanwhile Royce and Esrahaddon journey to the ancient elven tower known as Avempartha.  There they hope to confront the beast and kill it.  But everything doesn’t go according to plan, as it never does, and Hadrian learns some very important things about himself.

Sullivan ramps up the action and story, as we learn more about the characters we’ve come to like, as well about the incredible world he has created.  At the same time more details are revealed about the growing overall story, leaving readers waiting in earnest for the next installment.

This edition also features Sullivan’s original maps and a helpful character and important persons/gods list in the front.  In the back is a detailed glossary, an in-depth interview with the author, and a teaser for the next volume, Rise of Empire, consisting of the third and fourth volumes of the series, due out in December.

Originally written on December 1, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Theft of Swords from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Ghost Story” by Jim Butcher (Roc, 2011)

Ghost Story
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Jim Butcher returns – a little behind schedule – with his thirteenth Dresden Files book, which was pushed back a couple of months as Butcher explains in his introduction because he needed that extra bit of time to make Ghost Story perfect.  We last left Harry Dresden shot and sinking beneath the waters, left for dead in Changes; between then and now a short story collection was published, revealing some great adventures, as well as some very interesting and important story- and plotlines that hadn’t been discussed in the regular novels.  Now fans finally get to find out what exactly happened to Harry . . . if you don’t want to get spoiled, stop reading.

And Harry is pretty much . . . dead, but then that doesn’t really stop Dresden.  He finds himself initially in a sort of between world which is a different form of Chicago, and gets some help from none other than Murphy’s dad, and before he knows it, he’s back in regular Chicago, only he’s a ghost and can’t be his regular old self.  Harry has to think and work differently now, and employs the help of an old friend, the ectomancer Mort, to get by and help him find out just who exactly executed him, as well as to protect his friends.

Unsurprisingly, Harry gets into more problems and fires than he can handle, real fast, but to use magic in his incorporeal state he must use the power of memory.  Butcher uses a great ploy here to give some great back story and history on Harry and his life that readers have been curious about for many books, to make his magic that more powerful.  Harry doesn’t get to be his usual self as a ghost, so he needs to think about what he does, and be creative about it.  Ghost Story is a more mature Harry that has been overdue, as he must now face his reality for what it is without any pretension.  This thirteenth book represents Harry Dresden at his very best, as he must now begin a new chapter in his life, and this definitely shows in Butcher’s writing and storytelling, setting up for a great next book and a whole new world for Harry Dresden, wizard at large.

Originally written on August 15, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

“A Dance with Dragons” by George R. R. Martin (Bantam, 2011)

A Dance With Dragons
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Six years in the making; over a thousand pages in length: while A Dance with Dragons has gone on to become an instant super bestseller (as well as the hardcover outselling the eBook edition), sadly the best thing about this book is really that fantastically mesmerizing cover.  This mighty tome falls more in line with its less well received and not so well reviewed predecessor, A Feast for Crows, than with the groundbreaking first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire.  It seems that time may not be the best thing for George R. R. Martin when it comes to writing his epic series, as he seems to enjoy spending more time describing scenery, and food, and anything gruesome or unpleasant than moving the story along.  He goes on tangents, taking trips with new characters that appear to have little bearing on the main plot; or spends literally hundreds of pages with characters readers have come to know so well and love . . . and nothing bloody happens!  Martin is becoming what can only really be truthfully described as Jordanian; no he’s not immigrating to Jordan, but writing in the style of the man who became the true master of the “massive mass market,” Robert Jordan.

Warning: here be spoilers.

In the North, around the Wall, King Stannis Baratheon seems to spend a lot of time trying to decide what to do with no real power or army to use, while listening to Lady Melisandre, who continues to spout enigmatic prophecies that make little sense; yet readers do get to enjoy a chapter from her viewpoint for the first time.  Meanwhile, Jon Snow is elected as the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, as he must deal with not just enemies beyond the Wall, but also amongst the very men he leads and is in charge of.  He works with the wildlings, bringing them south of the wall to bolster his forces in preparation for a possible attack from the Others; it seems to be an interesting act of diplomacy, but goes on for far too many pages, with little action or continuing story taking place.

Much of the rest of the book takes place to the far east.  Martin has provided a couple of new maps, but nothing so clearly defined and comprehendible as the great continent of Westeros.  Tyrion flees to Pentos, drowning himself in wine.  He is forced to join with a group traveling to Meereen, along with the apparently not so dead prince Aegon Targaryen.  Tyrion – as he always does – manages to get involved in a whole variety of adventures, including the meeting of another dwarf, and a female no less!

Daenerys is the character that seems most put through the ringer in this book; much like Cercei was in A Feast for Crows.  She is no longer the tough, proud, defiant woman that everyone feared, and not just because she has three growing dragons.  Having conquered Meereen, she should be the unstoppable, unquestionable queen that she is, and yet insurrection is afoot and Daenerys cannot seem to decide what to do; perhaps it is because she has become obsessed and besotted with one of her soldiers and seems to be able to think of little else when he is nearby, and yet he is of lower class and cannot possibly be her husband.  The black dragon, Drogon, meanwhile is running rampant through the countryside as growing “teenage” dragons do, and Daenerys has no idea how to control him.

Finally there is Quentyn Martell, Prince of Dorne, whose story comes from nowhere as we follow his trek across the lands to Meereen, where he hopes to woo Daenerys by enslaving one of her dragons.  It does not end well for him.  Interspersed throughout the lengthy book are other POV chapters from the likes of Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Reek (who is in fact the very not dead Theon Greyjoy), Arya Stark, Victarion Greyjoy, as well as some surprise cameos from Jaime and Cercei Lannister.  These appearances may not have be so incomprehensible if their storylines were allowed to go somewhere, and yet many of them barely get one chapter, leaving the reader wondering why they were ever added to this book in the first place.  What was the point?  Especially when many hundreds of pages are spent on other main characters, with very little happening with them, other than plenty of description of what they’re wearing, what they’re eating, and what the scenery looks like.  Pure Jordanian!

At a recent signing, George R. R. Martin briefly brought up one of his most tumultuous periods in the six-year writing saga of A Dance with Dragons, saying that in a year or two who would discuss it in greater detail once everyone had read the book, but confessing that he had sacrificed at least a year at what he refers to as his “Meereenese Knot,” in trying to decide how events were to transpire and what characters and POVs were to be involved, featuring rewrite after rewrite after rewrite.  It seems Martin may have in fact written himself into a deep, dark pit of despair that he hasn’t really been able to write himself out of.  Perhaps he should’ve scrapped everything and started again?  After sacrificing over a half a decade of his life and the reader’s impatient waiting, he couldn’t exactly do that.  Instead, the result is a book that is too long, has too little going on, and falls behind A Feast for Crows in that it is that much longer with less important story happening.

There may be a number of readers under the same delusion suffered by those who professed the excellence and genius of the Star Wars prequels, starting with A Phantom Menace; but over time have come to realize the error of their ways and the true reality of the situation.  A Dance with Dragons just simply isn’t that good of a book, but does serve to further the story somewhat, and fill in the details with many words and many pages and little action.  At the end readers will certainly be left unsatisfied, as they ponder on the possibilities of the penultimate book in the seven-book series (assuming it will stay at this number) with The Winds of Winter, where winter will supposedly have finally arrived.  The question remains: if winter is finally here, how long will it be before readers actually get to read about it?

Originally written on August 9, 2011  ©Alex C. Telander.

CLICK HERE to purchase the book from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter!

“A Mage of None Magic” by A. Christopher Drown (Tyrannosaurus Press)

A Mage of None Magicstarstarstar

In the first book of the Heart of the Sisters series, A. Christopher Drown sets the stage for your ordinary fantasy novel with an apprentice magician – Niel – while traveling, finds himself caught up in a quest with an unusual group of people who think he’s much greater and stronger than he appears to be, but Niel soon learns that he has more of a role to play in this world.

There are two facets that separate A Mage of None Magic from an ordinary fantasy novel that would be easily forgotten.  One is that Drown does a good job of not just world-building, but also creating a mythology that echoes the Greeks and Romans that ties in with how this world was created, but also with how this mythology is still alive today and believed by many.  The other is voice; Drown has a great, entertaining, and interesting voice in this book that will keep the reader reading and wanting more.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 11th, 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.