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Hello, my name’s Chris and I’m—
Wait, we’ve covered that before? Bloody. Well, I’ve mentioned I’ve frolicked through the fields of self-publishing, right? Right?
Trust me, it’s relevant, because today, that very fact should make this man one of my living, breathing modern literary heroes (although it does, in truth, have very little bearing on the review to follow—hypocrisy!).
Drawing it back: today, I’m undertaking a review I have put off for some time—that being an analysis of Michael Sullivan’s Theft of Swords. The first installment in his incredibly popular Riyria Revelations, it follows the misbegotten adventures of partners-in-crime Hadrian and Royce. Naturally, when one job goes terribly (terribly) wrong, the pair of master burglars and swordsmen, unfortunately, get charged with regicide. Real party-killer, that. Yet they, being the determined lot that they are, persevere and set out to prove their innocence (alright, and maybe get a little revenge along the way), inevitably kicking off a chain of events that will echo changes throughout their whole wide world.
Here’s where I take a breath.
The Theft of Swords is, first of all, what you would call an omnibus—a combination of the first two (rather short) novels in the series, being The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha. It’s a distinction they earned through Riyria’s proven success, having started out on the self-published scene and transitioned into the small presses, before gaining one of those shiny bigwig contracts from Orbit. (You’re starting to see why he should be my hero, right?) Not only have these books, and their series at large, stood out in a crowded room of self-published creations, but they have managed to garner such acclaim that even the fancier folks down the block have invited them to the party.
But I digress. The book. We are focused on the book.
What do you notice first? Well, for one, the fact that Sullivan outright bucks the more typical trend in current fantasy undertakings (which I can count my own Haunted Shadows series among), which is to say, it shakes the adult, the dark, and the violent for elements I for one consider lighter or more classical fantasy. Sure, there’s character deaths, there’s setbacks, but the mood is lighthearted, the scenes move quick, and the victory of the heroes is never really in doubt.
It’s easy to read and pretty straightforward in its delivery. There’s no struggle for deeper meanings or intricate deceptions to be found here—and I mean that not just in terms of plot or character, but the writing itself. It’s not what I would call bland, specifically, but while you might smile at the interactions or personalities of some of the characters, there are few scenes or quotes that will really stick out. The characters are fun, but not as memorable as, say, a Tyrion, or a Corwin, or a FitzChivalry Farseer, because that depth and level of characterization simply isn’t there.
Continuing the traditional fantasy trend: you have your elves, your dwarves, your thee-and-thou throwing wizards. They’re exactly what you’d expect them to be, growing up as a child in the swirl of fairy tales (and, if you’re like me, Lord of the Rings), so while it may appeal to your inner child, adult you is not going to be hit with any terribly original surprises on the racial front at least.
Did I mention there’s a prophecy (Revelations, remember)? Guess who the chosen one is. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Done? Ok, good. Wish I’d had time to make my popcorn, though.
Anyhow, what all this grinds down to is this: it’s a predictable, amusing book that does little adhere to modern traditions but likewise does little to break the classic themes, either. Originality should always be key, but there’s really nothing here that will strike as particularly individual. Particularly unique. In truth, it’s not hard to see why the individual pieces of this one were originally published separately: it’s a series that lends itself to short readings, a flight, a road trip, etc. There are other authors out there that produce better works while still adhering to his same goals, but all this said, is Theft of Swords a bad book?
Not at all. I would rather say: it simply is. Sit back, put a little music on, and enjoy. It will entertain for a few hours, and there’s something to be said for a book that can do that alone.