Michael J. Sullivan was/is a self-published author who was so successful at his craft that a traditional publishing house (Orbit) bought up his books and re-issued them. These six books were split into three omnibuses. The Riyria Revelations tells a spectacular story that is instantly familiar and yet completely different. In The Crown Conspiracy, the Reader is introduced to a duo of thieves—Royce Melbourn and Hadrian Blackwater—who are hired to steal a sword from an impenetrable fortress. Little did they know that this action would set off a series of events that would change the course of the world. Along the way they meet princesses, warlords, pirates, monks, magicians, and all sorts of colorful characters.
Indeed, characterization is but one of the strengths of the series. Royce and Hadrian are complex characters, thieves of renown who are exceptional at what they do. They each have a rich history that slowly comes to light over the course of the novels, and I can’t help but think that this is part of the meaning behind the series’ title. The two are simultaneously funny and lethal. Their banter is a joy to read, and their escapades are entertaining.
While character is vital to a good story, plot is integral. Sullivan tells a matter-of-fact story, one that is not filled with flowery language nor is it devoid of life. Each novel is a complete book in itself, satisfying to read without leaving the Reader too dependent upon cliffhangers, etc. There is an over-arching story, of course, and I can’t imagine anyone reading any single book of this set without wanting to read the rest. The books are quick reads and pacing is never slow.
World-building is top notch here. Like Royce and Hadrian, the history of the world grows with each novel. The old empire fell hundreds of years ago, and in its wake several independent kingdoms arose. Imperialists look to rebuild the empire. Nationalists seek democracy. Royalists prefer a monarchy to rule over them. These factions provide plenty of room for conflict, as do the religions that accompany the various peoples.
I’m trying to think of shortcomings but am failing. Michael J. Sullivan’s books are tight stories with intense action and wonderful characters. Tropes appear and disappear, sometimes subverted, sometimes not. The conclusion is breathtaking and exciting.
Do I recommend The Riyria Revelations? Let me put it this way. I let my brother borrow the first volume. He tore through it, and then when he found out that I didn’t (yet) have the second volume (Rise of Empire) he went out to buy it. Instead he wound up with the third (Heir of Novron) because the bookstore was sold out of the second book. I ordered Rise of Empire from Amazon and proceeded to read it. Meanwhile my brother re-read The Crown Conspiracy. He said he “liked it as much—or better—than Patrick Rothfuss.” I gave him the second book and he’s since read each one of them multiple times. That’s some rather high praise for Mr. Sullivan. Praise that’s absolutely worthy.
The Riyria Revelations are safe novels that I can recommend to any person with a passing interest in fantasy fiction. They would be a great place to start for a fledgling reader into genre fiction, but they also are great for old salts, too. I very much look forward to reading more of Michael J. Sullivan’s work.