Monday, August 24, 2015

The Riyria Revelations: Theft of Swords review

    The Riyria Revelations are a series I was introduced to by Michael J. Sullivan's story in Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Thieves. Starring a pair of thieves named Hadrian and Royce, they exist in a Tolkien-esque fantasy world with elves, dwarves, and a long-dead Empire. Far from grimdark, they're of the much more lovable rogue sort of bent and do their best to make the world slightly more tolerable for the little guy ala Robin Hood.

    Theft of Swords is a compilation novel containing The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha. These were two ebooks published before the release of the physical versions. The two stories fit together reasonably well and are entertaining by themselves. They're not perfect but I think they're very entertaining fantasy stories for those who enjoy light-hearted adventures which are well-written and funny.

    The premise of The Crown Conspiracy is the titular thieves (Riyria being Elvish for "Two") being hired to steal a sword from a chapel in the Royal Palace, only to discover it's a set-up to frame them for murdering the local king. Freed on the conditions of kidnapping the Prince destined to inherit the throne from their fate father, the two try and figure some way out of the complicated situation without becoming the most infamous (rather than famous) rogues in the world. How does this relate to a mysterious magical prison and a thousand-year-old conspiracy? Read the book and find out.

    Avempartha begins with the two antiheroes having made a fortune following the resolution of the events of The Crown Conspiracy. They don't get to enjoy it long, however, before a young girl from a poverty-stricken village seeks them out with a new contract. Her father is in deadly peril thanks to the efforts of a monstrous evil and they need to break into an ancient elvish tower to steal a magic sword to slay the beast. This runs into the fact the Church has decided the beast is to serve the "holy" function of selecting the new Emperor--and whoever slays it will wear the crown.

    The biggest appeal of the books is the lighthearted enjoyable banter between the leads. Royce is an eternal cynic, a former assassin who believes the worst in everyone and is usually proven right. Contrasting him is Hadrian, an optimist who didn't so much as fall into thievery as sort of slip into it by accident. The two of them form a delightfully fun odd couple which puts me in mind of the original in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. The two of them couldn't be more different but you believe in their powerful friendship.

    The world-building is a bit too similar to other ones for my tastes but it is still plotted out very well. The history of the Novron Empire plays an important role in the world-building, as does the horrid plight of the elves, and the politics of the various kingdoms. Michael J. Sullivan is a good writer and manages to breathe life into several tropes which might have been tired in a lesser author's hands.

    I'm a fan of many supporting characters, too, like Gwen the brothel owner, Myron the overly selfless monk, the royals of Melengar, and Eshrahaddon the wizard. While only a few of them get much in the way of development, those which do become very interesting indeed. They often provide insights into the characters of Royce and Hadrian as well as having their own lengthy story arcs. If I had to choose a favorite it would probably be Arista the Princess of Melengar who is far more competent than her brother but prevented from the crown because, well, she's a girl. How Arista compensates for that is quite entertaining to read about.

    In conclusion, Theft of Swords is a book I highly recommend to any fans of High Fantasy fiction. I'm interested in where the plot is going in the remaining two volumes of the collection and will probably check out the prequels after I'm finished with them.


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