fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Michael J. Sullivan The Crown ConspiracyTheft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

The first thing you should know about Theft of Swords is that it’s not a fine dining experience. This book is not the literary equivalent of going to a fancy restaurant and getting one of those huge plates that are mostly empty except for a tiny stalk of asparagus artfully drizzled with a delicate sauce. Instead, it’s more like sitting down hungry and getting a big, tasty burger you can just grab and sink your teeth into. (Vegetarians, please substitute for the vegetarian equivalent of a big, tasty burger. I’ve been trying to think of one, and I can’t. A veggie burger just doesn’t feel the same.) In other words, this book is straightforward. It’s huge. It’s low on subtlety but high on enjoyment. It is (and I fully realize this is not proper Literary Theory terminology) juicy. At this point I think I’ve stretched the food metaphor about as far as it’s going to go.

The next thing to know about this book is that it’s, well, actually two books. (Like a two patty burger! Sorry. I’m really done now.) Theft of Swords is an omnibus containing The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, the first two books in Michael J. Sullivan’s RIYRIA REVELATIONS. If you follow fantasy blogs at all, you’re probably familiar with how this omnibus came to be. (And if you happen to write a fantasy blog you’re definitely aware, thanks to the vigorous “leave no stone unturned” guerrilla marketing campaign that’s partly responsible for making this series such a big success.) In a nutshell: these books were originally self-published. They became such a big indie success that Orbit has now picked up the series. Orbit is re-releasing the original six books in a set of three omnibus editions: Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron.

The two novels contained in Theft of Swords have been reviewed so many times, including several times here at Fantasy Literature, that it’s probably not necessary to go into a huge amount of detail. Their main characters are the thief Royce Melborn and the warrior Hadrian Blackwater, best friends who are both immensely skilled at what they do. They make a living taking on various assignments for nobles (often playing one noble against the other for double the profit) until one job gets them unwillingly involved in a far-reaching plot that affects the royal family of a kingdom and, eventually, the future of the entire world of Elan. As the plot evolves and thickens, you learn more about the structure and history of Elan, including multiple races (humans, elves, goblins, dwarves), deities, and political affiliations. For more details, simply take a look below for some excellent reviews of The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.

The two fantasy novels in Theft of Swords are extremely entertaining. There’s lots of action, flashes of humor, and some surprisingly (for a fluffy action fantasy novel) emotional moments. The characters are (at this point at least) paper-thin, but they’re mostly likable and the heroes are easy to root for. There’s simply not a dull moment to be found here. The fantasy world occasionally feels like a composite of familiar elements, but there are also hints that some more original pieces are waiting in the wings. Michael J. Sullivan is great at breaking down the world and its history into manageable chunks so they don’t overshadow the adventure, but if you take a step back and put all those pieces together, you can see that there’s more complexity here than you’d initially expect. The books don’t exactly brim with originality, but they’re so much sheer fun that it’s easy to get swept along.

One noticeable difference between the two novels in this omnibus, at least for a first time reader like myself, is that The Crown Conspiracy seems much more of a standalone story than Avempartha. It introduces the characters and the world, but its plot feels self-contained, whereas Avempartha seems to be the start of a longer story arc. The Crown Conspiracy also feels much more lighthearted. Which reminds me of a somewhat related topic: I suggest taking a break between the two books. The first book has a lot of forward momentum, and everything slams to a halt at the start of book two because it’s, well, a whole new novel. You can avoid the feeling that the plot suddenly moves at a creep rather than a gallop by picking up something else to cleanse your palate (which is officially my final food-related metaphor for this review.)

For people who have read the original books, there are a few differences between those and the ones found in this omnibus, including a new opening section for the first book, a glossary in the back, and a list of countries, deities, and political parties in the front. However, unless you’re a collector, I don’t think it’s necessary to get the omnibus if you have the original editions.

Here at FanLit, we give books star ratings, and I’m giving this one 3.5 stars, which for me means “between good and excellent.” This rating isn’t based on gorgeous prose, or deep characterization, or striking originality. It’s simply based on sheer, plain fun. This book reminded me of how much fun I had when I first discovered fantasy, *mumble* years ago. It reminded me of reading the original DRAGONLANCE trilogies, or even David EddingsBELGARIAD and MALLOREON series: I just kept turning pages until there weren’t any pages left to turn, without worrying about (or even being aware of) things like originality and depth. Much like those titles, Theft of Swords seems to straddle the line between YA and regular fiction, which might also make it a good series to get younger readers into fantasy. I had a blast with this book, even if I occasionally had to force myself to put away my mental red pencil so I could just enjoy the ride. If you’re in the mood for some straightforward, old-fashioned adventure fantasy, and you haven’t had the chance to check out the RIYRIA REVELATIONS yet, pick up a copy of Theft of Swords.

~Stefan Raets

fantasy book reviews Michael J. Sullivan The Crown ConspiracyRoyce and Hadrian are professional thieves who call themselves the Riyria. Royce is small, agile, dexterous and, on the surface, the meaner of the two; he would be the brains of the outfit. Hadrian is big, strong, an expert with weapons, and more easy-going; he’s the brawn. When they take a job that seems too good to be true, they find themselves framed for the assassination of the king and become fugitives with a prince in tow.

In a genre that is overwhelmed by series of wheelbarrow-sized door-stopper-volumes with plots so complicated that only the author can follow them, and long waits for the next book, The Riyria Revelations is a much needed return to fantasy’s grassroots. For fans who miss the straightforward adventurous tales — the stories that got a lot of us 35+ year-olds hooked on fantasy to begin with — The Crown Conspiracy brings back that excitement. When I started reading about Royce and Hadrian, Lieber’s famous sword-and-sorcery duo, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, immediately came to mind, but I actually like The RIYRIA REVELATIONS better.

Sullivan writes in such a way that within only a few paragraphs the reader becomes immersed in the adventure without even realizing they just left the real world. He actually makes the plot seems simpler than it really is. Unlike many authors who claim that each book in their series is a self-contained story, The Riyria Revelations truly are. I’m now halfway into the second one, Avempartha, and it’s easy to tell that they can be read in any order. And somehow, Sullivan is still able to thread each complete tale into a larger story. It’s nothing short of genius.

A few pages into The Crown Conspiracy, and I found myself as delighted as a cat who caught a mouse. I’ve been reading “dark” and “gritty” fantasy for so long that I forgot how enjoyable it can be to follow the adventures of heroes instead of anti-heroes.

In Avempartha, our heroes, Royce and Hadrian, are “hired” by a peasant girl to retrieve a magic sword from an ancient impregnable tower that was build by elves. Her village has been plagued by a terrible monster and this elven sword is the only weapon that can kill it. Of course, there’s more to it. It’s becoming apparent that these two who call themselves the Riyria are being used in a clandestine power struggle that began centuries ago. In Avempartha, we get some more hints about the duo’s past and some ancient dark secrets are revealed about Elan’s history.

Avempartha is the second book of Michael J. Sullivan’s The RIYRIA REVELATIONS and it’s evident that he’s got a good thing going. These tales are nothing fancy (or even all-that original), but they are simply a darn good time. Sullivan has put the fun of a YA adventure into a story for mature readers. Royce and Hadrian are the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser for this generation of fantasy readers.

The RIYRIA REVELATIONS is the best of both worlds; Fantasy fans can escape to a new world of kings and kingdoms where elves, dwarves, and dragons are in residence, and mysterious sorceries are a force to be reckoned with. But you won’t have to commit decades of your life to follow The RIYRIA REVELATIONS. These books read fast and have the feel of an action-adventure series, but the continuous background plot is deep enough to satisfy readers who prefer more complex epics.

~Greg Hersom

fantasy book reviews Michael J. Sullivan The Crown Conspiracy Michael J. Sullivan‘s The Crown Conspiracy is like a breath of fresh air. After a seemingly endless flood of heavy, gigantic fantasy books, this short, fairly simple opening to a new series was very welcome. I didn’t feel like I needed to take pages of notes to figure out everything that was going on!

The main characters are a pair of common miscreants named Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater. They are both criminals, but not without conscience. Royce is the planner and thief in the pair while Hadrian is the muscle and the fighter. They almost reminded me of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

Our heroes are drawn into a conspiracy (hence the title) to kill the royal family of Melengar. Framed for one murder, Royce and Hadrian are then freed to save the life of the Royal Prince, Alric, who considers them the murderers of his father. So, the stage is set with plenty of danger, some interesting characters, and some villains to threaten the heroes.

The Crown Conspiracy is easy reading, replete with familiar situations and comfortable. This is the sort of fantasy that I grew up with, and it was a real joy to get back to it. You won’t find yourself comparing these books to Steven Erikson or Janny Wurts, but they hold their own against David Eddings and early Raymond E. Feist. As long as you’re not expecting high literature, The Crown Conspiracy is a great read.

~John Hulet


  • Stefan Raets

    STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping.

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  • Greg Hersom

    GREG HERSOM’S addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He's been with FanLit since the beginning in 2007.

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  • John Hulet

    JOHN HULET is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years. We still hear from him every once in a while.

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