Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan is the first book of The Riyria Revelations published by Orbit. It is composed of two books, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, originally published by Ridan Publishing. Theft of Swords is a story of high adventure. For me, it evokes a sense of nostalgia for fantasy as a genre prior to the rise of epic and/or gritty fantasy-- a time when serials and pulps were predominant, and fantasy centered on interesting characters doing interesting things. So while Theft of Swords is a fun read and doesn't push genre boundaries, do not mistake it for a poorly written novel pandering to readers with rose-tinted glasses. Theft of Swords is a smartly-written, polished, well-paced story that is littered with interesting dialogue.

Theft of Swords is centered on the exploits of Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, who are thieves. In the first half of Theft of Swords, The Crown Conspiracy, Royce and Hadrian are fulfilling a contract that, naturally, goes all wrong. They subsequently become implicated in a plot to kill a king and his immediate family. The only means to clear their name is to save the surviving prince and foil the conspiracy. Along the way they encounter an ancient wizard, find hints of a larger conspiracy, and meet new friends.

The second half of Theft of Swords, Avempartha, picks up not long after the events of The Crown Conspiracy. Fate pulls Royce and Hadrian back into exciting events. This time to a remote village on the border of human and elven lands. Once again, they foil a sinister plot, uncover more of the larger story arch, and reveal a bit more of themselves.

If all of this sounds straightforward, it is. There is no fancy magic system. There is no complicated world building. This is a story about two men: Royce and Hadrian. Everything else exists merely to showcase them. If Royce and Hadrian were boring, Theft of Swords would likely be unreadable.

Thankfully, Royce and Hadrian are immensely interesting. Both have secretive pasts that they keep even from each other. They are polar opposites in nearly every regard. The only thing they have in common is their deep friendship and respect for each other. Via this bi-polar tandem Michael J. Sullivan tells his story. Every event is seen through the lense of two distinct points of view; every new character found is scrutinized in this bi-fold manner. Likewise, a little more about Royce and Hadrian is teased out in each encounter as well. It is a lively read and the back and forth between the thieving duo helps keep the novel fresh.

Structurally, Theft of Swords is also to the point. There are very few breaks from Royce’s and Hadrian’s point of view-- maybe a brief jump to the ‘bad guy’ to help frame the next sequence. Yet, the novel is very well-paced and edited. There is very little down time and very little exposition. Most of the story and novel is revealed through the characters’ dialogue.

More than anything, I enjoyed the dialogue. Royce’s and Hadrian’s exchanges with each other and with others is always memorable. Theft of Swords is a steady stream of conversation, and the banter seldom stops. This fact contributes greatly to the ease of reading and the sense of pacing. Also a refreshing change of pace is the absence of the vulgarity that has found its way into modern, gritty fantasy. Michael J. Sullivan uses sarcasm, word play, and puns instead.

Another thing I enjoyed was the tone. The novel keeps to the more light-hearted side of the spectrum, again eschewing the dark and gory descriptions more common in newer fiction. While there are some truly dark moments, Michael J. Sullivan cloaks them in poignant dialogue and quiet introspection.

My only criticism is that Theft of Swords doesn’t feel ambitious enough. It is clearly well written but it lacks a certain spark that I think would elevate it to the next level. Instead, Theft of Swords seems quite content to simply be what it is: a fun story with fun characters. That said, it is also the first book in a trilogy, and very little of the overall story arch has been revealed. My opinion here could very well change while reading the next installment.

Overall, I enjoyed Theft of Swords. I loved the sense of nostalgia and a break from the gritty and the dark. I also appreciated the skill that went into this novel. Without that skill and the great dialogue, Theft of Swords could be entirely forgettable. I look forward to the rest of the books in The Riyria Revelations series. While I have no doubts they will be memorable reads, I hope they take the next step and become classic-- with or without the rose-tinted glasses.

Memorable Quotes:
"'Oh, so you’re saying that you’re going to hang on to this and throw it at me at some future, more personally beneficial moment?'"
“'Actually,' Myron said sheepishly, 'I was praying for the horses. But I will pray for you as well,' he added hastily."
"'This is the first time, I suspect, anyone has ever visited a whorehouse and brought his own woman.'"
Image Source: Hachette
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 9780316200714

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