Book Review: Riyria Revelations, by Michael J. Sullivan

Is it possible for a self-published book to sell a hundred thousand copies, be picked up by a major publishing house, and continue to sell so well that it launches the career of the author? Michael Sullivan with his series the Riyria Revelations answers this with a resounding YES!

Michael Sullivan has given several interviews and is quoted in many articles about how this came to pass, but a quick summary of his journey to writing this story can be summed up in just a few sentences: He gave up on writing as a career, and wrote the series primarily as something that he wanted to read. It was originally only going to be made available to his family and a few friends, but everybody who read it wanted it. So he published a few copies, then a few hundred, then a few thousand. And the then things really started to happen.

This is a review of the entire series, originally published as six books: ‘The Crown Conspiracy’, ‘Avempartha’, ‘Nyphron Rising’, ‘The Emerald Storm’, ‘Wintertide’ and ‘Percepliquis’.  Now republished in three volumes as: ‘Theft of Swords’, ‘Rise of Empire’ and ‘Heir of Novron’.

The Riyria series can be looked at as a traditional fantasy, with Sullivan’s take on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouse paradigm front and center. If you are looking for a unique fantasy with a complex magical system, new races and monsters, and something more than a pseudo-magical setting, then don’t look here! On the surface, the Riyria Revelations could be plopped into any number of other worlds and work just fine. That serves a great reminder to all those aspiring authors out there; it’s about the story! And the story is what Sullivan does very well.

It’s filled with action and adventure, and the pacing is outstanding. The characters take on greater and greater depth with each book, especially Royce and Hadrian, the heroes of the story. Royce is a complex and fascinating character, full of faults and mystery. Hadrian is much simpler, but filled with kindness and a genuine concern for people. They are both very likable, and the joking between the two of them is one of the highlights of the books. Often in fantasy stories there is a challenge that only one character can defeat while the rest are watching. Hadrian and Royce generally work together, and find success in imaginative ways.

The characters become caught up with events that quickly spiral out of control, and for much of the story they seem to be rushing about just trying to stay alive. For all that, they are not on some mystical quest to find (or destroy) an ancient artifact and save mankind. They are two friends who have inadvertently become caught up in events that they spend a great deal of time trying to get out of. As the stories progress, the plots become far deeper and more complicated than could have been imagined at the beginning.

It is the story that makes these books worth reading. Sullivan avoids social commentary or preaching in this tale (Paolini anyone)?  If you’re looking for complex prose, deeper meanings that make you sit and think for days, or layered history and geography, look somewhere else. But if you’re looking for something that is FUN, you found it. This is a straightforward fantasy romp that is storytelling at its finest.

The story is filled with intrigues, assassinations, mysteries, court machinations, sieges, explosions, thefts, duels, tragedies, loves, sacrifices, villainies, unexpected twists, and the list goes on and on. Each of the three volumes is over 600 pages, but when I was done, I wanted more!

However (there’s always a however, isn’t there?) the story is straightforward, especially at the beginning. The characters are pretty stereotypical to start with, becoming more complex as the story continues. Sometimes the dialogue is a little stilted. There are several side plots that only get a little attention, but slow the story down from time to time. Keep in mind that these books are not the literary equivalent of a fine dining experience. No fancy dishes or expensive wine list here. This is more like sitting down at your favorite restaurant and sinking your teeth into comfort food. You can feel the flavor wash over you!

The Riyria Revelations are fantasy writing at its simplest and finest. This is the ideal series to spend at home on a cold winter day; or summer day for that matter. I would recommend not starting to read it on a Monday, because the temptation to use a sick day to finish the series may become overwhelming! But hey, if it’s an emergency…

Just read it!

~~~~~

Review by Ernie Shell

  • Series: Riyria Revelations (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; 1 edition (November 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316187747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316187749
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