RISE OF EMPIRE by Michael J. Sullivan

Whereas the first book of THE RYRIA REVELATIONS, THEFT OF SWORDS, introduced us to Hadrian and Royce, RISE OF EMPIRE splits its efforts between exploring both men’s pasts and building up two female protagonists who split the time fairly evenly with Hadrian and Royce.

Sullivan tackles the challenge of the middle book of a trilogy by exploring his characters’ histories (we see where both Royce and Hadrian grew up); introducing new, more challenging villains such as Merrick Marius; and by spending time with female protagonists who I imagine will play a key role in the final book of the trilogy.

There’s still snappy dialogue between Hadrian and Royce, but much of the book focuses on Princess Arista, who’s almost a completely different character by the end of the book, and Amilia, a worker in the imperial palace who is tasked with helping Thrace (now Empress Modina) recover from her father’s death.

This book takes much more time to explore its characters than THEFT OF SWORDS did, and the more complex plot and the introduction of even more interesting characters made it a lot of fun to read. Sullivan has built upon the world he created in THEFT OF SWORDS and set things up for a very interesting final entry in the trilogy.

THEFT OF SWORDS by Michael J. Sullivan

It’s a bit disorienting to read a series of books outside the order they were published.

THEFT OF SWORDS is the first book in the RIYRIA REVELATIONS, but prior to beginning REVELATIONS, I read THE CROWN TOWER and THE ROSE AND THE THORN, prequel novels that were published after the original trilogy. Having read those prequels, I came into THEFT OF SWORDS with a firm understanding of the two main characters, Royce and Hadrian, as well as some of the secondary characters that don’t get too much attention here.

THE CROWN TOWER set up how Royce and Hadrian met, and while there wasn’t much plot momentum, there was a lot of opportunity to understand the characters, learn a little about their backgrounds and provided firm footing for the faster-paced action I knew would take place in later books. When I followed that up with THE ROSE AND THORN, Sullivan upped the pace of the storytelling and I found myself really enjoying Sullivan’s world, a callback to an earlier generation of sword-and-sorcery.

As I read THEFT OF SWORDS, I found myself wondering how much I would enjoy the book if I hadn’t already been introduced to the world and these characters. From the outset, I was jarred to realize just how far Sullivan has come as a writer since he wrote THEFT OF SWORDS. THEFT struggled at times with infodumping, as huge quantities of background info were unloaded at once. At other times, characters went on long-winded soliloquies describing their political beliefs or key historical events. The story lacked some of the fluidity and polish I’ve seen in Sullivan’s later works.

While Hadrian and Royce were suitably introduced in the prequel THE CROWN TOWER (so much so that it focused on character far more than plot), THEFT OF SWORDS probably did not do as good a job introducing these characters. I get the feeling Sullivan had a far better feel for his protagonists and their quirks by the time he got to REVELATIONS.

THEFT OF SWORDS shows its previous small-press and self-published heritage, as it actually combines two different books into one volume. The two stories are related and include many of the same characters, but there’s no mistaking — these are two disparate stories within one publication. It didn’t bother me at all, but it seemed worth mentioning.

Up to this point, I’d questioned whether I’d made the right choice in reading the prequel novels first, but after reading THE CROWN TOWER, I think I’m glad I got the opportunity to know the characters before jumping into this book. There are some good action sequences and the camaraderie between Royce and Hadrian is quickly established, but I can see some first-novel weaknesses that would have frustrated me had it been my introduction to this world.