Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

On a Goodreads online discussion, author Michael J. Sullivan said about his books: "They are designed to be just enjoyable romps with a couple of likable main characters." 

Either Sullivan is too self-effacing, or he underestimates the power of well-written books that are enjoyable romps with a couple of likable main characters.

Theft of Swords is the first of the fantasy Riyria trilogy, Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron, published by Orbit Books. Sullivan originally published the trilogy as six books; in fact, the last of the six has just been released, although the others were taken off the market with the Orbit publishing deal.

For me, the core of Theft of Swords was the relationship between the two main characters, Royce, master thief, and Hadrian Blackwater, swordsman. Their bantering and bickering lightens the plot yet never overshadows the reality of the friendship between the two. For a free introduction to these characters, read the e-formatted short story "The Viscount and the Witch." Formats other than Kindle are available at the author's website.

The pitch:
They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly.
There's no ancient evil to defeat, no orphan destined for greatness, just two guys in the wrong place at the wrong time...Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in a plot to murder the king. Sentenced to death, they have only one way out...and so begins this epic tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.
 The interaction between the two characters forms the basic power of the fantasy, just as the Holmes/Watson relationship was so powerful in the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle.
Sullivan: "I noticed that most fantasy (at least the ones I've read) are always very serious and dire. I think that humor comes out almost all the time especially when stressed or scared - it's a release mechanism. I have very 'clear' ideas of both Royce and Hadrian and how they talk - editors hate me because I rarely let them touch their dialog...some things I'm protective over."
We should be glad that Sullivan is protective about maintaining the relationship between the two characters. Their unexpected cleverness and humor is one of the key pleasures of the book.

Sullivan also planned out the entire series before publishing the books. Knowing this helped me as a reader to realize that Theft of Swords, although containing plenty of action and character development, is just one third of the story.
"As the series advances it gets more complex and there are a lot of twists that come along the way. I know it's unconventional but I actually wrote the whole series before releasing the first one and by doing so my focus was always on making the last book the most powerful."
Using a writing style that is unpretentious rather than "heroic," Sullivan has created a highly readable tale that manages to endear us to a couple of rascals--and also create a background where magic, dwarves, and dragon-like monsters are so believable that they just form part of the background tapestry.

I've just ordered the second book of the trilogy, Rise of Empire. The only arm-twisting involved with that was me moving my arm to click the "buy" button with my computer's mouse.

And while you're clicking that mouse, go to Sullivan's website. He's got some nice extras there to enjoy.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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