Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

Rise of Empire (Riyria Revelations)
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Fantasy these days has tended towards the dark and gritty.  While I don’t have a problem with this in and of itself, there are times when I don’t want to read about violence, gore and blackest evil.  I’ve found the perfect counter to the grimmer tales in Michael Sullivan’s books.  The second omnibus, Rise of Empire, delves deeper into the doings of Hadrian and Royce, two thieves caught up in world shaking events.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“The adventure continues as Royce and Hadrian aid the struggling kingdom of Melengar as it alone stands in defiance against the newly formed empire. War approaches and a desperate gamble behind enemy lines is their only chance at forming an alliance with the Nationalists to the south.

But Royce has plans of his own as he uses this opportunity to discover if an ancient wizard is using Riyria as pawns in his own bid for power. To find the truth, Royce must unravel Hadrian’s hidden past. What he discovers will lead them to the end of the known world, on a journey rife with treachery and intrigue.”

Action and adventure abound in these two novels.  Sullivan doesn’t confine his setting to a single area, either.  Our intrepid adventurers find themselves in cities, jungles, and on board a seagoing ship, just to name a few.  I enjoyed the variety of places that the main characters travel to, and it makes certain that the narrative doesn’t grow stale.  My favorite location in this volume was the inner workings of a vast fortress, with enough gears and levers to put Big Ben to shame.

While Hadrian and Royce are smart—especially Royce—one of their adversaries is just as smart, if not smarter.  Much of the plot involves a delicate interplay as plans are thwarted and others come to fruition.  The antagonist remains a few steps ahead of our heroes, and he foils the good guys’ plans with style and panache.  I have to admire the way the author unfolds the complicated machinations and keeps readers guessing as to who will emerge triumphant.

Readers are also kept guessing as to Hadrian’s backstory.  Sullivan reveals quite a few details, but some of it is deliberately skewed to turn it into something of a red herring.  The author balances all these little twists and turns so that each time you think you know what’s going on, it’s believable—and then, when the perspective changes, you can look back and see how this new interpretation was there all along.  It’s an enjoyable roller coaster of a plot.

Even though you get different views on many of the characters as the books progress, they’re all still interesting and likeable.  The friendship between Hadrian and Royce is strong and believable, Princess Arista grows and changes as events push her into ever more desperate actions, and the tragic Thrace will tug at your heartstrings.  These are people whom, if they were real, I’d love to sit down and chat with.

Not as dark or as gut-wrenching as many contemporary fantasy tales, Rise of Empire nevertheless carves out its own niche in the genre and proves that a good tale doesn’t have to surpass a PG rating.  This is a series that I can recommend to teenagers as well as adults, and that makes this reviewer extremely happy.

Also by this author: The Crown Tower, Heir of Novron, The Rose and the Thorn, Theft of Swords

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on February 19, 2012.

Series: The Riyria Revelations
ISBN: 9780316187701
Publisher: Orbit
Page Count: 816
Publication Date: December 14, 2011
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC through NetGalley
Author Website
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