My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My review of Rise of Empire: Volume Two in the Riyria Revelations will be unorthodox because I’m confident anyone who has read Theft of Swords: Volume One, (my 5-star review), would be sure to continue reading the series. So, this review is more for people who have not read the earlier pieces of this series, and then at the end I’ll go into specifics on Rise of Empire.
My introduction to Michael J. Sullivan‘s Riyria Revelations trilogy came through his free short story, “The Viscount and the Witch.” Speaking with Michael and his wife, Robin, on my podcast, I learned that Robin was the creative motivation behind writing and giving away that prequel short story. Creative motivation, or pure genius? Either way, I was hooked from the first page. I had heard about Michael’s success with this series, but had a to-be-read pile tall enough to resemble the leaning tower of Pisa.
Three aspects of Michael’s writing within the first few pages of “The Viscount and the Witch” made me drop all the rest of my books and dive into his series. The first aspect was the banter between Royce and Hadrian, a duo of loveable thieves. Royce plays the smooth assassin who would probably be a much worse person if it weren’t for his loyalty to Hadrian, a skilled sword-fighter with a noble heart. I laughed multiple times at how Hadrian wanted to help people, was warned by Royce that it would get them in danger, and then Royce would be proven right. I love the conflict between doing good and the unforeseen consequences, especially for a duo that thrives on formulating a well-thought-out plan prior to acting.
This quality of their character is what brings me back to Riyria Revelations, because I find it rare to find characters that are so witty and able, and yet suffer great conflict because they can’t help but save people from unjust danger.
The second aspect of Michael’s writing that attracted me in “The Viscount and the Witch,” and which remains throughout his Riyria books is the puzzle-solving abilities that Royce and Hadrian display. I just finished Rise of Empire, and even though I knew something would surprise me, showing me clues I missed, I was still surprised and impressed to see the puzzle revealed. Michael does a great job playing on our desire to sword fight and solve high-stakes puzzles with the future of a magical kingdom in the balance.
The third aspect, and one which Michael and I have talked about, is his desire to make the language transparent in order for the story to shine through. His scenes end with a punch, and are pushed along quickly enough so that you can get through the fun parts without being bogged down.
I will say that there is a step back in the first part of Rise of Empire from the focus on Royce and Hadrian to build interest in Empress Modina and Princess Arista. The first part is actually Nyphron Rising, (book three from when this series was published as six books), and Robin (Michael’s wife, and head of Ridan Publishing) calls it the girl book (because it sets the stage for Modina and Arista to become major characters). I believe it was also Robin who said it was originally her least favorite book of the series, but is now one of her favorite. I understand why. There are some slower parts, or parts that I’d say didn’t interest me as much as the rest, but now that I’ve finished Rise of Empire, I see why Michael constructed this book the way he did, and I’m glad because I really like Modina and Arista as leading characters.
Rise of Empire does a great job of exploring Modina’s madness and Arista’s powers and understanding of love. We also see more of Hadrian’s backstory as he visits his home town. And, on top of all that, Royce wants to quit Riyria and settle down, but a prophecy and his love for Hadrian prevent him just yet. Despite the short slow part in the beginning, the rest of the book is a fast paced adventure I truly enjoyed. I can’t wait for the final volume, Heir of Novron, to see the clashing of nations and fulfillment of prophecy that may or may not take the lives of characters I’ve grown to love.
AudioTim Podcasts involving Michael and Robin Sullivan:
Episode 16: Michael J. Sullivan and Robin Sullivan on Theft of Swords
Episode 33: Indie Publishing with Hugh Howey and Robin Sullivan (how Michael went from indie publishing to big six success)
Episode 35: Robin Sullivan on Riyria Revelations’ Orbit Experience