Jocelyn Koehler's Reviews > Theft of Swords

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
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Apr 18, 12

Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft of Swords isn’t exactly a new book. Beginning in 2007, he self-published a series of six novels, collectively known as the Riyria Revelations, with great success. His Kindle sales in particular were excellent, so much so that he was able to score a deal with Hachette’s Orbit imprint to publish the books as a print trilogy. Theft of Swords is the first of the trilogy, comprising the first two ebooks (The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha). Theft of Swords came out in October, to be followed by the next books in the trilogy this month and then in January 2012.

The push to get all these published quickly is an interesting decision by Orbit. Perhaps they feared the traditional model (spacing installments six months or a year apart) wouldn’t work in this case, since the ebooks of the series have been out for a while––although it looks like the originals are no longer available to purchase on Amazon, so pulling the older editions must have been part of the deal.

Okay, now on to the book itself. The short of it is: I really liked it. It’s far from perfect, but the pros outweigh the cons by a hefty margin. The long of it follows.

First off, I’ve been known to judge books by their covers, and Theft of Swords has a great cover. The image is two dudes who look ready to throw down against the world, and that is essentially the core of the novel, so hurrah for the artist matching the image to the idea.

The plot is refreshingly straightforward. Here’s the book’s own description: “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.”

Truth in advertising! Unlike a lot of recent fantasy, which has tended toward darker-than-thou, portentous, plodding epics, Sullivan’s story skims merrily along the surface of his world. Politics are there, as are hints of a long-buried history linked to the main characters. But particularly in the first half of the book (i.e. the first novel), the emphasis is on adventure and action. And rightly so, since our main characters are a sneakypants rogue and a badass swordsman. If they don’t fall out of one scrape and into another, ur doin’ it wrong.

Sullivan does it right. His prose is not always as graceful as it could be, and in a few cases the dialogue could have used some polishing. The most egregious case involves a character who speaks in an archaic mode, and Sullivan can’t really pull it off (to his credit, he figures out a way to resolve/erase that character’s quirk by the second half, saving the reader future pain). Some of the plot elements are dropped in a somewhat clunky way (such as the client’s double cross, the early enemy-into-later-ally, the Gandalf-like old man who Knows More Than He’s Telling...that kind of thing). But considering that he’s working with some extremely venerable adventure fantasy tropes, this is understandable. And in general, it doesn’t really get in the way of one’s reading enjoyment, because....

DAMN has Sullivan made some great characters. The interaction between Royce and Hadrian is the heart of the novel, even more than their us-against-the-world ethos and their swashbuckling approach to problem-solving. I loved the way Sullivan built up both Royce and Hadrian, beginning with a basic, almost stereotypical picture of each man, but then continuously adding details throughout the story to make those general images very individual. It’s a slow build rather than an info-dump, and it’s effective.

He also balances his reveals, occasionally dropping what are clearly major clues to the characters’ past lives and future destinies among the more mundane character development. It’s clear from an early point that Royce is a bit more than meets the eye (and, in fact, so is Hadrian). But figuring out their secrets isn’t a disappointment; instead, it gives the reader some meta-novel to chew on, since one can read between the lines of later chapters.

I also really appreciated the complexity of some of the characters. There’s no MarySueism here. Royce in particular is painted as someone deeply flawed––a person who could easily have been a soulless, murderous bastard if his tendencies weren’t mitigated by his friend’s influence. Similarly, Royce provides a counterpoint to Hadrian’s own weaknesses, usually involving an overdeveloped sense of trust in the system. In the end, though, Sullivan’s greatest accomplishment is in making the reader invested in the characters. I’ll continue reading the next installment, mostly to find out what happens to them, not because I particularly care about the political developments in the world of Elan.

If you haven’t picked up anything from the Riyria Revelations yet, give it a go. I enjoyed Theft of Swords for its classic feel, brisk pacing, and stellar characters. I’m looking forward to reading the rest.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael Really well done and comprehensive review. Thanks for reading and posting it.


Jocelyn Koehler Michael wrote: "Really well done and comprehensive review. Thanks for reading and posting it.


Entertaining fantasy is always a joy to find. I'm keeping an eye on you! ;)

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