I had heard a lot about these books prior to reading them. My brother-in-law recommended them highly and the reviews that I saw also gave it high acclaim, so I buckled under the pressure and read first book of the trilogy, The Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan. I was excited to read it after so much hype and quickly became concerned. In the first few scenes of the story something felt off and I couldn’t explain it. I was tempted to stop, but I didn’t. I couldn’t put the book down without knowing what it was that was bothering me. Maybe it was my personal opinion, maybe the writing was inexperienced; regardless, I was going to figure it out if it killed me. Thankfully it didn’t, and it also didn’t take me too long before I had it figured out: the dialogue was written with repetitive sentence variation. This and several of the characters had different personalities, but spoke with the same voice. I discovered this by comparing the dialogue with Robert Jordan’s first book of The Wheel of Time series.
I’ll be honest, I was quite proud of myself in being able to identify the problem. This similar issue has been something I have encountered both in published novels and student short stories, but it wasn’t until now that I could identify specifically what the problem was.
But I digress. Coming back to the story, after having identified what the problem was, I felt elated and comfortable so I opened the book again and kept reading. Several days later the book was finished and I was grateful I took the time to figure out what was bothering me and move past it. As it turns out, the problem fixed itself as I kept reading and although some of the dialogue was still similar in regards to the individual voices of characters, I enjoyed every bit of the book.
So let me tell you about it: Royce and Hadrian are criminals for hire. Whether you need something stolen, someone quietly assassinated, or a rival’s reputation ruined, they are the men you want to call. When the servant of a nobleman offers them a small fortune to pull off a simple heist, they jump at the opportunity only to find themselves accused of murdering the king. To survive, they will have to trust in reluctant alliances and rely on every ounce of their skill and intelligence, but the further they go the deeper they find themselves in a plot that could threaten the nation.
The story is great, but when I started I was a tad nervous about exploring the genre of traditional fantasy. I’ve seen so many books that look like knock-offs of other famous fantasies. Stories of adventure, dark lords, elves, and dwarves have been written for years and years and sometimes I think there isn’t anything more people can write on the subject without re-writing other stories. Theft of Swords creates a new world in the traditional fantasy genre and Michael Sullivan did an excellent job of creating a niche for himself in what is becoming an overcrowded community.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he is one of the new great fantasy authors, but he is a good one and well worth the read for any fan of the genre. I mentioned earlier the difficulties I encountered with some of Sullivan’s dialogue and even after finishing I think he could have done a little better. It felt like he was trying to write his characters so they spoke as much like normal people as possible, but this resulted in limited variations to his sentence structures during dialogue. Before everyone thinks I’m all criticism and no praise, I think Sullivan did use his dialogue well in creating strong character and plot development, which is the most important roll of dialogue.
Where I think Sullivan truly excelled was in his description. He could make his setting and scenes come to life, often identifying small details that were the last necessary touch to bring it all together. This was, in my opinion, what caused his story to stand out from others.
As a final note, I have only known of two authors who have planned their books out from start to finish before they began writing. Brandon Sanderson does a thorough outline with each of his books before writing and Michael Sullivan planned out the entire three book (six part) series before he began writing. In the genre of epic fantasy this seems to be the best method of writing as it provides the author with a stronger base to include foreshadowing and stronger connections between the books. For both authors, their efforts were not in vain. I look forward to reading the rest of the Riyria Revelations.