Friday, July 27, 2012

Review - Rise of Empire - Michael J. Sullivan

Publisher: Orbit (1st Edition)
Genre: Fantasy

Book Description:
Publication Date: December 14, 2011
Royce and Hadrian have been called upon to aid the struggling kingdom of Melengar as it alone stands in defiance against the newly formed empire. As war approaches 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 and 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.

And so continues the second tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

I’m absolutely blown away.  Part of me feels like I’m betraying some of my favorite epics with the new guys on the block, but I find myself so impressed and infatuated, I can’t help but get lost in my admiration.  Sullivan is quickly climbing *the list* of my all-time favorite authors, because he’s created such wonderfully exciting characters inside a beautifully constructed adventure.  I call it an adventure because there’s a huge difference between reading a story and being pulled into an adventure.  Those who’ve experienced a great book know what I’m talking about.

Where to start?  How to start?  The problem is, I want to go and dive right back into the story, and am a little sad the ride is over.  This review comes at the end of the third installation, because I didn’t want to stop after the end of Rise of Empire to write a review, and immediately jumped right into Heir of Novron.  In fact, I’ve neglected editing on my own novel to enjoy a few days of adventure in the land of Elan. 

Okay, I’m pushing emotion aside and getting down to the stone foundation of the story. After being so impressed and blown away with Theft of Swords, I happily jumped right into Rise of Empire and was so excited to find that it picks right up where the first installation left off.  Well …sort of.  I expected to instantly meet my new favorite pair of heroes, but instead was introduced to a new character, Amilia.  It took only about a page and a half to get over my disappointment at not immediately meeting Riyria, before I was totally consumed with compassion for this poor girl, and dripping with disdain for the wretched hag, Edith Mon.  I know how hard it is to introduce a new character into an already established story.  But characterization and development is one of Sullivan’s greatest strengths.  He doesn’t use descriptions that haven’t been used before, especially in the fantasy realm, but he masterfully uses what’s familiar in such a way as not to bombard or heavily compound them to drown the reader. He delivers just enough saturation to whet the appetite, and then allow the imagination to fill the gaps.  I, for one, appreciate that. 

The story then re-introduces us to Thrace, a brave girl who overcomes some very difficult obstacles in Theft of Swords, again … sort of.  Sullivan does an exceptional job of describing the shell of a person whose survived great tragedy and loss.  Anyone familiar with survival would have little problem instantly relating to Thrace’s (now re-named Modina) state, or the compassion and understanding of Amelia’s role in her life.  This again, is a testament to Sullivan’s ability to master the art of characterization.  I’m a character-driven reader and writer.  I’m always more interested in what’s going on in, and about, a character.  The personal journey of a character is more important than the physical journey in my book (both metaphorically and literally).  I wasn’t expecting this aspect of the story, but definitely found myself completely immersed, both intellectually and emotionally.  (Yes, I’m using a lot of “ly” adverbs. LOL!  I must be disciplined when using them in writing novels, but when it comes to reviews – I let them fly.)

Just when I’ve about forgotten about Hadrian and Royce, being so completely immersed in Modina and Amilia, the boys make a return, and it’s like diving into a pool of cool water after a time sunbathing.  I don’t know why I call them boys, because there’s nothing boyish about them, except their curt sense of humor.  But even they are not the same upon arrival in this second book.  Hadrian is in a sort of depression because he’s reached a point in his life where he desires to step into maturation – living up to his potential and fulfilling some divine purpose.  He’s tired of running from responsibility and facing his destiny.  Royce on the other hand, the carefree and careless wanderer, finds himself in love.  Both, love and purpose pull our heroes into different directions.  There’s so much involved with these two characters that it would probably take several books just to explain it all.  And not just these two, but most of the secondary and third characters as well (Princess Arista, Esrahaddon, King Alric, Hilfred, Degan, Mauvin, Gwen, Magnus, Arcadius, etc.,I could go on, but what’s the point.  They all have their own stories and development, and I’ve come to love and hate them respectively).

In an effort for Princess Arista to prove useful in her male-dominated world, she leads Royce and Hadrian on a quest to try and partner with the rebel forces fighting against the new empire (Boy! That sounds like a Star Wars episode), but find things don’t happen as easy as she imagines.  Her pampered and protected world, and everything she believed and was used to, crumbles around her, and she discovers who she really is beneath the rubble, dirt and persecution, and it happens to made of some pretty strong steel.  I’ve come to admire this character.  While she has flaws, and makes some bad decisions (she is human after all), she’s not weak and needy.  There’s nothing I hate more than a woman who can’t function on their own strength, or find their own identity, without a man. Loving someone should be a choice, not a necessity, and Arista is a great example of the ideal woman in my mind.  She’s also one of the great heroes in this story. She may not fight with a sword of metal, but her wit is a very sharp blade. In this second installation (or the third and fourth parts), Sullivan allows us to take that journey with Arista through all her encounters, failures, mistakes, and her achievements, discoveries and successes.

Like I said earlier, the thing I love most about this series is that it is character driven, even when it comes to the back story, as our characters move through the historical, political, and religious chess board. Again, there’s no new elements in this story that can’t be found in a dozen fantasy stories already written, but how those elements are used, displayed and manipulated is what makes this story stand out from the rest.  It’s like a painter. All painters use the same colors, but what makes them different is how they mix them and apply them to the canvas.  Sullivan is an excellent artist with a great vision, and I love the masterpiece he’s presented.

I don’t want to give too much away with the plot, so I think I’m going to end this review here, and finish it on the last segment of this series. I just hope I was able to convey what I feel is the BEST element of this story and it’s made other readers rush out to experience it for themselves.  I wish Mr. Sullivan the best of luck with this series and hope it brings him much, much, much success. 

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

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