The first thing I thought when I began Theft of Swords was “what a terrible name.” It is, truly, an extremely cliché title for a fantasy novel, leaves little to the imagination, and much to be desired. That being said and done away with, I soon realized why the book’s title is so poignant. Originally, upon picking up Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan, I was under the impression it was the first in a series of three entitled The Riyria Revelations. Instead I found that The Riyria Revelations is a six-part fantasy series that Sullivan self-published between 2008 and 2012, which was later rereleased in a three-part omnibus edition by Orbit. So Theft of Swords is actually two books pulled together, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha (both being far better names for a novel, in my opinion, than Theft of Swords). The irony in the title is that in both books our main characters Royce and Hadrian are tasked to steal a particular sword which in both instances is almost certainly a death sentence in one way or another.
The Crown Conspiracy – 7.6
The first in The Riyria Revelations is, in many ways, a very odd yet enjoyable adventure. We’re introduced to two thieves: Royce Melborn, a master at stealth, lockpicking, and all around swindling, who is generally crotchety all the time; and Hadrian Blackwater, a master swordsman and accomplished thief who generally sees life in more positive eyes. As I mentioned above, their “simple” quest to retrieve a sword from a castle divides into a tangled plot that includes being accused of murdering the King. Unfortunately this becomes a bit of a nuisance to read as the accusation game does start getting very confusing. They did it, wait, no she did it, did she? No he did. Yeah. Or. Oh it was that guy in the prison. No? Was it this organization then…
The adventure twists and turns in increasingly odd directions, dropping hints and planting seeds for the author to use as plot points for future installations in the series. The tale actually plays out like a Dungeons & Dragons game, which is both absurd and incredibly fun. Like a good D&D campaign, Sullivan brings together unlikely heroes by introducing them at certain points in the story that tailor to each individual characters background. We have the two thieves, introduced as underground legends. There’s the would-be King, who is this entitled prat of a young man, who comes into his character as the book progresses. And then the comic relief of the story, a monk who has never left the monastery, seen a horse, or even a female.
Throughout their campaign there’re the epic sword fights, the all powerful wizard, the elf and dwarf mythos, and essentially everything you could want from your typical fantasy escapade. Although this leads to a lot of fun reading, it also becomes a stunt to the overall plot, as the story feels like a bunch of mismatched ideas that were too cool to leave out. Heck. There’s even the old “save the princess from the tower” trope. It’s also because of this D&D feel that it seems as though the writer didn’t much know where he was going with the story, so he left lots of open ends to be sifted and pieced together later.
Avempartha – 8.2
The second book improved on many of the issues that plagued the first. The accusation game is still there, but now it feels like writer Michael J. Sullivan actually has a distinct plan he’s set out upon. Instead of the everywhere, make-it-up-as-you-go-along storyline, this is a far stronger and more localized sequel.
Avempartha is the name of an old magical tower that holds untold secrets, built by the elves long ago, and is for most of the story that unreachable pillar on the edge of all the action. Meanwhile Royce and Hadrian are on another mission to steal the sword which lies within Avempartha as it is the only way to kill the magical beast known as the Gilarabrywn that plagues a small village. There is also the intrigue of what the church is up to behind the scenes, and it doesn’t seem altogether holy.
Unfortunately, we don’t get much of the monk or the Prince in book two, but in their stead we get some truly lovely secondary characters. Some of which I have to admit drew me in better than the primary protagonists. But for nearly everyone involved we get some much needed character development, especially when it came to Riyria (the two man team of Hadrian and Royce). I was pleased with the ending to Avempartha as apposed to The Crown Conspiracy, being much more rounded while still allowing an almost perfect setup for the next story.
Overall – 7.9
Books 1 and 2 of The Riyria Revelations, brought together in Theft of Swords, is by no means excellent in any way. Perhaps it’s the fact that they were self-produced that allows for the quirky one-liners and odd storytelling not to have been edited out, but that adds to its rugged charm in many ways. Despite being your extremely typical fantasy adventure, it’s so much fun you hardly notice and it’s the characters that you really begin to fall for that make it all worth it. I look forward to picking up the second book (which’ll actually be books 3 and 4), entitled Rise of Empire… Slightly better title I guess.