For those who haven’t read Vol. 1 of the Riyria Revelations, Theft of Swords, I suppose you may not wish to read this review as mild spoilers do follow. In some ways, Vol. 2 Rise of Empire, which encompasses books 3 and 4 of the Riyria Revelations, is a lot of the same bumbling we learned to enjoy with Vol. 1. But in many ways, Michael J. Sullivan has learned to hone his skill, and sharpen his editing and storycrafting to really make it seem as if each installment gets better and better. He doesn’t just make it “seem” so however – the majority of Rise of Empire is a marked improvement to Theft of Swords, one I hope will continually get stronger as I eventually get into Vol. 3, Heir of Novron.
One thing I can definitely say about the series as a whole, at this point, is that each book is entirely different from the last. A completely different type of adventure lies in store with each consecutive story, and that’s very refreshing. The Crown Conspiracy was very much a Dungeons and Dragon campaign with twists and turns. Avempartha was a save the town from the beast story. In Vol 2, Nyphron Rising shapes up to be an undercover journey of self-discovery. The Emerald Storm is the Riyria take on Pirates of the Caribbean.
Nyphron Rising – 7.8
It’s a bit odd that the book begins quite a while after the events of Avempartha. It just ended in a way that seemed appropriate tot art right where the last book left off. But I guess Sullivan thought differently. Melengar is now at war. A puppet Empress is crowned over the kingdom, while the conspiracy slowly unfolds. Arista hires Royce and Hadrian for another mission – a last ditch effort for Melengar to get the footing it needs in the war.
Despite the war, and the shape of the empire, the greatest portion of book 3 dedicated towards character development, as Hadrian, Royce and Princess Arista journey forth. We learn a heck of a lot about Hadrian’s past, and as he contemplates the meaning of one’s self he learns that his purpose in life is far greater than most. We see sides of Royce we’ve yet to see either. But the real breakout character is actually Arista. She breaks free from her spoiled life only to be forced into a harsh, real world, where she must learn to fend for herself. We get our first real taste of “the Art,” in this novel, and it is so cool.
We are also introduced to Empress Modina who is stuck in a perpetually paralyzing state of shock, along with the young maid tasked to tend to her named Amilia. The bond that begins to form, although extremely depressing is also heartwarming, and these chapters are just as enjoyable as the rest.
I realized while reading book 3 the reason this series hadn’t gripped me like many other fantasies had. The world, the culture, the people… None of it actually appealed to me. I can’t properly get into fantasy literature without first enjoying the world, without actually wanting to visit. And that’s what was lacking for me. I will admit that the writing overall had far surpassed what Sullivan had produced previously, yet still the worldbuilding just didn’t do it for me.
The Emerald Storm – 8.8
But then this book happened. Part four of The Riyria Revelations was ALL worldbuilding, and it was brilliant. Whether it be the exciting journey over the sea, the unique (yet almost Caribbean) landscape of the lands they traveled to and through, the dynamic culture-shock of the clashing peoples, or the inherent racism for all things not human by some – I thought that this book made up for much of the previous novels failures to grasp me and to open my mind up to the world.
This was also the first time the series actually made it clear that serious casualties could and do occur. I wasn’t expecting certain character deaths until the last act, if ever, but this book really knows when to throw its punches, and when to hold them back long enough for you to think the characters are “in the clear”. A new villain behind the scenes, a mastermind with a personal vendetta against Royce, plays puppeteer with just about everyone, and when certain reveals are made all becomes painfully clear – Riyria has a tough road ahead of them.
I have to mention however that, if Royce and/or Hadrian had simply read the letter meant for the warlord at the getgo they would have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble.
I loved loved loved the developing plot of Empress Modina. I really have no idea what will become of the character, but she’s honestly one of my favorites. Sullivan’s ability as a blossoming writer show immensely throughout the read, as the world he paints is far more descriptive, far more lush, far more real, and with it the characters too are aided. I feel the subtlety of his writing for Empress Modina, the deeper agony of Princess Arista, and the inner struggle with Amilia – all of it was handled with care and precision.