With the deluge of grim dark fantasy tales today [ Joe Abercrombie perhaps claims to rule the roost here and I love this guy to bits, Others like Mark Lawrence, Luke Scull, R Scott Bakker all pitching in their huge tents this side of the camp ] I am hard pressed to read a simple old fashioned fantasy tale. That talks brotherhood, friendship [not the back-stabbing variety] action adventure and a story that is uncomplicated but still retains its epic flavour.
And that is when I chanced upon the Ryria Revelations. A hugely successful self-published franchise – six books long - that has now been snapped up by Orbit, Michael J Sullivan’s journey is the dream that a lot of struggling authors today aspire for. Anyways, much has been said about the phenomenal success of Michael and Robin’s ventures. I will stick to the opening chapter of this action/adventure romp- The Crown Tide; which introduces us to the protagonists, a duo of thief/assassin and thief/soldier: Royce and Hadrian.
This book retains its simplicity in its delivery and language, steers us away from the dark brooding tones that most fantasy tales today opt for, builds on a fantastically fun partnership between its lead characters – lot of crisp dialogs, clean humour and entertaining banter – and heads for an action-filled climax that neatly ties up the main conflict presented in the first book leaving the world wide open for new storylines to creep up and certain questions unanswered. Perfect. Happy fantasy.
Royce and Hadrian are two thieves – a mercenary front called Ryria - who are gaining a firm repute for taking on jobs that might difficult and even impossible to be performed by others. A shadowy stranger enlists their help to retrieve a sword that would perhaps save a life in a duel the next day. But the night of job, the duo land up inside the palace chapel and find the dead body of the King. And the blame falls on them. The two are captured and a strange twist of fate leads them to escape along with the very prince who had accused them of murder. And this leads to a hunt that would take them halfway across the world in search of answers. Answers that might only end up raising more pertinent questions. And it wouldn’t just be the fate of one kingdom that leans on these answers.
Don’t get me wrong. This book may be linear and uncomplicated in terms of the plot. But Michael is revealing his world slowly. It’s a beautifully crafted world complete with legends and Gods and prophecies. And by the end of book one, I am convinced there is much more at stake than just one kingdom that the Ryria saves.
Royce and Hadrian are easy no-nonsense characters to identify with and extremely likable. Hadrian for that reserved sense of honour and bustling courage under fire. Royce again for that grudging sense of honour, possibly lesser compared to his soldier-partner (Thieves with honour are a romantic notion centuries old and Michael doesn’t let go of this, shaping his lead characters in this mould, with hints of possible love in the past, but I loved this dash of pride and honour among thieves that leads them to save princesses and monks!) but I liked Royce more for his snarky repartees that cuts more than his knives. The side characters probably need a little more pizzazz but I can guess for certain that some wizards and monks have a much greater role in the overarching series. I will wait and I will get the next few books.
The world of Elan is a wonderful escape that reminds one of the older high fantasy sword and sorcery romps – but retains a certain freshness that is the cause of its wide spread appeal and acceptance. I think an uncomplicated book that I wouldn’t hesitate to read out to my kids and grandkids like LOTR and Narnia – but that still retains everything we love about this genre! A solid fun entertaining read and a world I am coming back for sure as Michael flexes both his world building and story building muscles!