Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

The second Riyra Omnibus   
Books 3 (Nyphron Rising) and 4 (The Emerald Storm) of The Riyria Revelations   
Published by Orbit      
ISBN 978-0-3161-8770-1       
December 2011                      
704 Pages

Review copy provided courtesy of Orbit Books


Royce and Hadrian are still under the employ of Alric, King of Melengar but things have quieted down a bit since the end of Avempartha. Where the first two novels of the series work as sword and sorcery installments that could _possibly_ be read on their own, with the third installment Nyphron Rising Sullivan begins to reveal the hand of cards he’s playing.  Many of the background elements that were present or hinted at in The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha come into focus as the series shifts to a more Epic nature with prophecies, long-forgotten lineages, and scheming manipulating advisors, among other familiar elements.

As the title of the omnibus would imply, the Empire and lineage of the thought-to-be lost heir of Novron is making a foothold in the world, absorbing smaller nation-states into its thrall. The empress Modina is a puppet, existing in a state of shock – almost zombie-like – since she was raised from the backwoods girl named Thrace to the role of Heir of Novron and “rightful” ruler of the empire.  The ‘scheming manipulator’ behind her ascendancy, Saldur the uncle of Princess or Arista and King Alric of Melengar has posited himself as the one pulling the strings of the burgeoning empire.  As such, he raises a random kitchen girl, Amilia to the post of tutor to the emperor. Considering Amilia’s predecessor was not successful in Saldur’s eyes and taken to task because of that failure, Amilia is less than thrilled about her new appointment.

Meanwhile in Melengar, Arista is tired of being thought of as a woman with no place so when Alric assigns Royce and Hadrian to a diplomatic mission, she forces her way onto the trip and acts as an envoy. Hadrian wants to retire, Royce wants to settle down with Gwen, proprietor of THE ROSE AND THE THORN, but this last mission is something they can’t avoid. On the journey, Hadrian visits his old home village which he left many years ago after a bitter dispute with his now-deceased father. Hadrian comes to the knowledge that he’s the last in the lineage of protectors of the Heir of Novron, bringing the prophecy and destined lineage aspects only hinted at in the first two volumes center stage as a driving element of the plot.

The events of Nyphron Rising lead directly into The Emerald Storm much more than the other books have lead from one to the next, which exemplifies the point I made earlier – Sullivan’s tale taking on a more epic scope.  The Emerald Storm is the ship on which Royce and Hadrian find themselves for much of the novel.  Sullivan splits the ‘screen time’ between the adventure at sea with the continuing development of the bond between Modina and Amilia, Modina’s emergence from her shell, and Amilia’s growing respectability in the court.  What complicates matters, in Amilia’s eyes, is the arrival of Arista whom Modina recognizes through her guise as the serving girl Ella.  Arista arrives with news of the true heir Degan Gaunt survives somewhere.

In the two novels (Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm) collected in the Rise of Empire omnibus, Michael J. Sullivan’s storytelling abilities continue to shine.  It becomes clearer that he’s got the forest of a saga in mind, rather than just a few trees of story.  A lot of nice set pieces (a gladiatorial fight involving Royce, Hadrian and some of the companions from The Emerald Storm against a pack of goblins; the various identities under which we meet Arista, etc) highlight the panache of Sullivan’s narrative arsenal. I particularly enjoyed the character journey on which he’s got Arista moving, though she was a primary character in the previous volumes, she fully came into her own in these two novels as a character on the same importance level as Royce and Hadrian, from my perspective.

Four novels/two omnibii into The Riyria Revelations and I’m gaining an understanding of why Mr. Sullivan acquired such a devoted fanbase over the past few years when these were small press books – he crafts a story that appeals to many of the hallmarks that make Epic Fantasy popular.  However, if I’m to be completely forthright, some plot holes required me to gloss them over, such as the random appointment of Amilia as Modina’s tutor or how quickly Arista’s magical skill grew. From my perspective it seemed as if Mr. Sullivan wanted get his characters to points in the story but sacrificed elements of plausibility of their respective paths to those specific destinations even if what happened after those characters reached those destinations was successful.  However, the pull of the story worked enough for me to overlook those holes. In the end, for my reading sensibilities I found Sullivan’s mix of traditional ingredients of epic fantasy with compelling storytelling to be very appealing.  I look forward to seeing where he takes these characters in the concluding volume(s).


© 2012 Rob H. Bedford

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