Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

(2012-03-06)

The second Riyra Omnibus   
Books 5 (Wintertide) and 6 (Percepliquis) of The Riyria Revelations           
Published by Orbit      
ISBN 978-0-3161-877-1-8     
January 2012  
927 Pages

Review copy provided courtesy of Orbit Books

 

The princess is imprisoned, the heroes are separated, and the manipulator is about to take the reigns of the burgeoning empire fully within his grasp.  This is what’s at stake upon the beginning of Wintertide, the fifth book in Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations and the first half of Heir of Novron, the third and final omnibus.

Said manipulator is Saldur, who forced events to place Modina on the throne of the Empire as the Heir of Novron, in the hopes of playing her like a puppet to do as he wishes.  Modina is starting to realize she can be her own person after living in shock of the events leading to her being placed on the throne, that is, the death of her father, destruction of much of her village, and that she killed a dragon-like monster. Her assistant, Amilia, was hand-picked by Saldur to prepare the listless Empress to do his bidding, but little did Saldur suspect the two puppets he thought he was controlling would turn into young women who could think for themselves.  Compounding the difficulties in Aquesta is the impending invasion of the Elves who after years of seclusion, wish to return and claim the Empire as their own.

Meanwhile, Royce and Hadrian continue their search for the true Heir of Novron, Degan Gaunt, who they learn has been imprisoned though on separate fronts.  By separating the characters, Sullivan shows how they react independently while we learn a little more about Royce and Hadrian’s past before they met each other.  Royce deals with his one time colleague and now arch-enemy Merrick under Merrick’s terms and it clearly makes our thief-hero uncomfortable. In order for him to get closer to the courtly events and people such as the Empress herself, Hadrian becomes a knight and is recruited to fight in the jousting tournament which is part of the ceremony of the arranged marriage of the Empress Modina.

As the Riyria duo is separated, Sullivan focuses on the differences between the two characters to show how the opposites (Royce a cynic and Hadrian an optimist) have balanced each other so well. Wintertide provides a more personal scope, compared to the previous volumes, setting in motion the penultimate character arcs for both Royce and Hadrian, with the hope that redemption is possible for both heroes, as well as hope for returning power of the Empire to the true Heir and out from the clench of Saldur.

Like Merrick, who set the proverbial chessboard for the final maneuvers, Sullivan lays the groundwork in the closing scenes of Wintertide for the saga’s conclusion. In order for the Elves to be quelled and things to be set right, a great horn is to be found in the near mythical city of Percepliquis, the long-thought dead and once grand utopic city of the Ancient Empire.

So, we have our title for the final volume – Percepliquis and Sullivan returns to more of a quest story to bring the saga to its full and logical conclusion. Royce has lost all hope after disastrous events in Wintertide, Hadrian is pushing to see that hope is renewed and that Saldur can be expelled from his seat of power.  Essentially, a large portion of Percepliquis is a dungeon crawl which follows the brief voyage to the ancient city. Many of the story beats Sullivan hits during this descent are familiar, to say the least.  Very often I could not shake the similarity to the Khazad-Dûm  cenes from Lord of the Rings.  The party journeying to and through Percepliquis is comprised of Arista, Royce, Hadrian, Alric (Arista’s brother and King of Melengar, who was absent for much of the middle novels), the Heir Degan Gaunt who is the only person with the ability – as heir – to use the prophesized horn, the dwarf Magnus, and the scholar monk Myron who knows more about Percepliquis than any other living person.

With any concluding volume to a series, as I’ve suggested in other reviews here at SFFWorld, much of the success of the series rests on the proverbial shoulders of the final volume…

One thing that Sullivan has played with throughout the series is the idea of Prophecy (yes, with a capital “P”). In this respect, he’s treading ground (successfully, for my mileage) that Tad Williams treads in his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (a trilogy that should be read by every fantasy fan and one that predates A Song of Ice and Fire for more adult, and darker turns on Epic Fantasy).  Like Williams, Sullivan is splaying with readers expectations of how to use Prophecy and characters expectations on how to read certain prophecies. In other words, just because the Prophecy is written and “known” doesn’t mean that you really know its true meaning.  I particularly enjoyed how Sullivan played with the dwarf Magnus – his character arc moved along at a nice pace as Sullivan revealed more about his past and how he came to interact with Royce and Hadrian.  The character who turned out to be the most annoying (by design, no doubt) was Degan Gaunt.  In the early volumes, he was the charismatic leader of the resistance, and by the end of the series, he turned into a whiny, complaining, self-centered ass.

The feel of these six books skirted between Sword and Sorcery and Epic Fantasy I’m thinking specifically The Crown Conspiracy, The Emerald Storm, and parts of Wintertide gave me that more intimate Sword and Sorcery feel. The Epic grand-scale feel, for me, was more prevalent in Nyphron Rising, Avempartha, and Percepliquis.  Of course, this is not a sweeping labeling, that’s not fair to how Michael managed to weave both the personal/intimate story movements in with the grand-scale/global story movement. My particular point, I suppose, is that nothing really felt stagnant, the events always had a great sense of ebb and flow.

I do have some minor criticisms in the story choices Michael made, though they are minor.  A couple of the characters were taken down paths that were a bit more predictable than I would have liked. Some questions that had obvious answers, were answered with … well … obvious answers.  Having said that, Michael’s point in telling these stories was first and foremost to entertain, to allow the reader to simply relax with a comfortable tale, and in that, he’s succeeded a great deal. Hitting known story beats does feed into some of that comfort.

As the series was drawing to a close, I came to realize a few other elements resonated with me over the course of the six books.  For the camaraderie between Royce and Hadrian, initially and most strongly, and some of the other characters (Arista, Magnus, Myron) as the series progressed I began to feel echoes of James Barclay’s Raven saga. One character who became more prominent in the series’ latter half reminded me of a very specific character from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s enormously popular DragonLance Chronicles – to reveal either Sullivan’s character or the character from the Weis/Hickman saga might give away a story point.

With the six books of The Riyria Revelations Michael J. Sullivan has succeeded in his storytelling goal – to tell a fun, entertaining story.  That’s what these six novels/three omnibuses/series are/is – a rollicking adventure that was great entertainment and sometimes, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. I’d recommend these books to readers who enjoyed much of what I’ve referenced in this review, Weis/Hickman’s DragonLance Chronicles, James Barclay’s Raven, Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, as well as Raymond Feist’s original Magician or the Empire Trilogy he wrote with Janny Wurts for the similar rise of power of the female characters, Brent Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy and R.A. Salvatore’s Icewind Dale Trilogy and Dark Elf Trilogy.

– Recommended –

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