Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan

 There's no ancient evil to defeat, no orphan destined for greatness, just two guys in the wrong place at the wrong time...Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in a plot to murder the king. Sentenced to death, they have only one way out...and so begins this epic tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

Well, that was unexpected.

I sometimes hear tell of a book (or books) that are by an author I’ve never heard of, by a publisher I’ve never heard of and I research it. In this case, I saw a review of a book called THE CROWN CONSPIRACY by a guy named Michael J. Sullivan, and the praise seemed to be rather unanimous. I decided to do a little digging, and after finding the authors website I discovered that this wasn’t just a one off, but a series of six books (five of which have been released so far), so I read the synopsis of the first book and felt mighty intrigued. I decided I wanted to read this first book, but lo and behold it has been published by an indie publisher, and Chapters/Indigo (Canada’s main bookseller) in their infinite poorly managed catalogue of books did not have it. Nor could I find any bookseller in Toronto who did have it. So I ended up (inevitably it would seem) on that same night and clicked the first book into my Cart. Now, we all know Amazon does its whole, suck-you-in with free super-saver shipping thing for orders over a certain amount of mulah...long story short, in what was likely a decision brought on by having a dwindling To-Read pile and the warmth of a few glasses of a 10 year scotch I ordered the first THREE books in the series, THE CROWN CONSPIRACY, AVEMPARTHA, and NYPHRON RISING....and MAN am I ever glad I did that!

This book was astonishing in its simple hook to get you into the story (see synopsis above), but the execution is so near flawless that I am in a bit of awe here. For a story that is about two thieves dealing with being falsely accused of killing their king and the aftermath of that, there is SO much else going on here and most of it is so clever that you would be hard-pressed to find chinks in the armour, so to speak. I started this book last night sitting down intent on reading maybe ten pages or so to see if it started out well, and before I knew it I had easily devoured 130 pages..and the only reason I had to stop reading was due to the fact that unbeknownst to me, the witching hour had arrived and passed and it was suddenly 3AM!

Needless to say that I set out today with one thing in mind. To finish this wonderful story! So I did just that, and it actually trumps my favourite new series this year up to this point (which had been Suzanne Collins brilliant HUNGER GAMES trilogy), by its skilful storytelling. The writing is easy and flows with a voice that is decidedly deft. This guy knows how to pen a story, no question. In a lot of other fantasy series today there is so much focus on world building that the story itself can get a little bogged down and though it’s not horrible to have that sort of novel out there, it is refreshing to have a book that returns to the roots of the genre, while holding on to a few of the things that make current fantasy books so good. Sullivan cleverly straddles the line between complex thread-built, long arcing plot (which is certainly there, but it is only smoke and whispers....a line here, an idea this point)  and a whimsical story with interesting characters that picks you up and whisks you away on a fantastic story that will have you cheering for more. 

The story itself feels like what it would be like if you plunked Danny and Rusty from Ocean’s 11 down into a fantasy setting and had them trying to sort their way out of a jam while trying to outsmart the villains in a way that you never see coming. Even better, is that the charm of these characters makes them even more likable. That’s not to say the supporting cast aren’t equally impressive, as I think Alric’s personal transition is amazing, Arista is significantly interesting, Esrahaddon is probably one of the most enigmatic characters I have come across in a long while bar none. The showstopper though, the standout (other than the two leads) is certainly the young monk Myron. His reaction to the outside world he’s never seen was both funny and endearing at the same time, and there are moments where his emotions literally leapt off the page at me, one instance early on with a tree and an old friend was very nearly tear-jerking. Therein lies the skill Sullivan possesses. Being able to convey that sort of connection to a character mere pages after having met him is impressive to say the least.  Only a smattering of other authors that I read have this skill. Jim Butcher has it, as do Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss and the earlier mentioned Suzanne Collins. It is something that is missing from a lot of authors writing these days and so it is extra sensational when I come across it. 

The pacing is pitch-perfect. There is not a page unused or wasted in the whole book. In a less skilled author’s hands, this could have been a far longer and more tedious read, but again Sullivan leaves me in awe as there isn’t a sentence I’d say isn’t required. The man creates the world with a simple prose that brings to mind things like woodsmoke from a stone chimney, rain spattering a windowpane, snow gently falling outside while a candle burns silently away in a shop window, or a lazy river meandering its way through the lush countryside. 

So, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I am endlessly thankful that I ordered the first three books in the series as I don’t think my brain wants me to read anything else right now other than the second book AVEMPARTHA

THE CROWN CONSPIRACY is an astounding debut by a masterful storyteller, the likes of which will keep you reading till the wee hours of the morning long after the candle has burned down to a nub. Of that I can honestly attest (if I read by candlelight....which I sometimes think would add to the ambiance....but I digress).

This book being published by an independent publisher called RIDAN PUBLISHING is harder to come by in Canada (not sure about the States) but you can order it from the authors website directly, or like I did, from Amazon. It is MORE than worth your effort to get a hold of, as it DEFINITELY lingers in the top five books I have read all year, sharing company with Brandon Sanderson, Suzanne Collins and Jim Butcher. 

Full marks!


  1. It's great to see this review. I also feel it's a great book; I've read book one and I'm looking forward to reading them all. I don't know if you saw my review with Michael, but it's here (on my blog).

  2. I absolutely LOVE this series! I'm in the middle of the fourth book right now and am eagerly anticipating book five. I agree whole-heartedly with every single comment you make regarding the plot, characters and pace. Bravo, Michael! and Thanks, Scott, for sharing such a wonderful series with your audience!

    p.s. They series is just as difficult to find in book stores here in the U.S.

  3. Aha, good to know, thanks Danielle! I say we campaign to get Sullivan's books into our local bookstores. I actually sent Chapters/Indigo an email eluding to such.

    glad others enjoy it on the level I did! I am actually about 130 pages into AVEMPARTHA now and I'm enjoying it just as much, if not more. I'll likely be done tomorrow and I can post another review.

  4. I'm wondering if this series might be similar to the Locke Lamorra series (The Gentleman Bastard sequence) by Scott Lynch?

  5. Lynch's series is much more "adult" in tone (adult meaning cursing, sex, ect.), but there is a similar idea of a Ocean's 11 style heisting....but where Lynch's series continues down that road (in the second book RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES), by book two of Sullivan's series (AVEMPARTHA), his series becomes much more about the epic world and less about heisting.

    So while they share a few traits in the first books (VERY few though, these are very different books) they diverge away from even that in book 2 of both series.



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