Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review: Avempartha by Michael J. Sullivan

When a destitute young woman hires two thieves to help save her remote village from nocturnal attacks, they are drawn into the schemes of the wizard Esrahaddon. While Royce struggles to breach the secrets of an ancient elven tower, Hadrian attempts to rally the villagers to defend themselves against the unseen killer. What begins with the simple theft of a sword places the two thieves at the center of a firestorm--that could change the future of Elan.

...and number two went even faster than number one.

So, after sitting down and penning my review of the first amazing book in Michael J. Sullivan’s “Riyria Revelations” series, THE CROWN CONSPIRACY, last night I sat down with the second book AVEMPARTHA and read about 40 pages non-stop. Sadly, I didn’t get into a super late night/early morning reading session this time, but this is only due to my girlfriend having returned home from the trip she was on and wanting me to get some actual sleep....and I caved. Haha!

At any rate, I woke up with one solitary purpose in mind, one which I am sure you can guess at. So, aside from stepping out for lunch with a good friend, I set about devouring this second book in the series. I simply had no idea that I would read the bloody thing all afternoon and evening until I finished it. I did. So here we are...probably a little later than it was last night and I am writing another review. Happily so in fact!

I purposely have tried to avoid spoilers in this review as I want anyone to go into it fresh so I won’t talk about a lot of the plot, sufficed to say it is another cracker and I was reading it like I stole it and someone was coming to take it away and I was time constrained.

This book, if it is at all possible, is even better than the first. Why? You might ask me. Well, I have a few reasons for making such a bold statement. Firstly, let’s equate the difference between the first book and this one. I want to use a horse analogy here, so bear with me. The first and second books are both riding the same horse, just with different saddles. This second volume, the characters (for the most part) have already been established, so now the author can get down to the brass tacks of a little more worldbuilding. We get much more of politics and religion within the world of Elan, not to mention more about the history of the world and even more about certain characters back stories, and ALL of it is interesting and readable. What is decidedly nice though is that even though I know there is quite a lot of information being shared, it’s not everything. Reading this book was like having a fireside conversation with one of its enigmatic characters, Esrahaddon, as he certainly gives you the truth but he doesn’t give you all of it, not yet anyways. Always leave them wanting more is one of the sayings about great storytellers, and Sullivan accomplishes this like a pro.

Princess Arista, who had a smallish part in the first book, becomes a major player in this one and I was certainly glad for it as she is a very strong, level-headed character and a lot of fun to read about. Here’s something interesting I noticed...Arista has traits in common with her brother. It is easy for an author to make characters be siblings, but it is quite another thing to make them seem as if they are siblings by how they are written as characters. Sullivan achieves this and impresses me, yet again, with his deft hand. This brings me to another thing I really enjoyed in this volume, and that is the bringing to the forefront another couple of characters who were small players in the first book, the eldest Pickering Brothers Mauvin and Fanen. These two brothers are so great, both brave to the point of being seemingly fearless and true staunch defenders of the true crown and power in the land, but mostly like our two leads, they are heroes. Fanen is a little more headstrong and wilful, but this is simply because of his familial standing as second born.  Not to be outdone the new characters (mostly the villagers of Dhalgren and Thrace Wood) are just as intriguing and well-written. Thrace herself is indeed everything she needs to be from the get-go. She is both nervous and timid, and yet driven by need and then later on even goes through a transformation and the way she is introduced just makes that transition even more satisfying to read. There is actually a moment with Thrace that is so hauntingly beautiful that it was one of those moments where you think to yourself "Boy, am I ever immersed in this world and these lives" and it's kind of humbling to read something that touches your so.

It also nice to see the villains of the piece have to contend with dissension in their ranks, and plots that may not succeed. As it is tough to see your protagonists heading towards evil plots, it is nice to know that their storyweaver is indeed looking out for them.  Sullivan has these dealt with in unexpected and sometimes even abrupt ways and that was decidedly refreshing to read. So again we have tropes of old school fantasy being used with a few tweaks and turns on the head making for incredible readable pages.

Our two leads, Medford-based thieves Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn, are once again the stars though. They continue to shine with their easy back and forth, their skills in various areas of sneaking, stealing and fighting, and most of all their humanity. These guys are infinitely likable and I challenge anyone not to read about their adventures and not want more.  There is more here about both of their back stories and both have some very interesting things going on there, but of course we don’t know it all....yet.

The author brings forward some great grey areas in this book too. Characters that we once assumed as entirely bad may not have been, and ones we thought as completely good may not have been either. It’s really nice actually and was a surprise in some cases. I still don’t know all of what is going on in this world (which is SO much fun!) and while Sullivan answers a few threads from his multi-book arcs, he opened a bunch more and literally left me salivating for more. 

There are many great moments within these pages. One early on concerning a sign outside a playhouse actually make me chuckle out loud. Another happens when Arista is travelling with the Bishop and her annoying matronly servant Bernice and there is some discussion about cookies. Man, the humour is always so subtle and SUCH a pleasure to read, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Sullivan has a gift. Of course his masterstroke in AVEMPARTHA is the final line which is so perfectly executed at the end of a random conversation that I had to read it twice, jaw hitting the floor with a lovely thunk.

Michael J. Sullivan once again proves to me why I spend hours reading his book and doing not much else on my days off before I start my new job is worth it. AVEMPARTHA is a not only a worthy successor to the first book in the series, it actually improves upon it (a feat I wasn’t sure was possible seeing how much I enjoyed the first one). Now I realize that the first one was like the overture. The orchestra was warming up and now we have sat down and started this story in earnest and I can see threads of the greater plot starting to creak forward and I am again astounded. Beyond that, the author is able to maintain the episodic nature of these stories even here where he is worldbuilding. I found that every time he was worldbuilding, it was done WHILE his characters were pushing the pace forward for the episode itself. The ending itself very nearly explodes off the page. The action is wonderful, the tension is palpable and the prose is once again tight, gorgeous and clean with no unused or un-needed space. 

AVEMPARTHA is a  more-than-worthy follow-up and an opening to a wider world of Elan, one in which I hope to spend many more hours enjoying. All I can do now is be is thankful that I stumbled across this man’s incredible writing and hope that my reviews will lead you all to read the works.  It should also be noted that he is the artist responsible for the gorgeous cover art as well, and I would easily have these pieces in my house on a wall. 

At any rate, I thankfully have the 3rd book NYPHRON RISING on my desk next to me ready to start (and one more day off....a dangerous combo...haha!) and I ordered signed copies of the 4th and 5th books directly from the author Via RIDAN’s website as more of the profits will hopefully go to him and I wholeheartedly support that as I am grateful even to be able to read them.

Oh, and there is a moment early on in the first few pages of this book where the word "Riyria" is explained...and that moment is so pitch-perfect that I got shivers down my arms.

What the hell are you still standing there for? Get out there. Buy these books!

1 comment:

  1. Yay! Welcome to the bandwagon! It's amazing how quickly said bandwagon is growing, considering Michael's anonymity just two short years ago. Don't know if he's emailed you or not (he probably has -- he's a great guy!), but you should definitely post your reviews on Amazon, Good Reads, Shelfari, etc. too. Lots of people look to those big sites for book recommendations.

    Enjoy Nyphron Rising!



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