Riyria Revelations is a fantasy trilogy by Michael J. Sullivan. Yes I am reviewing an entire trilogy. The books that comprise the series are Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire and Heir of Novron and they are incredible. I picked up on a recommendation for this series after really finishing The Shadow of What Was Lost. Thanks to that book I was on a fantasy high and wow am I glad I found mention of Theft of Swords. I read it, bought the next two, and now here we are.
The book surrounds Riyria, the titular group who happen to be a famous and notorious duo of thieves. As always, this is where the story begins but I was struck by how well Sullivan builds a rapport with his leads and the reader. You will love these guys. The interplay and brotherhood between Royce and Hadrian is one of the most successful and organic dynamics I’ve enjoyed in a long time. Once I finished these books I was struck by their absence. This is one of my all time favourite trilogies. It’s so good.
Synopsis for Book One – Theft of Swords:
THEY KILLED THE KING. THEY PINNED IT ON TWO MEN. THEY CHOSE POORLY.
There’s no ancient evil to defeat or orphan destined for greatness, just unlikely heroes and classic adventure. Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, are two enterprising rogues who end up running for their lives when they’re framed for the murder of the king. Trapped in a conspiracy that goes beyond the overthrow of a tiny kingdom, their only hope is unraveling an ancient mystery before it’s too late.
The synopsis says it best. There is no threat to existence in these books. It is about two men and the things they do to make a living and protect the people they care about, while making a profit and embarrassing the high and mighty. The books are unapologetically adventurous, free (mostly) of heavy existential concerns, and I love it. Sure there is a trilogy long narrative arc, antagonists, and a trajectory for Royce and Hadrian but the books are unabashed fun.
The development of Royce and Hadrian is satisfying, and certain aspects will delve into things like prophecy and destiny but it is a satisfying construction in my opinion. I really loved the growth of the main characters. Each book is satisfyingly self-enclosed and the series wide arcs are also well realised and fleshed out and will heavily invest the reader. There is also a measure of drama, tragedy and death, which balances the fun and irreverence.
The first book eases you into the story and introduces us to Riyria and their allies. With this world building Theft of Swords forms the necessary stepping stone into the universe of Royce and Hadrian while also setting up actions and consequences that reverberate throughout the three books. Royce and Hadrian fulfil an almost Robin Hood literary archetype, though on a starkly grey moral foundation. They are looking to enrich themselves and their friends and family while thumbing their nose at the aristocracy, but also working for them. Noble Nobles are few and far between (shock!), so capers are usually immensely satisfying and hilarious.
Hadrian forms the moral compass of the duo, but he is deadly in his own right as a mercenary and swordsman. Royce is significant in his contrast with Hadrian’s innate goodness as a cold, calculating and pragmatic ex-assassin. The dichotomy between the two only enhances their relationship as the contrasts result in hilarious arguments, bickering and excellent ‘told you so’ moments – usually surrounding one or the other bemoaning that they didn’t kill someone when it inevitably comes around to bite them.
The second and third books further build toward the eventual final confrontation, but there are so many red herrings and possibilities that even nearing the end you are never quite sure who is the real threat. There are quite a few evil and repulsive characters swimming around in the murk of this trilogy, beings of power that oppress, abuse and dictate. There are also pitilessly alien antagonists, who are simply so different and unknown that they might as well be considered enemies. It all creates a pretty rich tapestry for conflict and escalation that result in really significant and interesting contrasts between our heroes and their opponents.
I’ve really tried not to spoil anything here because these books are insanely addictive. They are page-turners. These are the sort of books that will have you forgetting adulthood and reading until 2 or 3am despite work in the morning. If my generalities have been annoying here you’ll understand their necessity once you’ve delved into them (which I sincerely hope you will). When you’re sitting on the edge of your seat with worry for Royce, Hadrian and their companions, resist the urge to spoil it for yourself and read on. It is worth it.