Regular readers of this blog (yes, both of you!) might recall that I posted reviews of the four volumes of the Riyria Chronicles on 28 December 2019. These told the story of the meeting, and eventual partnership, of Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melbourne, two adventurers for hire (who come to refer to themselves as Riyria). The three books of the Riyria Revelations, of which Theft of Swords is the first, continue their story; this volume originally appeared in two parts, The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.
There is a complicating factor, however; Sullivan actually wrote the Revelations first, then went back to write the Chronicles as an extended prequel (the Chronicles end a few months before the Revelations begin). So readers have a choice between reading the books in publication order, or following the internal chronology. As you may have gathered by now, I chose the internal chronology (as usual). I have to say that Sullivan did the stitching-together very well, and I noticed no anomalies.
Swords are the main theme of this book: Riyria are commissioned to steal a famous sword, but find themselves arrested on the most serious charge imaginable. It is clear that they have unwittingly become involved in some top-level manouvring for power but fortunately they have some allies as well as enemies this time, and they end up escaping with a prince of the realm in tow. The climax of the story is a battle for the crown.
In the second part of the book, Riyria meet a young girl, Thrace, who is desperate for them to come with her to her remote village which is being gradually destroyed by a magical dragon-like creature, a Gilarabrywn. She needs them to steal another sword, this one reputed to be the only weapon capable of killing the creature. The only problem is that the sword is held in an inaccessible elvish tower, which is also where the Gilarabrywn has made its home. The conclusion is both dramatic and unexpected.
The second volume of the Revelations trilogy is Rise of Empire (originally published as two stories: Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm). The Nyphron Church’s long preparations have climaxed in a play for power with the creation of the New Empire, intended to draw together all of the little kingdoms of the land under one overall nominal leader, the Empress Modina. Much of the focus is on Arista, Princess of Melengar and sister to the young King Alric, for whom Riyria are (usually, more or less) working. Arista is intelligent and determined to do whatever it takes to support her brother, and there is much enjoyment to be had from observing her development from a pampered member of the court to a toughened and inspirational leader with growing powers. In the meantime Royce is following up some snippets of information about his friend Hadrian which suggest that he has a much more important role to play than anyone realises.
The second part of the book sees Riyria out of their comfort zone and undertaking a long sea voyage. Brushes with pirates inevitably follow before the pair find themselves marching through the jungle territory of the dreaded Ghazel. In the meantime, the hidden leadership of the New Empire are seeing all of their plans gradually approaching fruition.
The final volume of the trilogy is Heir of Novron (consisting of Wintertide and Percepliquis). It is some months after the end of the previous volume, and the New Empire is growing in strength, rapidly absorbing most of the old kingdoms. A major celebration is planned at Wintertide, culminating in the execution of two captives; Degan Gaunt, known as the "heir of Novron", and the Witch of Melengar, otherwise known as Princess Arista. The young Empress Modina, firmly under the control of the Co-Regents Saldur and Lord Ethelred, is to marry Ethelred in order to consolidate the Regents' power. Needless to say, Riyria take a dim view of all of this and plan to free the captives, but this proves to be an unusually difficult task, particularly since the Regents have Merrick Marius, Royce's formidable old enemy, working for them.
Percepliquis is the name of the legendary capital of the Old Empire, lost for a thousand years. A group led by Riyria need to find its ruins and locate the mysterious Horn of Gylindora which is said to be hidden there. Without it, humanity will be overrun by the newly militant elves.
The climax of the story - and of the Revelations - is particularly well done, with various unexpected outcomes all fitting neatly together and explaining the clues which had been scattered around during the story, just like a good detective novel. About the only element which was totally predictable concerned Hadrian, but I'll say no more about that.
Taken as a whole, the Riyria sequence is one of the great achievements in the modern epic fantasy genre, right up there with Mark Lawrence's Red Queen's War and Thorns trilogies. On a trivial note, I did find a few of the names unnecessarily awkward, being difficult to spell or pronounce. Curiously, as it is relatively short and simple, Riyria is one of the worst offenders - I have to check the spelling, letter by letter, every time I type it.
For those whose appetite for Sullivan's world is still not sated, the author clearly sees no reason to abandon a carefully created world without getting a decent mileage from it, so is using it for other stories: most notably The Legends of the First Empire, a (very) distant prequel series to the earlier books, consisting of six volumes to date.