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REVIEW: 'Rise of Empire' by Michael J. Sullivan

Royce and Hadrian have been called upon to aid the struggling kingdom of Melengar as it alone stands in defiance against the newly formed empire. As war approaches a desperate gamble behind enemy lines is their only chance at forming an alliance with the Nationalists to the south.  But Royce has plans of his own and uses this opportunity to discover if an ancient wizard is using Riyria as pawns in his own bid for power. To find the truth, Royce must unravel Hadrian's hidden past.
What he discovers will lead them to the end of the known world on a journey rife with treachery and intrigue.And so continues the second tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.


As the first book, Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire is two novels in one.  Author Michael J. Sullivan's self published six novel series was picked up by Orbit and is being republished as three omnibus editions.  Rise of Empire contains books three and four: Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm respectively.  Where the first two novels of the first Omnibus could survive as stand alone stories, tied together with similar back-droppings and continuing elements; Rise of Empire has moved deep into the connecting plot.

As we saw at the end of Theft of Swords, the kingdom of Nyphron has moved nearly all of the pieces of the puzzle into place for them to take control.  Most of the pieces that did not come together were due to our lovable duo: Royce and Hadrian.  The kingdom of Maribor is one of the hold outs against the new empire and the leaders are trying to make the best of being saddled with a different person than they had hoped for supreme ruler.  I won't get into spoiler territory much more than that for any that haven't finished the first book.

The first book of "Rise": Nyphron Rising, attacks those stray pieces of Nyphron's puzzle to try and solidify their empire.  Though each book does have it's own small stories and arcs, they are interconnected now more than ever.  Royce and Hadrian are working for Maribor and most all of their missions concern the struggle against the new empire.  Arista, the princess of Maribor, is now every bit a main character to Royce and Hadrian now as well.  The second book: The Emerald Storm is named for the ship Royce and Hadrian spend much of the story upon, though most of it alternates one chapter to the next between the Riyria duo and Arista.

I addressed magic and fantasy races in the last review, pointing out how they both played a small role compared to some genre stories.  Their role increases ever so slightly here, but not enough to turn off those that prefer magic-lite fantasies.  Arista starts to push into her own magical abilities some throughout the story, but she is still learning and it never approaches that dues ex-machina level some readers fear.  Race wise, elves and goblin races play a bit more into the story, but are still very much a background and historical element more than anything else.

Still very much a sword & sorcery tale, it pushes into the territory of epic or high fantasy as the history, drama and scope increase.  Readers that enjoy a bit more meat to their fantasy will enjoy how Sullivan builds his world and fans of more fast paced action aren't left behind as the adventure side of the story doesn't let up.  The characters of Royce and Hadrian, already well developed when we first meet them, are peeled back as readers get much more of their past here, either directly or indirectly.  While newer characters, or new to adventure anyhow - like Arista - are grown and developed.  All the characters, whether you classify them as good guys or bad, are well handled.

Bottom Line:

Readers of fast paced adventure stories will enjoy the Riyria Revelations and readers of high fantasy will enjoy the direction the series overall takes.  These books however have been some of my favorites from this year and I'd recommend them to any genre fan, sans specifics.

  Link to the review of the first volume: Theft of Swords

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