Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles--until they are hired to pilfer a famed sword. What appears to be just a simple job finds them framed for the murder of the king and trapped in a conspiracy that uncovers a plot far greater than the mere overthrow of a tiny kingdom.
Theft of Swords is really two books in one. Michael J. Sullivan's, The Riyria Revelations, first came out as six separate books. The first novel was published from a small publisher and after they had financial troubles, Sullivan published books two through five himself and after building an audience Orbit bought the six part series to release in three editions. This first edition contains The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha. They can truly be read as two separate stand alone stories if the reader wished to take a break between them, but with the fast paced writing style of Sullivan and the quality of these stories I can't imagine someone wanting to take a break.
Both stories are tied together, as the title suggests with the theft of a sword in one way or another being a theme to both novels. In the first, The Crown Conspiracy, stealing a sword is simply a catapult to launch them into a deeper and more twisting tale that really focuses on stealing the crown of a king. It doesn't get too bogged down in politics however and reads more like an adventurous sword and sorcery tale than a political high fantasy.
The two main characters, Royce and Hadrian are both well crafted and well handled. They make a good team, playing off of each other well both in interacting with others and to the reader. Sullivan doesn't skimp on the supporting cast however as all of the characters that play a role in the story are interesting. The POV is usually on the two thieves, but sometimes switches to the princess Arista of the kingdom central to the plot. She remains a key supporting characters, or even another lead some might say in the second book as well.
The second book, Avempartha, deals with the hunting down of a monster terrorizing a small village and amusingly turns into a rescue the princess from the dragon tale in a way. Both of these stories stand alone, but elements built in the first dealing with the politics of the world and the big players in it continue from one to the next. Sullivan is building a bigger story, but still offers a complete one within each of these two books.
For readers interested in the fantasy elements of a novel, the magic is light but does play a role. Magic throughout the land is now seen as witchcraft and most knowledge of it has been lost as the church has campaigned against it. Royce and Hadrian play their part in releasing an ancient wizard and he plays a slightly larger role in book two than in the first, but due to his condition he doesn't sling much magic around. The focus is definitely on the swordplay, adventure and mystery.
Humans are the major race throughout the land, though elves, dwarves, goblins and more exist as part of this world. The races have been driven apart by belief, time and war and throughout most of the human regions elves are little more than slaves and dwarves few and far between. The second book gives a reader more to the history of this world and a deeper look into the other races even though the story still sits as a mostly human tale. Readers that like their fantasy magic-light and not overdone with Tolkienesque races should still enjoy Sullivan's work even though those elements are still part of this saga.
Theft of Swords is, more than anything else, fun. It's not overly dark and bloody, though death and battle is serious; it's more about the adventure these two rogues constantly find themselves mixed up in. And though this might not be considered epic fantasy, pieces of what makes a story epic are there, slowly added to the puzzle as the series progresses.
Readers that enjoy fast paced adventure stories and like books such as Brent Week's Night Angel Trilogy or Rachel Aaron's Eli Moonpress saga will love Sullivan's work as well. I'd recommend this story to really any fantasy fan and it has been one of my favorite reads so far this year.