Age of Swords: Compelling novel with strong characters

Age of Swords: Book Two of The Legends of the First Empire Hardcover – July 25, 2017 by Michael J. SullivanAge of Swords by Michael J. SullivanAge of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Storm clouds have been gathering since the events of Age of Myth, the first book in Michael J. Sullivan‘s new epic fantasy series, LEGENDS OF THE FIRST EMPIRE. The Fhrey (elves) have been feeling threatened by the Rhunes (humans) ever since the Rhunes shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to a more settled one, with crops and flocks of animals as well as hunting. Their population started exploding, and the Rhunes now outnumber the long-lived Fhrey by a factor of twenty to one (one million Rhunes vs. fifty thousand Fhrey). The killing of two Fhrey by Raithe, a Rhune warrior, provided the final impetus for a Fhrey attack.

As Age of Swords (2017) begins, a few months after the end of Age of Myth, trouble arrives for the inhabitants of Dahl Rhen with a literal bang. A magical lightning storm, mixed with apple-sized chunks of hail, destroys their village and the surrounding forest. As the storm ends, a gang of giants attacks what’s left of the village and its people.

Persephone, the recently-named chieftain of Dahl Rhen, calls on her people to gather all the belongings and supplies they can carry, and travel to Tirre, a Rhune town by the sea. She’s sent runners to all ten other clans to convene a summit there to unite all of the Rhune people to fight against the Fhrey, and to appoint a single “keenig” to lead all of the Rhune. While the chieftains argue over who should be the keenig, Raithe, Persephone’s nominee for the job, refuses, arguing that with the Fhrey’s far-superior bronze swords, not to mention their magical powers, humans don’t stand a chance.

One possible answer lies with the Dherg or, as they call themselves, Belgriclungreians (nevermind, dwarves), whose technological capabilities exceed even those of the Fhrey. Three exiled dwarves propose a deal to Persephone and Arion, the magically gifted Fhrey who has been living with the Rhune and training young Suri in the use of her magical Art. If Arion will help take care of a “giant” problem in the dwarves’ ancient city of Neith, they will help Persephone deal with the dwarves’ to try to get the humans better weapons … even better than bronze! So Persephone, Arion, Roan (an ex-slave who is a mechanical genius) and several other women leave the Rhune summit on their own quest, with no idea of the danger that awaits them in the land of the dwarves.

In his Author’s Note at the beginning of Age of Swords, Sullivan calls this book his “favorite book of this series,” but I thought it was slightly weaker than Age of Myth. The pacing dragged at times, especially in the chapters dealing with Mawyndulë, the immature and selfish son of the Fhrey ruler. Mawyndulë is in the running for the fictional character with the most breathtaking combination of sheer uselessness and an overinflated sense of self-importance, ever.Legends of the First Empire (Book Series) by Michael J. Sullivan

Readers who like novels with a strong theme of woman empowerment will find much to love in Age of Swords. It was good to see this happen in a relatively primitive society, although it did strike me as unlikely that, in a Neolithic era clan, a group of women would take off on a dangerous trip without taking any men along (other than some dwarves of debatable usefulness).

I also found Roan’s level of inventive genius over the top, not to mention suspiciously convenient at several key plot points. She was particularly busy in this book; her inventions included [HIGHLIGHT TO SHOW SPOILER] the wheel, pockets for clothing, bow and arrow, a pottery wheel, an improved axe, and more [END SPOILER]. Leonardo da Vinci has nothing on Roan! At the same time, Roan is a sympathetic woman, given some depth of character, as she tries to overcome the deep psychological scars inflicted by her old master. Nursing a near-hopeless love for Roan is Gifford, a gifted potter with crippling birth defects, whose outward injuries are a counterpoint to Roan’s inner ones. Through another character’s recollections, Sullivan offers some deeply intriguing comments about Gifford’s future role, shedding some new light on that character.

Overall, Age of Swords is compelling reading. Several characters develop in intriguing ways, rising to the occasion when trouble comes. And it ends very strongly, with a few twists and turns that really increased the reading pleasure. It left me ― and, I think it’s safe to predict, will leave most readers ― anxious for Age of War, the next novel in this series, scheduled for publication in April 2018.

Published June 25, 2017. The gods have been proven mortal and new heroes will arise as the battle continues in the sequel to Age of Myth—from the author of the Riyria Revelations and Riyria Chronicles series. In Age of Myth, fantasy master Michael J. Sullivan launched readers on an epic journey of magic and adventure, heroism and betrayal, love and loss. Now the thrilling saga continues as the human uprising is threatened by powerful enemies from without — and bitter rivalries from within. Raithe, the God Killer, may have started the rebellion by killing a Fhrey, but long-standing enmities dividing the Rhunes make it all but impossible to unite against the common foe. And even if the clans can join forces, how will they defeat an enemy whose magical prowess renders them indistinguishable from gods? The answer lies across the sea in a faraway land populated by a reclusive and dour race who feel nothing but disdain for both Fhrey and mankind. With time running out, Persephone leads the gifted young seer Suri, the Fhrey sorceress Arion, and a small band of misfits in a desperate search for aid—a quest that will take them into the darkest depths of Elan. There, an ancient adversary waits, as fearsome as it is deadly.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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