The first thing you should know about Theft of Swords is that it’s not a fine dining experience. This book is not the literary equivalent of going to a fancy restaurant and getting one of those huge plates that are mostly empty except for a tiny stalk of asparagus artfully drizzled with a delicate sauce. Instead, it’s more like sitting down hungry and getting a big, tasty burger you can just grab and sink your teeth into. (Vegetarians, please substitute for the vegetarian equivalent of a big, tasty burger. I’ve been trying to think of one, and I can’t. A veggie burger just doesn’t feel the same.) In other words, this book is straightforward. It’s huge. It’s low on subtlety but high on enjoyment. It is (and I fully realize this is not proper Literary Theory terminology) juicy. At this point I think I’ve stretched the food metaphor about as far as it’s going to go.
The next thing to know about this book is that it’s, well, actually two books. (Like a two patty burger! Sorry. I’m really done now.) Theft of Swords is an omnibus containing The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, the first two books in Michael J. Sullivan’s RIYRIA REVELATIONS. If you follow fantasy blogs at all, you’re probably familiar with how this omnibus came to be. (And if you happen to write a fantasy blog you’re definitely aware, thanks to the vigorous “leave no stone unturned” guerrilla marketing campaign that’s partly responsible for making this series such a big success.) In a nutshell: these books were originally self-published. They became such a big indie success that Orbit has now picked up the series. Orbit is re-releasing the original six books in a set of three omnibus editions: Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron.
The two novels contained in Theft of Swords have been reviewed so many times, including several times here at Fantasy Literature, that it’s probably not necessary to go into a huge amount of detail. Their main characters are the thief Royce Melborn and the warrior Hadrian Blackwater, best friends who are both immensely skilled at what they do. They make a living taking on various assignments for nobles (often playing one noble against the other for double the profit) until one job gets them unwillingly involved in a far-reaching plot that affects the royal family of a kingdom and, eventually, the future of the entire world of Elan. As the plot evolves and thickens, you learn more about the structure and history of Elan, including multiple races (humans, elves, goblins, dwarves), deities, and political affiliations. For more details, simply take a look below for some excellent reviews of The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha.
The two fantasy novels in Theft of Swords are extremely entertaining. There’s lots of action, flashes of humor, and some surprisingly (for a fluffy action fantasy novel) emotional moments. The characters are (at this point at least) paper-thin, but they’re mostly likable and the heroes are easy to root for. There’s simply not a dull moment to be found here. The fantasy world occasionally feels like a composite of familiar elements, but there are also hints that some more original pieces are waiting in the wings. Michael J. Sullivan is great at breaking down the world and its history into manageable chunks so they don’t overshadow the adventure, but if you take a step back and put all those pieces together, you can see that there’s more complexity here than you’d initially expect. The books don’t exactly brim with originality, but they’re so much sheer fun that it’s easy to get swept along.
One noticeable difference between the two novels in this omnibus, at least for a first time reader like myself, is that The Crown Conspiracy seems much more of a standalone story than Avempartha. It introduces the characters and the world, but its plot feels self-contained, whereas Avempartha seems to be the start of a longer story arc. The Crown Conspiracy also feels much more lighthearted. Which reminds me of a somewhat related topic: I suggest taking a break between the two books. The first book has a lot of forward momentum, and everything slams to a halt at the start of book two because it’s, well, a whole new novel. You can avoid the feeling that the plot suddenly moves at a creep rather than a gallop by picking up something else to cleanse your palate (which is officially my final food-related metaphor for this review.)
For people who have read the original books, there are a few differences between those and the ones found in this omnibus, including a new opening section for the first book, a glossary in the back, and a list of countries, deities, and political parties in the front. However, unless you’re a collector, I don’t think it’s necessary to get the omnibus if you have the original editions.
Here at FanLit, we give books star ratings, and I’m giving this one 3.5 stars, which for me means “between good and excellent.” This rating isn’t based on gorgeous prose, or deep characterization, or striking originality. It’s simply based on sheer, plain fun. This book reminded me of how much fun I had when I first discovered fantasy, *mumble* years ago. It reminded me of reading the original DRAGONLANCE trilogies, or even David Eddings’ BELGARIAD and MALLOREON series: I just kept turning pages until there weren’t any pages left to turn, without worrying about (or even being aware of) things like originality and depth. Much like those titles, Theft of Swords seems to straddle the line between YA and regular fiction, which might also make it a good series to get younger readers into fantasy. I had a blast with this book, even if I occasionally had to force myself to put away my mental red pencil so I could just enjoy the ride. If you’re in the mood for some straightforward, old-fashioned adventure fantasy, and you haven’t had the chance to check out the RIYRIA REVELATIONS yet, pick up a copy of Theft of Swords.