Audiobook Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

5 03 2013

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (The Riyria Revelation, Bk. 1)

Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds

Recorded Books

Length: 22 Hrs 37 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Theft of Swords managed to be two sides to an intriguing coin, both a light heated traditional fantasy tale, as well as a unique spin on traditional fantasy with surprising depth. Sullivan manages the old hook and spin, getting you in the door, then locking it and laughing evilly once you are trapped inside, ready to tell you a tale you may not have been expecting.

Grade: B+


2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

It’s Armchair Audies time *cue cheers* and once again I embark on my journey through the speculative fiction categories. This year, I am starting with the Fantasy Category, and am listening to them in order of length. So up first is the epic fantasy The Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan, the first book in the Riyria Revelations. Last year, one thing I complained about in the Audies Fantasy category was a lack of epic fantasy. In fact, the only titles nominated that was even closely related to epic fantasy was Richard K. Morgan’s The Cold Commands and it was nominated in the Science Fiction category and Walter Moers Rumo & His Miraculous Journey which featured a dog like protagonist, which is far from traditional.. Yet, honestly, I was sort of relieved as well. Epic Fantasies are a huge commitment. They tend to be door stopper novels, in huge series. Now, I don’t mind a 40 -50 hour audiobook, but if I have to listen to 10 40-50 hour audiobooks to get to it, then there’s a problem. I also have to admit, I’m quite picky when it comes to Epic Fantasies. Even though I loved Lord of the Rings, often my mind goes blank when I hear of elves and dwarves and the like. I’m not even sure why. Outside of Tolkien, I never really got into big fat fantasies until The Dark Tower tickled my fantasy fancy, and I discovered Stephen Donaldson and George R. R. Martin, and by this time, the Wheel of Time series was at something like 100,000 pages and 2,000 hours in audio, and I wasn’t going to jump into that mess. So, instead I jumped on the occasional new series, like Rothfuss’ Kingkiller series, and The Lies of Locke Lamora, So, I was quite interested when I saw a real honest to goodness Epic Fantasy had been nominated, and it was the first of a series. Mayhaps I would find another series to enchant me.

Theft of Swords tells the story of Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, two gentleman thieves who find themselves mixed up a Kingdom’s murky royal succession, and century old church conspiracies. I think if I could pick just one word to explain my feelings about The Theft of Swords it would be "comfortable: yet, that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Sullivan writes a classic fantasy tale full of all the tropes that fantasy fans have come to both love and loathe. There are plenty of Tolkenesque qualities, even *gasp* Elves and Dwarves, yet, I didn’t find myself turned off by it. Sure, there was an initial cringe when I heard tell of elves, but as the story played out, I though the inclusion of Elvin mythology worked here. I think that Sullivan made a conscience teffort to tell a light hearted fantasy tale in the first portion of this tale. As a reader, I didn’t need a lot of character development and world building, because in many ways I felt like I already had a grasp on the character and world, and we could get right to the cool adventury type stuff. Yet, slowly, Sullivan began filling in the edges of his world, adding more depth and mystery to the tale. He handed out the pieces bit by bit, so they became integrated with the plot of the tale. Now, this book is actually two novels combined into one volume. I really enjoyed the first story, titled The Crown Conspiracy. The plot, while light and fun still had me guessing along the way. The second tale, Avempartha, had more depth and, while still relying of traditional tropes, started to break the story into some intriguing new areas. I found the true beauty of the tale was the way the two pieces fit together, and seemed to set up for more to come in the future volumes. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my need to tackle all these Audie nominees, I would have been tempted to jump right to the next volume of the series. Theft of Swords managed to be two sides to an intriguing coin, both a light heated traditional fantasy tale, as well as a unique spin on traditional fantasy with surprising depth. Sullivan manages the old hook and spin, getting you in the door, then locking it and laughing evilly once you are trapped inside, ready to tell you a tale you may not have been expecting.

This is my third experience with a novel narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds. My first experience, his reading of Donaldson’s Against All Things Ending intrigues me, but it was his performance in John Connelly’s The Infernals, which I called my Favorite Narrator Performance of 2011, that turned me into a fan. Reynolds has a good voice for Medieval Fantasy, and he puts it to good use here. I thought he was much better suited for the world that Sullivan created than to Donaldson’s The Land. He captured the characters of Royce and Hadrian well. There was definitely a risk of these two thieves coming off a bit caricature in the early part of the novel, but Reynolds manages to give them a distinct voice that served as character development, while Sullivan filled them out on the page. I really enjoyed his reading of Myron the monk. He gave him a quirky feel that both captured the devastation of the monk’s tragedy, while also adding a bit of humor. One of the biggest challenges for any narrators in epic fantasy, where the world exists solely in the mind of the author, is to find the authentic tone to the novel. In many epics, the world has its own voice, and becomes its own character, and Reynolds does a great job capturing this voice. The only complaint I had was hardly Reynolds fault. There is a heck of a lot of characters in this tale, and many of them from the same family, so at times these characters ran together. Yet, Reynolds makes this a rare occurrence, when it could have been a lot worse. Overall, this is a fun start to an intriguing series, and definitely worthy of the award it was nominated for.