Book Review: Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Legends of the First Empire
Publisher: Del Rey (June 28, 2016)
Length: 432 pages
Any new Michael J. Sullivan novel automatically becomes a must-read for me, and Age of Myth was certainly no exception. It hardly mattered that this story actually takes place thousands of years before the Riyria Revelations and the Riyria Chronicles, well before the beloved characters of Hadrian and Royce even existed; I just couldn’t wait to revisit the world of Elan again.
For readers new to Sullivan’s work, this would also be an excellent starting point. Age of Myth is the first novel of new series of five books called The Legends of the First Empire, set in the same world of Riyria, but you need no prior knowledge of any of Sullivan’s books to jump right in. In fact, this world has a fresh and young vibe to it, exuding a sense new beginnings. Humans, known as Rhunes, live in tribal clans scattered across the wild landscape, primitive compared to the Fhrey, a race of long-lived beings that are more technologically advanced and capable of the Art, or magic. The vast differences between them have led humans to regard Fhrey as gods—powerful creatures that can call down lightning or control the elements, and it is a known fact that they do not age and cannot be killed.
That all changes one day, when a young human named Raithe and his father encounter a Fhrey with his slaves while hunting in a forbidden part of the forest. The ensuing dispute ends with Raithe’s father dead, and Raithe avenging him by slaying the Fhrey, thus disproving everything the Rhunes thought they knew about their “gods”—that they can be killed after all. Raithe is forced to go on the run with one of the Fhrey’s escaped slaves named Malcolm, and together they end up at Dahl Rhen, home to a chieftain’s widow named Persephone. In the wake of her husband’s recent death, Persephone has been trying to keep her clan together through the confusion of changing leadership. Already, news of a human killing a god has also reached their dahl, and fear of the Fhrey’s retaliation is making everyone feel on edge. Imagine Persephone’s surprise then, when the “God Killer” himself shows up on her doorstep, followed right behind by a Fhrey warrior contingent.
Age of Myth was a real treat. Sullivan’s novels always are. If you want fun, action-filled adventures, you really can’t go wrong with his books. While not always groundbreaking, they do frequently offer fresh twists on the old-school heroic fantasy tradition. They have this straightforward and down-to-earth feel to them, much like comfort food. And like comfort food, I also find these kinds of stories incredibly satisfying.
That said, I won’t pretend I didn’t have any reservations going into this. When I first met the characters, for instance, I couldn’t help but wonder if Raithe and Malcolm were simply about to turn into another Royce and Hadrian, or that Persephone would be another Aristia Essendon but in a new form. As much as I adore Riyria, it obviously wouldn’t do for this new series to be a rehash of some of the same ideas and people, and I had a brief moment where I worried this would be the case. Turns out, I should have trusted in Sullivan. As the story unfolded, it became clear that Age of Myth had everything it needed to stand out on its own, and the characters are all delightfully exceptional. Persephone became a quick favorite, as did the young mystic Suri and her wolf companion Minna. There’s no doubt about it; the strong and capable women of this novel helped make it great.
As well, the world-building was fantastic. New readers will love taking it all in, and for Riyria fans, I think it will feel doubly rewarding. This was an extraordinary opportunity to step back into history of one of my favorite series and relive what really happened. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Millennia before humans started building castles and forging steel, they lived in the wilderness worshiping nature spirits. They feared the Fhrey, who will one day be known and reviled as the elves, but right now they are a powerful race that regarded the Rhune as nothing more than animals. Already, the Fhrey have driven the Dherg (the precursor to dwarves) underground after literally crushing them in a great war. It’s a completely different atmosphere and way of life. But at the same time, there were elements that I immediately recognized, like the names and places that I’ve always associated with being old or in the past, but are actually considered contemporary in this book. Two examples that immediately come to mind are Nyphron and Avempartha. Even without the help of the handy glossary at the end of this book though, it was so easy to just slip into this world and become fully immersed in its beauty and magic.
From the very beginning, this book had my full attention. It follows at least three threads, moving along at a quick pace until they converge to result in an unforgettable finale. No one builds a story like Sullivan, who loves to drop plenty of clues along the way, teasing that moment when everything finally falls into place. This has become his signature touch, which can also be seen in Age of Myth. The scene of the final showdown was unquestionably the crowning glory of this marvelously entertaining novel.
If you enjoy epic fantasy, and are perhaps hungering for something with timeless appeal, then I highly recommend picking up Age of Myth. Newcomers to Michael J. Sullivan’s work will find this to be a perfect place to jump on board, and if you’re already a fan, there’s absolutely no excuse—you must read this book! It’s exciting to know that the entire series has already been written, but also vexing that I can’t get my hands on the sequel until next year. I’m just so thrilled and delighted by this promising new adventure.