Book Review: Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of The Legends of the First Empire
Publisher: Del Rey (July 26, 2017)
Length: 512 pages
With six books in total now planned for The Legends of the First Empire series and four more left on the docket, it’s understandable that we have to pace ourselves. That may explain why I found Age of Swords to be on the slower side in comparison to its predecessor Age of Myth, which still holds a slight edge for being the more enjoyable book. That said, this was still a solid sequel, and there were even a few areas which I felt were improvements over the previous book.
Set thousands of years before the events of Michael J. Sullivan’s beloved Riyria Revelations, Age of Swords is the second in a new sequence of books that takes us back to the dawn of this world, introducing us to the precursors of many of the races and locations you’ll find in the time of Royce and Hadrian. This would be a fine series to start with if you’ve never read the author before and would like to give his work a try, though beginning with Age of Myth is a must—Sullivan has a way of foreshadowing the big events at the end of his series by planting subtle seeds for them in the earlier books, and trust me when I say that you won’t want to miss a thing.
We pick up the tale here following the spark of rebellion lit by Raithe the God Killer, turning the bitter enmity that has always existed between the Rhune and the Fhrey into a full-blown war—one that the Rhune are sure to lose, if they cannot unify the tribes against their common foe. After all, what chance do they have, when the most powerful of the elf-like Fhrey are practically immortal and possess magic? Already they have retaliated against the humans for their attempt at defiance, by sending lightning storms and giant beings to destroy the settlement of Dahl Rhen.
Persephone, once the wife of a clan chieftain, now finds herself to be the new Rhen leader. After gathering her supporters, she leads them on a campaign to rally the other Rhune clans to their cause. Among those who follow her are Brin, the Dahl’s newly appointed Keeper of Ways; Suri, the only human known to possess the power of magic, along with her loyal wolf companion Minna; Roan, a traumatized girl with an uncanny talent for tinkering and creating new inventions; Gifford, a good friend of Roan who has a heart of gold but was also born with a congenital disability; Moya, a young woman who wishes to defy tradition by becoming a warrior; and Arion, the exiled Fhrey sorceress who now finds herself traveling with the humans and training Suri to become a mystic.
Eventually, Persephone’s journey leads her to the dwarves, a race that disdains both the Rhune and the Fhrey with equal measure. But with the need for well-crafted weapons to use in the coming war, our characters have no choice but to agree to the dwarves’ demands. In exchange for their help, Persephone and her team agree to descend into the dark depths of the ancient dwarven city to vanquish a demon that has taken residence there.
Needless to say, the women are the real winners here. This book revisits a lot of the characters we first met in Age of Myth, but as Sullivan promised, many of those who played smaller roles are now getting their chance to shine in Age of Swords. As a fan of stories about misfits and outsiders, I loved this new development—especially when our group of Dahl Rhen underdogs the ones providing the catalyst for important turning points. There’s no shortage of stories about the fighters in epic fantasy, but not as much attention is usually given to the inventors, scholars, and deep thinkers whose achievements keep the gears of the world well-oiled and moving. This is why I really enjoyed this book, as it shifts the focus from Raithe to those who fight the war in less apparent ways. The actions of those like Suri or Brin may never earn them cool nicknames like “God Killer”, but their deeds are no less heroic or deserving of recognition. This novel pays tribute to these characters, and I’m grateful to the author for it.
In terms of criticisms though, the one big downside to this story was the uneven pacing. Long stretches of subdued activity, like when the characters are discussing history or magic, were only punctuated by infrequent and brief periods of excitement, while huge technological or cultural advancements felt like they were accomplished in days. These pacing issues kept me from powering my way through this one like I did with Age of Myth, and though a lot seemed to have happened in this book, at the end of the day it didn’t actually feel like we moved the series that much more forward. In other words, in longer fantasy series like this it’s often natural to see the plot go through multiple peaks and dips, and this book felt very much like a “dip”.
Still, these minor flaws aside, there’s lots to like about Age of Swords and I found the book enjoyable overall. As I alluded to before, it’s not unusual to see a sequel take a step back to regroup and reorient itself while setting things up for more to come, which is what I think is going on here especially given the care and forethought Michael J. Sullivan likes to put into his foundation building for later novels. I’m looking forward to see how this series will unfold, and will be picking up the next book without hesitation.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Age of Myth (Book 1)