Audiobook Review: Nolyn 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 1 of The Rise and Fall
Publisher: Audible Studios (August 3, 2021)
Length: 13 hrs and 51 mins
Narrator: Tim Gerard Reynolds
With Nolyn, we’ve reached yet another point in the Elan saga, the world in which the books of Riyria Revelations, Riyria Chronicles, and The Legends of the First Empire by Michael J. Sullivan take place. This novel kicks off a new series called The Rise and Fall, which is set a several centuries following the events of Age of Empyre, though it can be enjoyed as a standalone tale without any prior knowledge.
This story primarily focuses on two main protagonists, both of whom are the offspring of prominent characters who played a part in the birth of the First Empire. They are Nolyn, the half-human, half-Fhrey son of Nyphron and Persephone, as well as Sephryn, the daughter of Moya and Tekchin. After more than five hundred years of exile, Nolyn, the heir to the empyre, is convinced his father is sending him off to die when he is suddenly reassigned to active duty on the front lines of the Goblin Wars. Fortunately, fate lands him with the legendary Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron, made up of some of the most fearsome and elite warriors who will aid Nolyn in his fight to survive the battles ahead.
Meanwhile in the capital, seemingly a whole other world away, Sephryn is blackmailed into a scheme to steal a priceless artifact from the heart of the palace. Desperate to save her son, she has no choice but to go through with it. Having grown up with the weight of history and her mother’s famous legacy upon her shoulders, Sephryn also feels like she has a lot to live up to. Gathering up her wits and courage, she sets out to pull off an impossible heist with the help of a few quirky friends.
I confess, I never got to finish The Legends of the First Empire series, with Age of War being the farthest I got. However, getting into Nolyn was not a problem. You absolutely do not need any of the prior books as prerequisites to read this one. That said though, I think it benefited me to have some familiarity with the characters, places, and events from The Legends of the Fire Empire, even if just a little, as they helped anchor me to the setting very early on. After all, Nolyn and Sephryn’s storylines don’t have much in common when we first start out, and they remain rather separate until quite later. However, having some knowledge about their parents and their connections to the past made them more interesting to me right off the bat.
Still, there is definitely something that I call a “diluting” effect as we progress through each new series by Sullivan. Like so many others, my first experience with the author was The Riyria Revelations, which bar none remains my favorite work of his to date. When it comes to protagonists in Sullivan’s books, Hadrian and Royce will always be the gold standard in terms of characterization and development. As winsome as some of the characters were in The Legends of the First Empire series, none of them even came close (who knows, that might even be part of why I stalled out and never felt the urge to finish the series), and now that we have The Rise and Fall, I somehow felt even more removed and disconnected from Nolyn and Sephryn.
Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not like they weren’t written well. Quite the opposite, in fact. Between our two POV characters, we got to see a good mix of thrilling action as well as deep emotion. Nolyn’s arc, which took us to the heart of the fighting in the war against the enemy, brought us most of the former, while Sephryn’s chapters exploring her struggles with difficult decisions and painful memories brought much of the latter (to be fair, her heist plot also featured plenty of excitement). But at the end of the day, how much of it was truly different and memorable? Characterization was good, but probably not beyond what was honestly to be expected. I think they could have been more fleshed out, but given that this novel was written to be a standalone, maybe there just wasn’t enough time.
And yes, this book truly is a standalone, but while it might feel nice for once to get a self-contained epic fantasy story with a satisfying conclusion, this does give Nolyn a bit of that “throwaway” feel. The plot was on the simpler, more straightforward side, and many of the deeper themes it attempted were also glossed over or merely shallowly touched upon. Still, these can be seen as positive aspects depending on what you’re looking for. For one, the novel’s ideal audience might be fantasy fans interested in a lighter read, or even newcomers to the genre looking for accessible entry point. For those curious about Michael J. Sullivan’s work this would also be the perfect place to jump on board, and of course for longtime fans, returning to this world will bring much comfort and maybe even some entertainment spotting all the fun references and other cool easter eggs.
Finally, I was lucky enough to review the audiobook edition of Nolyn, and I just want to give a big kudos to Tim Gerard Reynolds, whose voice has done so much for the books of Michael J. Sullivan. It simply wouldn’t have been the same without his narration, and of course he was awesome as always.