Michael J. Sullivan weaves an intriguing tale of fantasy with the first omnibus of The Riyria Revelations series, Theft of Swords. While many might consider the story hackneyed, one cannot deny the feel good aspect of the book itself. The story might be based in the fantastic world of Elan with its elves, dwarves, magicians and other magical creatures, but what stands out as you listen to the Theft of Swords audiobook, is the basic precept of good over evil.
Our story centers round the unlikely duo of a mercenary, Hadrian Blackwater and a dwarf thief, Royce Melborn. They earn their living by performing certain tasks for the nobility – but our real story begins when we find our heroes framed for the murder of the king and the sword that they were supposed to steal is found to be missing. Our protagonists, of course, have no other option but to get to the bottom of what turns out to be an ancient conspiracy that has previously caused the downfall of kings and their kingdoms. The subplots in the novel provide the listener with a fair share of surprises but the main story remains a bit familiar.
The World of Elan
The land of Elan is one where men, dwarves, elves and goblins co-exist. What is really interesting is the way the author executes his world-building. There are no expository chapters about the world our characters inhabit. Instead, Elan is revealed to us in bits and pieces as the story proceeds.The clash between the different political groups and even between the worlds of different species may be common tropes but they work for the story that Sullivan has in mind. What stands out in Elan is the presence of the overreaching nature of the Church and its clergy. Sullivan here seems to hark back to the Middle Ages of Europe in this particular case.
The focus of the novel is clearly the characters of Hadrian and Royce. Different in terms of their outlook, Sullivan succeeds in making them work as an entertaining duo. They are the typical heart of gold thieves, who find themselves caught in the crosshairs of a conspiracy. They have a good cop and bad cop routine where Royce is the more practical of the two and wary of people while Hadrian dreams of honor and greatness.
They have great chemistry, if I might call it that, which is evident from their back and forth repartee. You see this right away in the first chapter when the duo is ambushed by a band of robbers. We also discover that the two of them are well known around the kingdom as the Riyria and therefore not to be trifled with. No other characters in the book get as much attention as our protagonists.
Sullivan seems to be very sure of what he wants to do with his characters. He does not dwell on constructing complex character types. We have the usual black and white types, the heroes and the villains without much focus on what authors nowadays like to term as grey.
I cannot, of course, fail to mention the women characters in the novel as few as they may be. Both Arista and Thrace are depicted as strong women in a predominantly patriarchal society. Both are looked upon with suspicion for standing out; Arista for studying in the university and trying her hand out in magic and Thrace for drawing attention to herself in a man’s world. But both play pivotal roles. It is Arista who tries to rescue her brother, Royce and Hadrian from the conspiracy and Thrace is the one who rises up to protect her village.
The ideas in the novel cannot be termed as ground-breaking but they do seem to restore your faith in humanity. You cannot ignore the friendship of Royce and Hadrian in spite of them being like chalk and cheese. The conspiring nobles in the world of Elan speak volumes about the corruption present within the kingdom. Also worth noticing is the role of the Church and clergyman in the book. The Church is portrayed as a power hungry, ruthless and ambitious body.
To my mind, Theft of Swords works well as an audiobook because of the dialogue construction. Sullivan gives Hadrian and Royce funny, witty lines that help recreate the emotions behind their bond and friendship. Also, as a listener, you never feel that the narration overwhelms the story itself. Even though it is a good long 22 hours, you can keep listening to the story of Riyria because of both the humour and the thrill present in the voices of our storytellers.
What Works for Theft of Swords
In our complicated and sophisticated times, Theft of Swords helps remind us of the basic aspects of life. It also helps the reader, or in the case of the audiobook, the listener, escape from a world that is over bearing and burdensome. While there are those who will fault the book for its simplicity of plot and character, I would recommend it for exactly those reasons. The book fulfils its purpose.
The plot which is, quite frankly, a little too obvious involves you in a way where you feel in control of the story. The two protagonists are really endearing. You will find yourself warming up to both Royce and Hadrian from the way you hear them interacting with each other. Their exchanges are a testament to how highly they regard each other and their skill sets. All in all, listen to the Theft of Swords audiobook, as you will find this fantasy tale engaging and distracting from whatever that irks you in life. The audiobook keeps you hooked without being too expeditious and the narrative’s smooth and steady pace and dialogues helps you get to the end of the book and then look forward to the rest of the series.