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The Riyria Revelations follows the exploits of a unique couple of friends. They are unique in the sense, that one of them is a talented thief while the other is a former mercenary adept at warfare. They are famous (or notorious, as the case may be) for taking on the toughest jobs, which no one else will touch, and succeeding at them. Both the books in the Theft of Swords omnibus have such jobs as the starting point. Their reputation of being invincible has been carefully developed by the author. It really seems that this reputation is well-deserved as we see them getting out of impossibly difficult situations with skill and a lot of luck.
Both the books have an amazing adventure, which in itself would make a great story. But, what improves both of them further is the numerous threads which start off from the stories and paint a picture of the direction in which the series will run. In the first book, Royce and Hadrian take a job and step into a trap. They end up getting blamed for the king’s assassination, but somehow escape. This is where their adventure begins which takes them on a journey which ends right back where they started. In the second book, they go to help a young girl save her father from a monster. This again takes them on an adventure where a lot of the characters from the previous book return and they finally end up defeating the monster with their friends’ help.
There are quite a few points I love about the books. One is that even though Royce and Hadrian are on the ‘wrong’ side, being thieves, they always end up doing the right thing, to a great extent due to Hadrian’s conscience. Another great thing is all the fight sequences in the books. Swordplay can be extremely difficult to get right, and an author can end up describing too much or too little of it. But, here Michael Sullivan gets the balance just right and these are a pleasure to read. Hadrian’s skill shines through in oodles of grace and talent. But by far the best thing about the book is the relationship of Hadrian and Royce. I really liked the banter they have and the jabs they keep taking at each other which makes them immensely likable. They both complement each other beautifully and together they make a really scary duo against whom few could stand a chance. Their relationship has been nurtured and developed over years of knowing and trusting each other. They both share a will to survive and a murky past. The mystery behind their pasts has been kept rigorously under wraps, and this is one revelation that could really charge up the series.
Personally, I believe that Orbit has got it absolutely right in creating this omnibus. As a standalone story, the first book, ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ is very interesting but does little to introduce the reader to the story arc of the series. Although the main characters get defined here, there isn’t enough there to judge what role they will play in the series, or how important they will be. The first book, to me seemed more like a preamble to the series, as some of the main characters in the series get introduced in the second book of this omnibus. Also, there are not many fantasy elements in this book and it reads more like an adventure.
The second book in the omnibus, ‘Avempartha’ does more to introduce the reader to the series. It is here that the real story begins to get developed and readers start getting a sense of where the story is heading. All the fantasy elements shine through and the huge history behind the world becomes apparent. I have to say, the author refrains in overwhelming the readers with a history lesson and just enough information is given out, so that the events taking place currently can be put into perspective. We can see glimpses of how all the diverse characters with such diverse backgrounds such as a princess, a thief, a mercenary and a poor girl living in the middle of nowhere come together.
All the traditional fantasy races of elves, dwarves and wizards make an appearance in the books. As usual dwarves are highly talented at stone work, elves have their magic and really long lives, and wizards are the masters of all things magical. All the fantasy elements start to become apparent in Avempartha as the book has a number of fantasy creatures, has magic in it, we come to see some of the characters in a new light and finally get to understand how the story might progress. By the end of the second book we can hazard a guess about who will be playing crucial roles in the coming books. I can see both Arista and Thrace being a strong part of the next books. It was after I finished reading Avempartha that my mind started putting together my version of the coming story. There are a lot of amazing supporting characters in the series, but they are just too many to name, though Esrahaddon, the wizard and Myron should get a definite mention here.
The world created by the author is extremely diverse, detailed and complex. There are a large number of small and big empires all jostling for their space in the world with each following a different political system. This is where the detail of the world really shines. There are empires ruled by kings, democracies, those administered by the church and some which have no ‘government’ at all. They all do have a common history and were once part of an empire which controlled the entire world.
There are no good or bad guys in the books in the traditional sense, which may seem completely wrong to the die-hard fantasy fans. There is no evil mastermind against whom the world is rallying. No doubt, there are a lot of grey characters, and they do a lot of ‘bad’ things. But their motivations may not be all bad (atleast at this point it seems so. Of course, I do not have enough information to judge a character based on these two books alone). There is always a doubt whether to put a character in the in the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ category. I don’t think this will be cleared till the series actually ends.
It is by conscious effort that I am refraining from discussing the plots of the two books too much. All I can say is that this is a mighty fine introduction to the series. I can’t wait to get to the next book. This book does a great job at getting the readers interested in the series. With such beautiful writing and clearly defined characters, there isn’t much here that I do not love. This is definitely in five-star category and I just hope the other books, which I still have to read, are just as good.