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RISE OF EMPIRE by Michael J. Sullivan (BOOK REVIEW)

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Please note this review will contain spoilers for the first book, Theft of Swords.


“We either fight here and win, or die trying, because there won’t be any. thing left if we fail. This is the moment. This is the crucial point where the future of yet unborn generations will be decided either by our action or inaction. For centuries to come, people will look back at this time and rejoice at our courage or curse our weakness.”


Rise of Empire by Michael J Sullivan is the second instalment in the Riyria Revelations series. Once again my edition by Orbit books contains two stories: Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm. Though this time around the stories do not feel as self contained, they follow on closely from each other and therefore the narrative feels much more linear. Though this book with its combined stories is well over seven hundred pages long at no point did I feel the pacing lagged, in fact Sullivan’s prose flows so smoothly the pages just flew by. 


rise-of-empire-michael-j-sullivan.jpg?reOur story begins with the kingdom of Melengar on the brink of war. King Alric is in a rather sorry state with Imperialist enemies closing in on all sides. Having very little options left, his hand is forced to attempt an alliance with The Nationalists. Princess Arista, as Ambassador, sees her chance to finally prove her worth to her brother and save the kingdom and secretly journeys to negotiate this alliance with Degan Gaunt, leader of the Nationalists. Yet she does not go alone as she hires the most capable and trusted men she knows to accompany her, Hadrian and Royce. Elsewhere, our poor Thrace, who was falsely proclaimed as the Heir of Novron, is now crowned Empress Mordina. Though in truth she has very little power, she is merely a figurehead for the new Nyphron Empire led by the traitor Regent Saldur. Mentally traumatised and mute, Mordina lives but has very little life left in her, that is until a scullery maid, Amilia, by chance is appointed as her secretary. What follows from there is a quest to find the true Heir of Novron, perhaps the only one who can stop the Nyphron Church from seizing absolute control. 


Where the first book, Theft of Swords, was a fun adventure story, filled with banter and shenanigans, Rise of Empire is a more politically driven novel as Sullivan explores the role of leaders. Our three key players The Nyphron Church, The Nationalist rebels and King Alric make their moves and we wait nervously as the events play out. Once again, Hadrian and Royce are at the forefront. In this installment Hadrian may struggle to find a purpose in life, and Royce may dream of settling down with Gwen, but when the need arises both these men are pulled back into action. As they travel with Princess Arista they learn of the dire state the nations are facing and of an old enemy who seems to be behind it all. Their character’s more pensive demeanour immediately signifies a more serious tone throughout. An aspect I truly loved about this book was the way Sullivan explored Hadrian and Royce’s backstory by visiting both of their childhood homes. We take a brief glimpse into their lives before they met and realise how claustrophobic Hadrian had once felt continually scrutinised by his father, and the sheer poverty and loneliness Royce had grown up in. It deepened my emotional connection and in turn made me understand their motives for forming the Riyria. 


“Power rises to the top like cream and dominates the weak with cruelty disguised as–and often even believed to be- benevolence.

When it comes to people, there is no other possibility. It’s a natural occurrence, like the weather, and you can’t control either one.”


However, Rise of Empire is also where our female characters are brought further into the spotlight. Arista, who was a seemingly pampered princess, truly shines in this novel as she orchestrates the most daring plans to stop the Nyphron Church achieving their goals. Leaving her privileged life away from her castle tower opens Arista’s eyes to the hardships and injustice of the world and this blossoms her character to become more courageous, to try to do better, to use her wits to help the people she can. The magic, called the Art, is also more prominent as Arista discovers the key to unlocking her powers which was thrilling to see. In the case of Empress Modina, we see that she is not only a prisoner inside her palace, but also a prisoner inside her own mind. I felt Sullivan depicted her PTSD and depression with care, showing how harrowing experiences can leave you an empty shell. I admired Mordina’s slow progression, how awareness slowly crept in, but her lack of feeling made me nervous throughout. Our third main female character, Amilia, goes from strength to strength, not only because her responsibilities rise but also because she understands how her life hangs on a knife’s edge. I loved the way Amilia, given her poverty, isn’t a character hungry for power or privileges, her motives are merely to survive. These three characters, though all different from each other, are strong without needing to use a sword to show their strength, they are characters united in the universal goal of living in a time where men will give you very little power. 


Keeping with the darker tone, it becomes apparent how cruelly the Elves are being treated, how oppressed their race is and how they too suffer under the hands of tyrant leaders. Once again, Sullivan plays with old-school high fantasy elements and shapes them in compelling ways. I love prophecies, watching them unfold and seeing the myriad of ways they can be twisted and interpreted is a pure joy for me. I also love the Chosen One trope and Sullivan portrays both so well. The Protector of the Heir is revealed early on in this novel but much about the Heir himself remains a highly guarded mystery. Our meddling wizard Esrahaddon seems to hold the answers, foretelling of further significant events yet to come but we now see other figures have their own theories too. Puzzling out what is real and what could possibly be fake is what makes Sullivan’s novels so engaging. 


Expanding upon the world, the Art, and the political factions Sullivan weaves a web all our main players are tangled up in and we desperately hope they can make it out unscathed. Rise of Empire delivers a sequel where the plot tremendously thickens. 


The post RISE OF EMPIRE by Michael J. Sullivan (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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