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Saturday, March 28, 2009

“Avempartha” by Michael Sullivan (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Michael Sullivan Website
Order “Avempartha
Read An Excerpt
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The Crown Conspiracy

INTRODUCTION: Michael Sullivan’s debut novel, “The Crown Conspiracy”—the first in a planned six-volume epic fantasy series called The Riyria Revelations—has attracted a growing following. I read and reviewed the book last November:

In conclusion, “The Crown Conspiracy” is great fun and a romp end to end. It's a very fast read and I finished it in one sitting. Its characters grow on you and the series has great potential to develop since Book One only explores a relatively small part of the wonderful imagined world of Michael Sullivan”.

Needless to say, when I received an ARC of “Avempartha”, I was quite eager to see if the book would live up to the expectations raised by Mr. Sullivan’s marvelous debut. I am happy to report that not only did “Avempartha” meet expectations, but it took the series to another level, ensuring that the future installments will be must-reads...

The Crown Conspiracy” was essentially a standalone with hints of the larger picture, while “Avempartha” goes straight into the deeper issues of Mr. Sullivan's richly imagined universe and reads more like a series opener than a second volume. The following review is mostly independent of “The Crown Conspiracy” one and contains very few series spoilers.

SETTING: On the alternate Earth-like planet of Elan, the Novronian Empire of legend has sundered centuries ago into many different states, supposedly due to the machinations of the dastardly wizard and traitor Esrahaddon. For almost a thousand years now, the imperial Nyphron Church and its various loyalist nobles and knight orders have been looking for the mythical “Heir” to the Empire, a person of Novron's bloodline and supposedly the only one capable of passing secret tests jealously guarded by the Church.

In the meantime, the kingdoms that coalesced on the Empire's territory developed Nationalist movements of their own opposed to the Imperialist goals and the monks dedicated to the god Maribor that predated Empire and Church. One such kingdom is Melegar and young King Alric has a problem: his older sister Arista is restless, does not want to marry and settle down, and has developed a reputation as a ‘witch’ for being a student of Esra. Since Arista helped save Melegar from the clutches of usurpers, Alric owes her his life, and sends her on an important mission. But he also sends the high ranking Bishop Saldur as an “advisor” who has designs of his own.

Royce and Hadrian are a freelance “object/documents” acquisition and recovery team. In other words, Royce is a skilled thief with a mysterious past while Hadrian is a very good fighter who excels with a sword and bow. Using an impoverished noble as a front man, they peddle their trade to the high & mighty and anyone that can pay. But because they have now attracted the attention of the powerful, they are thrown into the middle of the “great game”.

On the edge of empire, the long-lived but slow-reproducing elves are watching. While the elvish mixed-blood population living in human territory are stereotyped, oppressed and mistreated, the pure-blooded elves retreated millenia ago beyond the border river Nidwalden, and only the abandoned castle of Avempartha remains as a reminder that they are still there, waiting for any sign of human weakness.

The village of Dhalgren technically breaks the human-elvish treaty by being too close to Nidwalden, but it has not been bothered for many years. However, a monstrous being has recently started terrorizing the village and killing its inhabitants indiscriminately.

When a strange armless man called Esra shows up at the village followed by tragedy, Theron's surviving daughter Thrace is sent to the main city of Colnora to enlist the help of Royce and Hadrian...

FORMAT/INFO:Avempartha” stands at 332 pages divided over fifteen titled chapters. The narration is in the third person and takes place into the present of the novel. The main POVs are Royce, Hadrian, Arista and Thrace with Esra stealing the show whenever he makes an appearance. There are other secondary returning characters from the first novel, most notably the dwarf Magnus and the brothers Pickering, Mauvin and Fanen, but the foppish villain I loved to hate, Count Archimbald, is missing. Instead, we get the chilling “Sentinel” Guy. The ending is excellent and solves the main issue of the plot, but this time there is a huge ‘To Be Continued’ sign, so I eagerly await the next installment. April 1, 2009 marks the Paperback Publication of "Avempartha" via Aspirations Media Inc. Cover art is provided by the author himself, Michael Sullivan.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: One thing I really loved about “Avempartha” were the superb naming conventions. Quite a few times in sff novels, the names are grating or at best annoying or silly-sounding, and usually I’m happy if they are not too noticeable. In “Avempartha” though, I truly loved how the names sounded with Thrace and Arista pairing very nicely with Royce and Hadrien, while Guy, Saldur, Thomas, Theron and Gilarabrywn are names that evoke both wonder and terror. The names of places like Colnora, Dhalgren, and Nidwalden also roll nicely off the tongue and add to the novel’s depth...

After a superb re-acquittance with Royce and Hadrian in the first several pages, “Avempartha” actually continues more as a series opener with a ton of build-up in the first half of the novel, while the second half is just superb non-stop action, especially when the two threads following Royce, Hadrian and Princess Arista respectively converge at the elven castle...

Meanwhile, the slow unfolding of secrets and tapestries weaved over the centuries since the fall of the Empire—and possibly even before—is very well timed, and there are some unexpected twists and turns, though we also start seeing a little bit of the big-picture outline. In particular, the Imperial succession which clearly dates back to the murder of the last emperor and the possible elvish threat that goes back to the times of legend well before the Empire even existed.

Of the main POVs, Arista, Hadrien and Royce stay in character from “The Crown Conspiracy”, but are written with much more detail and depth, while Thrace is a great addition, bringing an “innocent, regular girl” perspective that contrasts nicely with the other characters. I particularly liked the reintroduction of Magnus and his cynical dialogue and wordplay with Royce who still wants his head for obvious reasons.

Overall, I really loved “Avempartha”. In fact, I immediately re-read “The Crown Conspiracy” the next day to try and catch any little details I might have missed the first time, and I definitely recommend reading the first book again for added depth. In short, “Avempartha” is highly, highly recommended and a novel that raises Michael Sullivan’s The Riyria Revelations to “major league” status...


Scott said...

My worst fears have been confirmed. Another series that I am going to have to read!

Ben said...

Nice review Liviu! "The Crown Conspiracy" is one of the next books I'm going to read and I'm looking forward to learning about what all of the hype is about.

Liviu said...

Thank you for you kind words.

I would not call "hype" the good buzz about Crown Conspiracy and the series in general.

It's more that being an unknown small press release without the marketing push of the big houses, with little exposure in major bookstores and such, CC and Avempartha managed to beat a lot of what is pushed out there in both quality and entertainment value and they deserve to be much better known


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