I claim The Way of Kings, Part One and The Way of Kings Part Two as my favourite book read this year. However this novel would certainly have to be up the top as another of my favourite books read in 2012. Isn't it nice to know that when the world ends in December cough
I'll at least have read some great books.
In my reviews for Theft of Swords and Rise of Empire I mentioned the fantasy genre and storytelling in general respectively. I want to do something different again and connect the two to mention why I enjoyed this series so much. As such I will provide five main reasons.1. The characters
Personally the first thing that must attract me in any book is the characters. The second thing I look at generally is the quality of the writing, story and plot but that comes secondary to characters. For a novel to really grab me I have to believe in the characters and feel emotions for and with them. And in this series I certainly found all the heroic characters highly memorable. I felt for the dilemmas Hadrian was caught in. I sympathised with the anger and pain of sullen Royce. I admired Arista's bravado and the mental strength of Modina. Who could forget Myron (I was so glad he was brought back for the third book - he was such an awesome scholarly character). And then there was Alric, Mauvin and Magnus. I even liked the really minor characters like Nimbus. I felt that Michael J. Sulivan could place a lot of depth into his characters throughout the series and particularly in this last book. No character really felt forced or artificial. They felt as close to fluid and organic as any created character can.
This third volume was grand in how it could evoke all those emotions I had felt for the characters. It drew upon all the thoughts and ideas I had previously experienced and reminded me of why I liked them all so very much. And also of why I had disliked the villainous characters. That moment when Gwen died in particular was so emotionally poignant and moving. I don't think I've read a more moving character death for a while. 2. The world
I also loved this series for the world which Michael J. Sulivan created. He may not have been creating a world of deep description like your Tolkien, Rothfuss or Sanderson but he did create a world that was uniquely his own. Although the ideas of the elf and dwarf have become a type of fantasy cliché I felt he made those ideas his own and turned them into a metaphor for how human beings treat anyone different to themselves. There was almost a sense that those fantasy races were representative of how humans have treated other 'races' (race being a mythical idea biologically) in the past. Either way while it may not have the detail of other fantasy authors this world still contained depth. 3. The intrigue
Many of the surprises could be picked up before they occurred. I was happy that Arista and Hadrian ended up together for instance and that was observable by the start of book 2.
However I would not say that they were easily observable but that rather they were well balanced between total 'WOW what just happened' moments and 'predictable'. As such I found the suspense, intrigue and twists in the story neat and clever. While the Patriarch being elven and Novron also being elven were semi-predictable they were still delivered clever. Royce being the emperor was brilliant and made sense of a lot of various things (like who killed Gwen for instance). I should have picked it up better than I did. But I ended up getting stuck on the fact that Gaunt was not the heir and that maybe the girl was somehow.4. The writing
I rather enjoyed the writing style of the entire series. It was unpretentious and uncluttered with unnecessary words. It was a style that worked for what the author was creating. It didn't need to be a literary masterpiece but rather a piece of fiction that anyone could enjoy. And I believe that good writing is in being able to tailor your writing style to your audience and genre. I believe Michael J. Sullivan did that in his Riyria Revelations novels (I say this because I read one of his works in progress where he was experimenting with a more literary style which was different). That's not to say the writing is bad. In fact I personally liked the style as someone rather eclectic in my tastes.5. A combination of elements
What worked about the entire series was that everything combined nicely. It had the fantasy elements which was nice but it boiled everything together to create more importantly a plotted story. It had pace and skipped the need to excessively dull the reader with explanation after explanation (that simplicity was part of the strength of its writing - you came to see, rather than need to be told, what was occurring). It had romance, it had humour, it had characters, it had fantasy and action, it had fun and fancy, it had dire circumstances and twists, it had magic and mystery. Of themselves those elements would have fallen flat but together they created a wonderful sequence of books that demand to be read and re-read.
And I must say that I have rarely read a stronger or more poetic final few lines to any trilogy or series. Yes I do love Sam declaring that he's home in The Lord of the Rings and I like how the Mistborn Trilogy ends but there was a great poetic rightness about how this story ended. It was a brilliant move and one I wholly enjoyed. And I fully urge anyone who has not to get reading Theft of Swords andRise of Empire.
I have one final thing to say and that is that anyone who complains about it being unoriginal as a series I believe is missing the point. But then that's their opinion. I merely want to quote John Frow an Australian literary critic who wrote that 'No text is unique; we would not recognise it if it were.' And I think in terms of this series that the way in which it uses fantasy ideas makes it recognisable and allows the reader to engage with it better.