Whenever someone hears the words 'prequel' there's a general fascination and a fear associated with those words. On one hand there is the fascination with the possibility of finding out everything that makes your favourite characters tick over internally and defines them: a great way to see how the character development started. On the other hand, there is the fear that you could be served a novel which is predictable, static or fails to recapture the spirit of previous novels. Fortunately this novel perfectly delivered all it needed to.
One thing I praised Michael J. Sullivan on in the initial series was the character building. Sure, his world building was excellent in its own way too, but the world was great because the characters and people who lived in that world were brilliant. It's the same sense I have when watching a television show like Avatar: The Last Airbender or reading Marvel or DC comic books/graphic novels. The worldbuilding across those different mediums of storytelling art is wonderful (as well as part of any literate geek's must-know-about list) but it is made so because of all the character building. The point of me saying this in my bubbly rambling 'I write gushy reviews like I talk' way is to basically say that the character building here is equally as good, if not better, than the previous books. Sullivan has really honed his craft to the point where he knows what the characters need and what they are driven by. In other words he has brilliant characters who he has defined to the point where they are almost separate of himself as an author. Characters like that are what studios pay out for to secure.
Aside from characters, what also impresses me about this prequel is the sheer fun I had in reading it. If a book is going to impress me it either needs to be superior technically or a sheer joy to read. While Sullivan is far from the least technical author around, it is clear he favours creating something that is a pleasure to read over something that is literary genius. Indeed, to write fantasy is to almost ignore the literary zeitgeist in favour of turning to what you believe may help you to create a genuine story. The issue is that too many turning to fantasy end up creating uninformed or commercially driven works lacking imagination, rather than utilising it. Not so with this, this is storytelling at it's heart and a fine work of fiction for the fan or the new reader.
What I am saying is that in the end fantasy is something that is often frowned upon by the postmodern critic, when it should be embraced. And it is also often turned to as an escape by fans when it should be kept at a magical distance. Finding a balance in writing is difficult, as is finding a balance in anything, but I believe that Michael Sullivan has found it in this book and the rest of the web that makes up his entire world. Yet it is enough that he has such dedication to honouring what his characters are and can continue to be.