Book Review: Age of War – by Michael J. Sullivan

Legends of the First Empire #3

Epic, Fantasy

Del Rey; July 3, 2018

403 pages (PB)

4 / 5 ✪

Spoilers! – Contains minor spoilers for previous Legends of the First Empire books.

Age of War was a gripping, thrilling mid-series conclusion to the Legends of the First Empire. Sullivan states in his foreword that he’d initially planned the series as a trilogy, before changing his mind. As such, many of the threads conclude in this volume. These threads include a couple of big-name deaths, an unmasking, and the end of a particular era. But the beginning of another.

I loved the Age of War… mostly.

From page 194 on, I was enrapt in an epic fight to the finish—and then I threw the book at the wall. I did, too. Only the third time I can remember doing that. Luckily it hit a chair first, and didn’t get badly damaged. Even more luckily, it wasn’t an ebook. See? This is why physical books are important.

The point is… uh. The book was really, really good until it suddenly wasn’t. It’s not the writing, plot or anything I usually object to this time, however. Just pissed at Sullivan, I am. I dislike people who kill off my favorite characters cruelly—even if they have a good reason. I’ll get over it—eventually… probably—enough to read the Age of Legend. Makes me feel better that in the afterword his wife specifically says that she implored him to rewrite the ending to (no spoilers) a far less callous conclusion. He didn’t, and SHE was pissed at him. But as I said before, HOPEFULLY he had a good reason.

Up until that point… yeah. It was really, REALLY good.

After the events of Age of Swords, Nyphron leads the combined human armies to Alon Rhist, with the intention of bolstering their position. Persephone leads her people onward, fearlessly, much to the disappointment of her closest ally, Raithe. But following a bloodless battle, the two (Nyphron and Persephone) appear as heroes. Saviors. The last, best chance for humanity. But the alliance between the Instarya Fhrey and the Rhunes is a tenuous one. And it would be further strengthened by a marriage. Between the two most powerful leaders. And all Persephone has to do is turn her back on Raithe.

Meanwhile, the war is not exactly going smoothly. The humans are untrained. The secrets of iron are still unrevealed. The Fhrey don’t kill Fhrey. Even the Miralyith, instigators of this little… genocide thing, would prefer the war to be over by now. So before the fighting can begin in earnest, the sides need to prepare. And as winter gradually turns to spring, war looms on the horizon. Threads will be sewn (weaved?). Battles will be fought. And the most important choice one woman has ever had to make might just turn out to be an afterthought.

Mawyndulë… is kind of a wild card. I’m haven’t been completely sure how he fits into everything yet—other than a way to relate the story from the Fhrey point of view—a trend that continues through Book #3. I will say that he’s been more entertaining in the last two books, something I hope will continue through the end of #6.

There are a lot of competing subjects for best thing, but I’d say that the characters win. Specifically, the character development. My throwing the book at the wall, despite what it says about that specific chapter, the action that caused it, the… whatever—indicates that up until that point (or maybe through it) I was reeeaally invested in the story being told. But it’s the characters that carried me to that point. Specifically their development, growth, and the intermingling of their arcs. I mean, I still kinda hate the guy for what he did, but the way he did it—in particular the build-up to the moment—was masterfully done.

As with any other Sullivan book, the characters and story and threads are pretty much solid. My main concerns before have involved the detail, language, or—as in the last Legends entry—the cheapening of inventions that took thousands of years to perfect. That particular device, I’m happy to report, has been fixed in Age of War. I mean, we can’t do anything about what happened in Age of Swords, but we’re not doing it anymore. The language, again, is a non-issue. Sullivan always uses a common language, so, if you’re into that—great! The level of detail is rather lacking in AoWar. Shelved, I suspect, to focus on the characters and overarching plot, I assume. Because it’s that that steals the show.

TL;DR

Age of War is a very immersive, very gripping read that at some point will likely turn very frustrating. Try not to throw your e-reader at the wall. That would be bad. Maybe try a physical book instead. The story, pacing and plot-lines are all top notch, but the characters steal the show. A must-read, even for people who will hate the way it ends. Like myself. For while it might sour your opinion on the matter for a few days (or a few weeks), you’ll get over it. And then want to read the next one.

Age of Legend—Book #4—came in summer 2019. Book #5, Age of Death, is soon to join it: due in late fall of 2019 for Kickstarter backers and early 2020 for everyone else.

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