Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan (Review)

Legends of the First Empire #5

Fantasy, Epic, Sword & Sorcery

Riyria Enterprises LLC; February 4, 2020

420 pages (ebook)

5 / 5 ✪

Author WebsiteGoodreads

Beware spoilers for the previous four Legends of the First Empire books, especially Age of Legend!

Age of Death is the 5th and penultimate book in the Legends of the First Empire series by Riyria author Michael J. Sullivan, and the 16th book I’ve read by him overall. While initially I had my doubts about this series, I loved Age of Legend to a degree I hadn’t felt since Winter’s Daughter in 2017. So would Age of Death live up to my ridiculously high standards? Well, if you read the header I guess you know that it did!

Fresh from the events of Age of Legend (which ended in a spectacular cliffhanger that I just loved), the fellowship of eight that had set out to save Suri reached the Swamps of Ith and made contact with the Tetlin Witch within. Here, seven of those carried on with their mission into the afterlife while Tesh watched helplessly from the shore. As Brin slowly sunk to her death, she heard Tesh’s anguished cry—before darkness consumed her.

And the Age of Death began.

Brin found herself floating in a river. All around: darkness. She had no feeling in her body, and her thoughts rambled endlessly. After an indeterminable amount of time, a light appeared in the distance. Upon reaching this light, she came upon a shore and discovered the rest of the fellowship.

And so we enter the realm of the dead—Rel.

Death is just the beginning. This, the denizens of Elan know well. But it turns out, this is only half the story. And yet, the story is incomplete. The realms are out of sync—the order that should exist has been broken—and the dead that have arrived in Rel now remain trapped there instead of continuing on to the next world. Having arrived here, however, the fellowship has little option but to push onward. As such, they make their way deeper into Rel, passing beings from a time long past, and even some from a time forgotten. But what will they find at its end? Will there be a way to continue their quest, or does their journey end here, always having been fated to be a one-way trip?

In the land of the living, the war remains at a standstill. The Rhunes have pushed the Fhrey to the Nidwalden, but no further. The Fhrey, with the help of Avempartha, hold them here. But soon the Fane will uncover the secret of dragons, and then the tides of war shall change.

While Nyphron exhausts every military option he can think of, Persephone confides her misgivings to the Gilarabrywn. But after those fateful words weeks before, Raithe has not spoken again. The Gilarabrywn remains motionless. But still she hopes. Meanwhile, Suri adapts to her imprisonment. The Fane has yet to break her, kill her, or otherwise extract any secrets from her. But it is only a matter of time. But not all is as it seems on Elan. Neither force is as united as its leader believes and in these cracks, sedition grows. But will it sprout in time to save Suri and stop the war? Or will the land once again fall into chaos?

* *

“It’s just that…” Roan focused on Tressa, as if speaking to her alone. “Well, didn’t you say that the key could open any lock in Phyre? Not just doors, right? And we are locked in.”

“Only in a matter of speaking,” Rain said. “And you can’t insert a key into a manner of speaking.”

So, I LOVED this book.

But first, my two issues with it. One—the book continues from a cliffhanger that I had to wait on for some months. Two—the book ENDS in a cliffhanger that I have to wait on for a few more. Michael J. Damned Sullivan and his stupid cliffhangers! I swear, if his books weren’t so good I wouldn’t put up with this nonsense! But… they are, so I do.

The story of Age of Death was probably my favorite part of it, but there are no end of things to like. The blend of adventure and mystery from the fellowship’s quest, the suspense surrounding both armies with Suri’s fate hanging over it all combines to create a thrilling, addictive read that I couldn’t put down. After waiting a couple months to start this book, I finished it in 3 days. As usual, I wanted to wait so that the cliffhanger I knew was coming wouldn’t have it fester for too long. I bet y’all know how well that’s working out.

Once, I felt Sullivan cheapened invention and progress. Much of that is the reason I’ve just recently come around to Roan. While there’s still a bit of carryover from the past books, Age of Death is pretty much past all of this. The world-building continues to impress, and progress continues to um, “progress”, but without all the ridiculousness. After 15+ books set in Elan, I suppose the world should be pretty much flesh and blood by now. Well—it is. A triumph of design and execution, on par with all but the heavy hitters like Malazan or the Wheel of Time. Nothing for me to complain about here.

After five books, the characters continue to develop. As much as I enjoyed the Riyria Revelations, character development wasn’t a big part of it. Yes, a few of them change eventually, but in 6 books, something better. It’s amazing to see the growth and development between even a couple books of this series, as characters continue to change even in death. Granted, I wouldn’t call every change in the characters’ development “growth”, but de-growth and de-development both sounded ridiculous so I’m just going to call it an either/or term. No matter which direction said “growth” takes, it’s an entirely human change. Yes, even in the Fhrey and Belgriclungreians. And having such “growth” in one’s books, between one’s books, and especially over the course of an extended series is both realistic and refreshing.

Oh, and I’m not sure who has done the covers for this series, but they continue to be amazing and suitably epic!

TL;DR

Be forewarned: Age of Death both starts and ends with a cliffhanger. It’s also extremely addictive and you might find yourself reading late into the night when you’re already short on sleep and have work early the next day. And you might find yourself hating the book (and the author) for making you wait a few months for the next book. Don’t worry—these feelings are all completely natural. There’s a place online for you to complain. Or you could scream and throw the book at your least-favorite wall. Just maybe don’t if you have it as an ebook.

Age of Death is the penultimate entry in the Legends of the First Empire series and it’s just incredible. I was a little iffy on continuing the series early on. Sullivan tried me more than once, but he got away with it in the end. The world-building is at the top of its class. The character development is so thorough its practically overwhelming. The mystery, the adventure, the suspense that Age of Death brings are all equally reason enough to read it. Combined… this book is impressive. I know if you haven’t started the series this could feel like a long shot, but I think it’s worth the time, effort and heartache. If you have read past Age of War—you seriously need to catch up. Then you and I and the rest of the world will be anticipating Age of Empyre together.

Age of Empyre is expected out via Kickstarter sometime in the spring, or on May 5, 2020 via Grim Oak Press.

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