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

Legends of the First Empire #4

Fantasy, Epic

Grim Oak Press; July 9, 2019

361 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both Grim Oak Press, Michael J. Sullivan, and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own. Sorry it took so long.

I read Age of Myth for the 2nd time this spring, and though I did like it I was somewhat underwhelmed. Pretty much the way I’d felt upon reading it for the first time. Reading the Age of Swords soon after strengthened this feeling. While I’d enjoyed the first book, the second annoyed more than thrilled me. I mean, it still had the action, the adventure, the discovery… but there was something missing. Kinda how the Crown Conspiracy or the Rose and Thorn compares to the other Riryia books. They’re good, just kinda bland when compared to Sullivan’s other stuff. Then I read the Age of War.

The week I spent on it consisted of five days to reach the 200 page mark. The last day and a half were spent on the remainder. And once finished, I threw the book against the wall. So, I guess I can’t say I wasn’t invested in it. I hated the ending—loathed it—but while that didn’t ruin the entire story before it, it did make me put off reading the next one for a bit.

Until just recently.

Age of Legend is the 4th of 6 books in the Legends of the First Empire series. It follows the events of Age of War in three parts. The first takes place directly after the AoW, the second following a year later. Both the 1st and 2nd parts are abbreviated, totaling a quarter of the text combined. Part three—set five years after AoW—is where the real meat of the story is, though #1 and #2 help set up the telling of it. Personally, I found the first and second parts a bit dry, but also rather dark. It begins a good blend of darkness and despair, hope and love, that honestly a bit surprised me. I’ve known Michael J. Sullivan to write the latter pair, with maybe a sprinkling of the former. This is a fairly equal balance.

Fresh off the battle featured in AoW, by AoL the war is on in full. And it is a grind. Longer than either side anticipated, and a great deal bloodier. I was actually surprised at how thickly Sullivan laid the feeling of war on—familiarizing the reader with blood, death and hopelessness early on, so that they could possibly grasp the events following many years of it. Early on, Persephone, Suri and Brin star. Later on in the tale, Seph’s role fades only to be replaced by others—including one I hadn’t expected. And kinda forgot about. Brin and Suri dominate this book, but share time with regulars like Tesh, Gifford, Moya and others. Along with some new faces.

The war between ‘men and Fhrey has reached a standstill. While the humans have managed to push the elves back to their homeland, they cannot reach any farther. And while the elves have managed to stop the ‘men at the river, they cannot push the humans back. Both sides are searching for an upper hand. And some few within are still hoping for peace. But one faction may yet get what they desire—only, which one?

The latter half of the tale features desperation, a betrayal, and an overwhelming dread, followed by an unlikely savior—well, two, really—along with more than a few startling revelations. Even better, while the ending annoyed me, it didn’t make me throw this book at a wall. Which was great, considering I was reading an ebook. Also, it was for a completely different reason. The same reason, in fact, that made the lull between Wintertide and Persepolis intolerable: a cliffhanger. Had I read this several months before, I would’ve been more angry. But with Age of Death on hand, I find myself oddly forgiving of the behavior. Mostly.

In fact, the entirety of my problems with this book include the slow, dry start and the cliffhanger at the end. And nothing in-between. Frankly, I LOVED AoL, and am finally invested in this series after Book 4.

The character development and arcs are impressive, as both Fhrey and Humans feature equally. Suri’s story was easily my favorite, but I won’t sell anyone else’s short. Worldbuilding continues to be a strong element of Sullivan’s books, but it’s the characters themselves that steal the show. I’m even getting to the point where I can stand Roan, now that she’s let off on cheapening human ingenuity. And while both Brin and Suri go through a lot, a few other characters impressed me with their depth. There was one especially lovely part further on in the story, built to accommodate just me, I’m assuming. As I’m really trying to avoid spoilers here, let me just say that it was quite heartwarming and leave it at that.

The adventure is back in AoL; something that, while Sullivan tried in AoM and AoS, I feel like he failed to deliver on. A merry little quest, doomed with failure before its very start. Years before, in fact. It is this harrowing quest that ends with a cliffhanger, this Fellowship upon which everything rests. Wait, no. Not the fate of Middle Earth, but close.

Ish.

TL;DR

Age of Legend is an impressive read. A little bit dark, a little sweet, with an adventure thrown in—all of it beneath the dark cloud of war. Coming out of AoS and AoW, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue reading the series. And now, I honestly can’t wait to see where it goes from here. While the worldbuilding and storytelling is strong, the characters are where AoL shine. The growth and development of Suri, Tressa, Tesh and Brin all had me interested, such that I really didn’t end up dreading anyone’s chapters. A bit dry at first, the pace quickly sped up, leading to the patented Sullivan cliffhanger. Luckily, with Age of Death now out, there’s no waiting on the conclusion. If you read this on its release, however… it would’ve been quite a pain. Though set during wartime, AoL provides a nice balance of action and diplomacy to get you to its latter half, where the adventure abounds. If you decided to stop after the first three books, maybe check AoL out. If you’ve yet to start it and want to know if it’s worth it in full… eh, dunno. Let me read Age of Death and I’ll get back to you.

Age of Death released via Kickstarter in October. The official release is on February 4th, 2020. Age of Empyre, the final entry in the series, is set for another Kickstarter sometime in January 2020.

Book Review: Soulkeeper – by David Dalglish

The Keepers #1

Fantasy

Orbit Books; March 19, 2019

652 pages

4.3 / 5 ✪

Soulkeeper was my 9th Dalglish book, and honestly one of the better ones. I’m generally a fan of him—I mean, a lot of his books were good, yet few were solid, 5-star reads (mostly 3.5 – 4). Soulkeeper begins the Keepers’ series, one that feels a combination of new age and classic, with but a hint of dark fantasy. The Shadowdance series was definitely more in the vein of dark fantasy, though not enough that I’d call it grimdark. Soulkeeper is more what I’d call a realistic take on classic fantasy (there’s too much swearing and blood).

Devin Eveson is a Soulkeeper, a practitioner of the Sisters, the three goddesses of mankind. He, like the others, travels from the capital Londheim, to remote towns and villages, to conduct funerary rituals, heal and comfort the sick and dying, and usher souls into the afterlife. But upon visiting the mountain village of Dunwerth, something changes. For he is not only confronted by a mysterious plague that proves well beyond his ability to heal, but waking monsters that are all but beyond his ability to combat. To compound this, a powerful and generally pissed-off dragon has awakened, releasing a torrent of foul, black water that destroys everything in its path. In its wake, Devin is stranded in a barren and alien land, haunted by new and ancient terrors that he must fight his way through in order to make it back to the capital, if it indeed survives. Along the way, Devin gains a few friends and allies—Tomas, his brother-in-law and friend; CRKSSLFF (or Puffy), a firekin and remnant of a world long forgotten—en route to Londheim, though trailing in his wake is something much older, a mountain of stone that walks upon the earth like a crab.

Following Devin’s arrival at Londheim, quite a few more characters are introduced, including—Adria, Devin’s sister and a Mindkeeper (which is kinda like a nun or something; they care for the faithful and needy but don’t make speeches or hobnob with the rich and powerful); Janus, a supernatural being that butchers humans, turning them into his “art”; Tesmarie, a faerie; Jacaranda, a soulless slave that becomes something different entirely. All of these (plus a few more) got POV chapters, most of which I enjoyed. Despite the size of the cast, I never felt the story slow to try to fit them in. Instead one often took over where another left off, something that actually seemed to work well in this case. Sometimes, in fantasy, there are so many threads and story arcs going on that an approach like this won’t fly, and instead might completely wreck the pacing, particularly if some of the characters are uninteresting or slow. I never found this problem, however; the pacing was good, and I never found myself bogged down by a character arc I found uninteresting.

I quite liked the world-building of Soulkeeper; from the world itself, to the characters, to the creation myth and the church and the Awakened. Everything was well done, though I would like to see a bit more lore in the second installment. The dialogue was really the main aspect that bothered me. Ofttimes I felt it campy, or even lame, though this wasn’t altogether unexpected. Dalglish—which I know from his previous books—is a bit like Michael J. Sullivan with his speech and dialogue. By which I mean he favors a normal, or modern, approach, instead of trying to replicate the speech of the time period (like JRR or Miles Cameron) or make up something of his own (á la Sanderson and Robert Jordan and others). Most of the time this is fine, yet at others it can feel… off, or even ridiculous.

Soulkeeper is a fun, entertaining start of a new series, with lovely world-building and an interesting story that kept me intrigued throughout. I would’ve liked to see a bit more lore for the Awakened, the monsters and such, instead of quite so much of the same about the Goddesses. In addition, a little more polish on the dialogue wouldn’t hurt. Otherwise, I really have no complaints—and eagerly await the next one!

The series will continue with Ravencaller, which as of yet has no release date.

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

Legends of the First Empire Book #2

Epic Fantasy

Del Rey Books: July 25, 2017

465 pages

3/5 ✪

This was a difficult book to review, as Michael J. Sullivan did many things well, he just waited a while to do them. I was disappointed overall, but the story is still a can’t-miss in my book, if only for how it bridges the gap between 1 and 3. Strong female characters step up to take center stage in this sequel to Age of Myth, making an enjoyable read into something more dynamic and inspiring. A greater perspective of the different races from men to Fhrey [elves] to Belgriclungreians [dwarves] (and even Grenmorians [giants]) helps give the novel scope, although it continues to lack any dwarf or giant or goblin POV—something I would love to see. However, early, uneven pacing and disappointing POV chapters instead ruin a sophomore effort that could’ve been great.

In addition, frequent sudden, great innovations only seem to cheapen their worth when they are repeated chapter after chapter. The most notable of these—the bow and arrow—goes on to be a major plot device. It’s akin to an author (or Assassin’s Creed) simply throwing in a historical figure just for the hell of it. Not to mention that the invention of the bow predates recorded history, including such things as bronze working, copper working, the wheel, wells, the dahl (and most other earthworks), any known writing system, the sword, pretty much any kind of non-nomadic existence and… well, you get the idea.

After early hiccups, the story really gets going in the second half of the book, in which the strong female leads step up in a big—and badass—way. And yet the conclusion feels cheap on many levels, though I’ll admit I am looking forward to the next installment. The inconsistency of the story and hollow nature of new character POVs in the first half had me abandon the book once or twice before ultimately picking it up again. Once I cleared the 200 (ish) page mark (with the exception of a few bits and pieces) the read became much more smooth and enjoyable.

So… I definitely didn’t love Age of Swords. I was so annoyed reading it that I actually gave up a couple times (yeah, okay, for like a day each), but it is interesting. And it is good. Just needs some work to ensure that the following four books don’t suffer the same shortcomings. Not that that matters, as MJS has already finished writing all the books.