Warning! May contain spoilers!
Michael J. Sullivan creates a set of superb characters in Royce and Hadrian, a pair of thieves who get a little too greedy at times. Or at least Hadrian does, and he then drags Royce along with him. I don’t think I can stop saying enough good things about the way the two main characters are constructed, how they maintain character all the way through the novel and are delightful to follow. Royce and Hadrian are surrounded by a cadre of supporting characters that by the end of this first volume have various levels of depth and are used to develop the level of political intrigue that is going on within the story’s world. Some of the other characters appear cartoonish. But this is not because of poor writing. It is merely, in my opinion, because of trying to cram so much into the novel and delve into so many of the side relationships that affect what Royce and Hadrian are involved in. Perhaps in some places these departures from the story as seen from the viewpoint of the main characters could have been done without. Without these side trips I think the story would have flowed better.
While the story opens in an excellent fashion, I love the interaction between Royce and Hadrian and the hapless highwaymen they encounter, the first half of the book does slog along at times as huge boulders of back-story are dropped with a plop into the narrative. And there are points of droning dialogue recited by characters who just seemed to be waiting for an opportunity to expound upon what they know of a situation. There were points in the story where I kept thinking of Syndrome from the animated film The Incredibles who humorously quipped, “You sly dog! You got me monologuing!” because it seems so silly at times. But as the story unwinds, things get significantly better. The second half of the story is tighter and much more captivating thanks in large part to the back-story having been over and done with mostly in the first half. Back-story dropped in the second half of the book flows much smoother with the narrative. If you are struggling through the opening half I assure you it gets better towards the end of the opening act. I will not say that the story was not without points where I had to stop and forcibly make myself resuspend disbelief before continuing, but those moments are minor enough to be overlooked. They happen in every novel I have ever read.
I was however a little disappointed in the ending of the first book. The first book in the Riyria Revelations series is prime example of what is common today among epic fantasy series. It is a book that at the end of it really has no end. There is just the cliffhanger for book two to pick up from and you feel like you have fallen off a cliff between chapters. Major plot points remain unresolved. The final battle with the supposedly mighty beast is light, quick and seems to be more of an anti-climax than a true climax. It was just another point on a slow journey through the story and an invitation to buy the next book of the series. My personal preference is for a more solid resolution at the end of a book, even if it is part of a planned series. I understand however that this is the current trend of the industry.
At the half-way point of the book I was not sure if I would be interested in the continuing adventures of Royce and Hadrian. By the end of the book I was much more interested in what these two thieves would be up to in the future. But not right away. I have put book two of the Riyria Revelations on my “to read list” but have opted to take a break and read some other stories before picking it up. The first book was just too long for me to want to delve right in to another tome on the same subject and I need some time to unwind from it.
I give Theft of Swords an over all rating of three and three quarters stars out of five placing it solidly above your typical fantasy story but not quite in the level of the more elite books of the genre. It was oh so close to getting four stars at times but the issues I discussed drew it back down from that level.