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Book Review: Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan


Rise of Empire is the second book in the Riyria Revelations trilogy and, once again, we are back to follow the exploits of mismatched thieves Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborne. Rise of Empire is, in my opinion, a much better story than Theft of Swords, the first book in the trilogy. While Theft of Swords had its moments, and was far from a bad story, Rise of Empire is cleaner, crisper, more intriguing than the first novel. Back story out of the way, the reader gets a tale of good quality that entertains.

With the Empress (formerly the farm girl Thrace) crowned, the Church is plotting to revive the old empire and take control of the world. And then, not surprisingly, dispose of the despicable peasant that they were forced to put a crown upon. Royce and Hadrian are hired by Princess Arista to help forge an alliance with the Nationalists and help her brother fight off a pending invasion as their kingdom holds out against joining the new empire.

While a good story, in my opinion, once again the reader is treated to too many point of view characters when what you really want is Hadrian and Royce. I blame Mr. Sullivan for this.  But not in a bad way.  He has created two excellent characters in the pair of thieves to the point where the reader just cannot help but crave more of them.

Other than Princess Arista, the other characters used to push the story along often do more to hold it up than accomplish that task. When Royce and Hadrian are in the thick of things, the story moves along even if through an improbable series of coincidences, narrow escapes, previously withheld associations, and constant danger. When the story diverts from their point of view, the reader is inevitably longing for the moment it returns to spotlight them once more. When it does, joy returns and all is right with the world. At least, until Royce and Hadrian are no longer the focus of attention for another sequence of pages.

Like the first book, there is a lack of a real conclusion to the story being told between the covers. I get it. It’s a trilogy. But, as a reader I really do like a story, even as part of a longer series, to wrap up major plot elements within the covers of each part. Like Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire ties, at best, a slip knot around major plots.

I think Rise of Empire accomplishes to tell a classical style fantasy with a fast moving, sometimes too fast moving, plot. Do things always seem to happen just a little too perfectly? Yes. Is predictability a problem? Yes. But does that matter in the end when you have a solid story and two characters who play off each other so well? No.

I give Rise of Empire four of five stars as a solid read. It is odd for me to give a second book in a trilogy higher marks than the first. Usually, the trend is that stories suffer from the high of the first book. But Rise of Empire actually builds on the first in the series and makes me want to finish the trilogy and find out the ultimate fate of our heroes Royce and Hadrian.

Rise of Empire is highly recommended if liked, love not required, Theft of Swords.

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