Age of Empyre by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Legends of the First Empire (Book 6 of 6)
Genre: Fantasy, high fantasy, classic fantasy
Published: 5th May 2020 (Grim Oak Press)
Age of Empyre proves once again that Michael J. Sullivan is a masterful storyteller that really knows how to captivate and conclude a well-crafted tale. As I turned the final page, I couldn’t help feeling that I’m going to miss all the wonderful characters that I’ve grown to love.
Sullivan became one of my favourite authors with his first series, Riyria Revelations. Its finale, Heir of Novron, comprising the last two books of the series that was initially self-published but subsequently got published by Orbit as an omnibus titles, was one of the best conclusions to a series that I’ve ever read. As I loved all five books leading up to the finale, I was naturally quite anxious coming to the last book of The Legends of the First Empire, a prequel series intended to tell the real story that happened three thousand years before the timeline in Riyria.
“All too often, that which we are must certain of is that which we are most wrong about; and that which we are wrong about can change everything.”
Much to my delight, Sullivan delivered another fantastic and emotionally satisfying conclusion that enriched my already immense love for his earlier books. I even had a very strong urge to reread Riyria after I’ve finished Age of Empyre, as well as feeling really excited for the new trilogy, The Rise and The Fall, which will be set between these two timelines. The Legends of the First Empire answered as many of the key questions as possible without dragging out the story, but there are still gaps to be addressed before we reach the world as we know it. It is also my firm belief that it would be more rewarding to have read Riyria before reading this prequel series.
“Wars don’t end by deaths but because someone stops killing.”
The one thing that could work against a prequel is that one already knows the outcome. What made it work so well in Legends was twofold. Firstly is that there’s a compelling story behind the myths and legends that begged to be told. It was the revelations of what and how it really all happened that made it so engaging. At the beginning of this series, meeting the people behind these myths and legends was delightful. But what was even more thrilling was having all my preconceived notions or prior knowledge blown out of the water. Secondly, and most crucially, are the characters that carry the story. I believe that I’ve said this many times before – Sullivan excels at writing amazing empathetic characters. This extends to all of them, the good and the bad, those in between, and even the ones you want to hate. When one’s internal struggles, thoughts and motivations are all laid bare before you, it becomes hard to judge and not sympathise. The fact that I actually teared up a bit for a person which I’ve disliked in the earlier books was testament of Sullivan’s ability to write the most compelling characters.
“”Faith is trust pushed to the limits of what is considered sane, but the question most people ignore is: How do you know where the boundary of sanity lies?”
The story of redemption remains a central theme to all of Sullivan’s works in the world of Elan. In Age of Empyre, we got to truly understand the reason why it has such an important role in the overarching narrative across Legends and Riyria. There is also an added emphasis on forgiveness here – not just about others, but also having the courage to forgive oneself. What made it all even more captivating was that it’s a tale of unlikely heroes. Seemingly ordinary people, or even those who may have some form of deformities, could be heroes in their selflessness and ability to rise to the need of others. I didn’t immediately realise how relevant this concept of unlikely heroes was given this current time we’re living in until I’ve read the author’s afterword, and this quote from the in-world Book of Brin:
“I had always worshipped heroes in stories. I had no idea I was surrounded by them.”
What do we live for in such times, if not for stories that could give us hope. Notwithstanding, these stories are not all butterflies and rainbows. Sacrifices have to be made when the stakes are world-changing, and with that brings heartbreak, loss and grief.
Before I end my review, I felt that I must share the dedication passage of this book.
This book is dedicated to everyone who has sacrificed their freedom, employment, businesses, and loved ones during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. I have few words to offer when faced with such monumental impacts, so I’ll turn to one of my heroes.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
Stay home, offer thanks to those on the frontlines, and remember that this, too, shall pass.
Sullivan’s stories have never failed to make me feel through its characters, and The Legends of the First Empire was no exception. I’ve said many times how important this is for me when I read, for a book is only as unforgettable as its characters are. I highly recommend this series, especially for fans of classic fantasy in general, and fans of the Riyria books specifically.
I received an early copy of the e-book as one of the Kickstarter backers.
Official release date: 5th May 2020