Book Review: The Rose and the Thorn (The Riyria Chronicles, #2) by Michael J. Sullivan

Book Review: The Rose and the Thorn (The Riyria Chronicles, #2) by Michael J. Sullivan

Cover art illustrated by: Larry Rostant

The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Riyria Chronicles (Book #2)

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy

Pages: 372 pages (Kindle edition)

Published: 17th September 2013 by Orbit

The cover art to The Rose and the Thorn is atrocious, but let’s not judge a book by its cover.

“The right word, said at the right moment, can work magic, he was fond of saying. You merely need to understand power, where it comes from, and the direction it flows.”

Two persons genuinely surprised me. First, the cover artist has outdone himself; I thought the cover art he did for The Riyria Revelations and The Crown Tower was bad already. But no, he has created a masterfully inferior cover art; this is one of the worst cover arts I’ve ever seen. Who the heck are the two dudes in the cover art? That is not Royce; that’s Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation. And that is not Hadrian; that’s Christian Bale, and I’m not sure he realized his left hand will bleed from holding the sword like that. I’ll have to give the benefit of the doubt here, the cover artist probably misheard The Rose and the Thorn as The Gross and the Thorn, and he successfully nailed it. But enough about that. Despite how much I want a new cover art to grace these books, I’m judging the book based on the content, and the next person that surprised me with this book is obviously Michael Sullivan himself.

‘“Because that’s what people do. They help each other. If you saw a man lying in the road with an arrow in him, you’d stop, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course… anyone would. A wounded man is easy pickings, unless you could see from your saddle that someone else has already taken his purse.”
“What? No! No one would rob a wounded man and leave him to die.”’

The Rose and the Thorn is the second book in The Riyria Chronicles series. One year has passed since the event of The Crown Tower, and upon their arrival back at Medford, Royce and Hadrian found out that their friend has been treated very unkindly. Remember that Royce and Hadrian don’t have many friends. Think about it; Royce and Hadrian becoming a duo is a miracle already. Now, imagine what happens when someone badly treats a rare friend they treasure; you can rest assured that these two will stop at nothing to make sure that the perpetrator received the retribution they deserve. This is undoubtedly another heartwarming and compelling volume about love, friendship, wealth, revenge, destiny, loyalty, and kindness.

“Even if you’re doing it for selfish reasons, you’re still helping to save his life. It just goes to show that good can come from helping a stranger, and it proves that the world isn’t so bad after all.”

I thought I couldn’t get more invested with these characters, and I couldn’t be more wrong, AGAIN. Entertaining dialogues are one of Sullivan’s main forte as a storyteller, and the banter between Royce and Hadrian continues to be delightful as always. It’s worth noting that unlike The Crown Tower where most of the story was told through Hadrian and Gwen’s POV, in The Rose and the Thorn Sullivan included more POV characters. Also, more important characters from The Riyria Revelations are here in their younger state. Initially, I did feel a bit impatient because I wanted more of Hadrian’s POV; this is more of a Royce and Reuben’s book, and the Riyria duo didn’t have as many appearances as I preferred in the first half of the novel. Fortunately, Reuben’s origin story ended up winning me over, too. The characterizations in this prequel series totally outshone The Riyria Revelations, and I wish I had read this prequel series first before reading The Riyria Revelations. The two books that I’ve read so far have given so much extra depth and background to the characters of The Riyria Revelations; this was especially evident for Hadrian, Royce, Gwen, and Reuben.

“In Royce’s eyes she could see the pain of struggling to survive reflected back. They were the same, two pieces of wood from different worlds but whose grain lined up, and it was then she knew she was falling in love.”

I mean, wow. With context, the passage above hits powerfully. I can’t believe Sullivan could write as good as that. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this prequel series is more well-written than The Riyria Revelations because The Riyria Chronicles is written after it. However, for an unplanned series, it’s astounding that it never felt like it. The plotting and character’s development felt like Sullivan has planned this since the start of The Riyria Revelations. The story in this book takes place eleven years before the events in Theft of Swords. And as I said, Arista, Alric, Albert, Reuben, and other characters and names we’ve seen in The Riyria Revelations made their appearances here; the progression felt so well-realized and related to the main series.

“One day you’ll remember this moment. It will have faded to a mere wisp, a ghost of a long-forgotten past, but it will return to you.”

Admittedly, the resolution to the conflict of The Rose and the Thorn felt a bit underwhelming to me; The Crown Tower has a memorably stronger wrap-up. But I want to make it clear that Sullivan shows great growth in his storytelling. Two things that bothered me several times in The Riyria Revelations were the foreshadowing and the lack of Royce’s actions despite his infamous name.

  1. On the first point, I found that Sullivan’s foreshadowing felt too obvious and predictable it felt like spoiling its own plot twist. Sullivan is much better at writing foreshadowing and prophecies to deepen the tension of the narrative now.
  2. On the second point, it’s a bit unbelievable how often people feared Royce, but we seldom get to see him displayed his abilities. Well, I certainly got what I wanted in the prequel series so far. The Rose and the Thorn was darker and more violent than The Riyria Revelations, and it felt good to finally really see him in action.

“If a bug bites you, you don’t bite it back… You crush the life out of the thing so it never bothers you again. And if you do that to an insect that can’t cause any serious harm, why would you do any less to an enemy who will almost certainly come back and kill if you don’t?

I still liked The Crown Tower slightly more, but I continue to enjoy this series immensely. Both The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn just further established my point that this prequel series—on a first-time read experience—might be shaping up to be superior to The Riyria Revelations; at least on a single installment and feel-good basis. I don’t think the The Riyria Chronicles will ever reach the level of overarching satisfaction that The Riyria Revelations has, and I’m totally okay with that. Despite a few minor issues, I had so much fun reading The Rose and the Thorn; I smiled a lot, and I finished reading this novel in two days. That’s a rare occurrence for me now due to how busy I am this year. I’ve read so many fantasy books, and that urge of always wanting to continue reading a book is getting rarer now. But similar to The Crown Tower, The Rose and the Thorn gave me that urge again. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment, The Death of Dulgath, in August. I’m trying to prolong my read-through of this comforting series that’s starting to feel like home to me, and I’m sad that there are only two published books remaining for me to read. Until then…

“The place was sacred to him—something he didn’t realize until that moment. The room was a sanctuary of kindness and comfort. He’d stayed there only a couple months, but coming back he wondered if what he was feeling could be what others felt about places they called home.”

You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)

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