Book Review: Age of Swords (Legends of the First Empire, #2) by Michael J. Sullivan
Cover art illustrated by Marc Simonetti
Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Legends of the First Empire (Book #2 of 6)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 528 pages (Mass Market Paperback)
Published: 25th July 2017 by Del Rey
Age of Swords is another win (with one issue) from Michael J. Sullivan.
“There always seemed to be a better way, except when it came to people. Once broken, people couldn’t be repaired.”
As stated in my Age of Myth review, I first started Legends of the First Empire in early 2017. I liked it. But I didn’t continue with the series for five years. Three months ago, I reread Age of Myth, and now, I finally finished reading Age of Swords, the second book in The Legends of the First Empire series by Michael J. Sullivan. When I speak about Michael J. Sullivan, one of his main strengths as an author, from my analysis, is that he is an author with a series with each new installment better than the previous. Or, at least, almost always the case. This was my experience with The Riyria Revelations and also The Riyria Chronicles. I did find The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter to be the weakest book (it’s still a great book) in The Riyria Chronicles, but my point stands. And for now, the trend continues as I personally think Age of Swords is better compared to Age of Myth. But was it MUCH better? Well, I will elaborate on that later.
“Every life is a journey filled with crossroads. And then there are the bridges, those truly frightening choices that span what always was, from what will forever be. Finding the courage, or stupidity, to cross such bridges changes everything”
One of the premises of Age of Myth deals with the shattering of a myth that the Fhrey—Elves—are gods, and they were impossible to be killed by humans. Until a human, Raithe, killed one of the elves. Both humans and elves had to deal with the repercussion and new truth caused by this event. That’s the long story short for Age of Myth, without spoilers. Age of Swords continued from where Age of Myth ended. And it, just like the title stated, mainly revolves around our group of humans preparing for war with elves. One of the most important things they need to do first is to attain swords and weapons that could match the Elves’ arsenal of weaponry, skills, and magic. In hindsight, Age of Swords is a book about preparations and inventions. However, this is not to say the novel was unimportant or lacking in its revelation and character development.
Picture: Age of Swords by Marc Simonetti
The Sullivans stated that Age of Swords is their favorite installment in the entire six-books series, mainly due to one reason: this is where the supporting characters started to become someone irreplaceably important. Age of Myth mainly centers around Raithe, Suri, Arion, and Persephone. In Age of Swords, we are blessed with more POV characters to follow. Mostly from supporting characters of the series, and I think this is what made Age of Swords stronger. This installment is very much needed to develop the supporting characters, and I have no doubt each of them will play a major role in future books of the series. For example, Gifford. Gifford was no one in Age of Myth, but he has more of a role here. Within a relatively few brief appearances, Sullivan did a wonderful job in showing Gifford’s strong mental fortitude, and I had so much empathy for him. Physically disabled and constantly hurt by many individuals, Gifford never relented his kindness in favor of hatred. And his kindness and selfless attitude towards Roan, in particular, made him a character that I love to support.
“That’s the thing about hatred, it can become rancid, and it’ll turn into poison if you keep it bottled too long. Hatred will eat through any container and seep into the groundwater of a soul. Revenge is never enough to expel it because it keeps bubbling up anew. What you don’t realize–can’t really–is that by that time, it’s all you are. You don’t have the hate in you. The hate is you. When that wine is consumed, you won’t ever be able to rid yourself of it. Can’t vomit it up or spit it out. It’d be as impossible as escaping yourself.”
On the other hand, Raithe remains unlikable, even more than how he was in Age of Myth. In Age of Myth, he was a character that I felt indifferent about, but now, he has turned into someone I completely disliked. I mean, Raithe is a type of character that constantly shouts negativity and despair while infuriatingly begging the woman he loves to be with him non-stop. This has been going on for two books now. But here’s the thing. From my experience with reading Sullivan’s books for the first time, Sullivan is an author that needs some time to develop his male characters. Whether intentionally or not, his male characters did not get better or likable until later installments. Remember, it took me five books to like Royce in The Riyria Revelations, and now Royce has somehow become one of my favorite characters. So all hope is not lost yet. But patience might be required to go through Raithe’s POV chapters. And hey, one of the new characters Raithe met in his POV might play a major role in future books. Those who’ve read The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles will know who I’m talking about.
“I know nothing about war. But let me tell you what I believe. I think running from responsibility breeds self-loathing and despair. I think people can, and do, rise to the occasion, and even a single person can make an incredible difference. What they need are leaders who believe in them, a belief that gives birth to hope. With hope, people can do remarkable things, amazing things. Between hope and despair, I’ll take hope every time.”
Fortunately, there were plenty of other main characters other than Raithe to like. And yes, I’m talking about the women in the series. I will always repeat this statement, only a few fantasy authors (especially men) can write women characters as good as Sullivan. I feel like Sullivan knows how to tackle writing women who didn’t need to rely on their physical or magical strengths to be valued. I’m not saying there aren’t any women in his series that cannot use magic powerfully. However, Sullivan managed to make sure the capability to use magic isn’t the only memorable trait of the characters. Like Suri in this series. Suri is my favorite character in the series so far, and she is one of the main characters that developed the most in Age of Swords. Suri may be talented in Art (magic), but when I hear the name Suri, I don’t just remember her blossoming talent as an Artist. I also remember her kindness, loyalty, and relationship with her animal companion: Minna.
Picture: Suri and Minna by Sylvia Han
And this strong development and personality distinction aren’t exclusive to Suri. Persephone showed the meaning of leadership; Moya displayed genuine bravery; Arion portrayed the importance of mentorship; Brin and Roan demonstrated how stories and inventions matter a LOT to the progress of civilization and cultures. In other words, these ladies played to their respective strengths and roles. And every single one of them was immensely likable. I loved reading about their character development, and I look forward to reading about what will happen to them next.
“Although men were strong like rocks, any stone could crack. Women were more like water. They nurtured life and could shape the hardest granite through unrelenting determination.”
With all these praises, what was the issue I had then? Well, Sullivan may have gone a bit overboard in giving the spotlight to the women of the series. What do I mean by this? Millenniums of evolutions and inventions in our world happened in a few weeks. Yes, in Age of Swords, Brin and Roan continuously crafted new invention non-stop. Wheels, carts, writing, storytelling, sword-making, armor-making, bow, arrows, and many more. All these inventions were found and happened in a few weeks. Brin and Roan seem to JUST KNOW what to do with literally everything they found. Remember, these are characters in the primitive age. Even in a fantasy world, there should still be a level of believability in world-building. Otherwise, well, it does not work. So in the primitive age, these revolutionary inventions were found and invented non-stop in a few weeks, then what logically would happen in a few thousand years? By the time The Riyria Revelations story happens, which takes place 3000 years after the end of this series, there should’ve been at the very least a spaceship, robocop, or even Gundam. These were distracting to my reading immersion. Although I still enjoyed Age of Swords more than Age of Myth, a huge level of suspension in belief was unleashed.
“It’s easier to believe the most outlandish lie that confirms what you suspect than the most obvious truth that denies it.”
Speaking of world-building, before I close this review, I will mention that your experience of reading this series will be completely different depending on whether you’ve read The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles first or not. As for me, I definitely recommend you to read Royce and Hadrian’s story first. There were some scenes and names in Age of Swords that left an impact on me, but they wouldn’t mean a thing if I haven’t read The Riyria Revelations first. But overall, regardless of your circumstances, Age of Swords is a superb preparation volume filled with crucial character developments. All of these and the concluding intense and emotional action-packed chapters certainly make me want to jump into the next book, Age of War, as soon as possible.
“A lot can be determined by the choices we make, even if the action is initiated by self-preservation. Many … no, most … of our choices are driven by fear: fear of death, fear of humiliation, fear of loneliness. But it’s how we respond to fear that matters. It’s what defines us. What makes us who we are. So maybe in your mind you acted selfishly, but I’m alive because of the choice you made. So I’ll remember it as an act of kindness and yes, even bravery.”
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