ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art illustrated by Marc Simonetti
Esrahaddon by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: The Rise and Fall (Book #3 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 936 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 15th August 2023 by Riyria Enterprises (Self-published)
Esrahaddon is an incredible novel 15 years in the making. Fans of Riyria and Legends of the First Empire will be thrilled to read this.
“With education comes understanding. With understanding, wisdom. With wisdom comes control. With control, peace.”
First of all, bravo to Michael J. Sullivan. The self-published edition of The Crown Conspiracy, the first book in The Riyria Revelations, came out in 2008. And that book is the first time we encounter Esrahaddon. Yes, the titular character for those of you reading this review and haven’t read The Riyria books yet. Ever since the release of The Crown Conspiracy, Michael J. Sullivan has published 19 novels—including this one—in the world of Elan. That’s at least one book—sometimes more—per year. And that’s where we are today. I have finally caught up to everything in the world of Elan. And although this is not the final book in the world of Elan, Esrahaddon is the third and final book The Rise and Fall Trilogy, and it feels like a culmination of Sullivan’s career so far. Seriously. Well done.
“Esrahaddon, our present—and the fate of future generations—are literally in your hands. Be very careful.”
The story in Esrahaddon takes place about 200 years after the end of Farilane. And less than 900 years before the events in The Crown Tower, the first book in The Riyria Chronicles. Esrahaddon is a hero to some. A villain to many. And the truth is forever buried. Until now… The man who became known as Esrahaddon is reported to have destroyed the world’s greatest empire, but there are those who believe he saved it. Few individuals are as divisive, but all agree on three facts: He was exiled to the wilderness, hunted by a goblin priestess, and sentenced to death by a god—all before the age of eight. How he survived and why people feared his name a thousand years later has always been a mystery. This book seeks to provide the details of Esrahaddon’s rise and fall, and it succeeds at all points. Even though, honestly, I still crave more by the time I read it. More on this later, but like me, those who have read The Riyria Revelations will know the final outcome of Esrahaddon’s journey in this book. But rest assured, there were still plenty of surprises and exciting moments to be witnessed here. One among many is Esrahaddon’s coming-of-age story.
“Yes. Happiness is merely a state when everything is as it should be. But if everything is always perfect, there is no challenge, no reason to live, no purpose to exist. Happiness is the reward for struggle, and without struggle there can be no growth. What does not grow, Ezra, is dead — or should be. Still, you must guard against indulgence. Too much will create a thirst. Quenching that thirst makes you drunk. Being drunk invites greater excess. Soon your judgment is lost, and power becomes your only desire.”
Changing perception and enhancing emotional attachment toward a character is what Esrahaddon accomplished sublimely. Each book in The Rise and Fall Trilogy has centered the respective narrative on a central character—Nolyn and Farilane—starting relatively near the biggest pivotal events of their lives. And yes, this is evident in the last quarter of Esrahaddon, too. However, one thing differs a lot in this book. Esrahaddon is the biggest book in The Rise and Fall Trilogy. No, scratch that. It is Michael J. Sullivan’s biggest book to date. It is as big as Heir of Novron omnibus, and that omnibus has two books combined. One of the things Sullivan did to guarantee the story earned the longer page count was to include the intricacies of Esrahaddon’s coming-of-age story. In six different but chronological time frames, we read Esrahaddon’s story from when he was still a kid to his adulthood. Esrahaddon was never a favorite character of mine in The Riyria Revelations, but with this one novel, I believe Sullivan has transformed that status. Not only that, but Sullivan’s way of changing the reader’s perception toward the goblins in the world of Elan was so good. Goblins have always been seen as enemies and vile creatures throughout every book in the world of Elan (and other fantasy series). But here, as it turns out, just like humanity, there are virtuous and malicious individuals with the goblins. It was a pleasant surprise to read that Esrahaddon was raised by goblins after being exiled by his own dad. Seeing Esrahaddon understand the importance of knowledge, education, hardships, and gradually favoring building over destroying, even though he is utterly capable of it, was satisfying, in my opinion.
“See now . . . this here’s the problem with taking in a stray cub. There always comes that time when you got to let them go back to the wild — that moment you know deep in your lousy heart that you’re never gonna see them again. The moment you take them in, the instant you carry them home, you know freaking well that you’re gonna have to say goodbye one day. And as the little furball starts purring and scratching you with his crazy needle claws, you also know when that time comes it’s gonna rip your heart out… And you know what? I need this heart. It’s the only one I got. And you’re killing me here.”
Come to think about it, though. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. Likeable characterizations and banter have always been one of Sullivan’s best skills as a storyteller since Heir of Novron. I was so excited to read Esrahaddon to know more about Esrahaddon, and of course, Jerish and Nevrik. And I got what I wanted. I will not talk too much about Jerish and Nevrik here in case you have not read The Riyria Revelations yet. They, together with Esrahaddon, are crucial historical figures in the history of Elan, and I will leave it at that. However, I can gladly acknowledge that I cannot get enough of the banter and relationship between Esrahaddon, Jerish, and Nevrik. The relationship Esrahaddon cultivated with them and Elinya helped develop him into a better person. And despite the large size of the novel, I wish we had more of this.
“But I now think this last part has a lot to do with why he’s so understanding — why he was so kind to me. He learned firsthand how those individuals who everyone taught him to hate were better than his own family. I suspect that’s a lesson few learn.” Elinya adjusted the blanket across her lap, shifting the dagger that she still carried, still wrapped. “And I think you might also be wrong about the privileged, easy lives of Cenzars. According to Esrahaddon and Ruby, the Art comes to those whose lives were not easy. Artists are privileged because they survive hardships that would ruin others.”
If there is one issue to mention, it would be Sadarshakar and Hanis. In the Afterword of the book, it is written that around 40k words of the novel were cut off from the book, and the parts removed were Jerish’s backstory and the additional detail of the introduction of Sadarshakar and Hanis. I am confused by this. I would not have minded cutting all of Sadarshakar and Hanis’ chapters out of the book. They were uninteresting, their POV chapters hurt the pacing, and I certainly would have preferred reading more of Jerish and Nevrik’s chapters rather than Sadarsharkar’s and Hanis’s. But again, this could be just an unpopular opinion of mine.
“Still, if there is true evil in the world, we’re looking at it… Ignorance, hate, paranoia, and the absolute conviction that it is good and right to force others to accept their values.”
People and readers of Sullivan’s books frequently remember the series fondly because of his well-crafted characters like Royce and Hadrian, Arista, Modina, Esrahaddon, Suri, and more. His characters are easy to like, and the main villains of Elan—I’m looking at you, Mawyndule—are despicable. And I do agree with this notion. However, I will point out that Sullivan’s world-building deserves some credit, too. If you only look at the world-building and lore in The Riyria books, it is easy to think the lore exploration is good. But amazing? I really felt that after reading Legends of the First Empire and The Rise and Fall Trilogy. There are so many characters, names, and history behind the world of Elan, twisted or not, now. We are talking about 19 books, after all. The creation of the world, the malevolent forces of evil, the gods, the feeling of regrets, and everything relating to Uberlin, Trilos, and Muriel. I cannot say too much about these characters as it will spoil events from the other series. And precisely for this reason, I still strongly recommend you to read Esrahaddon after you finish reading The Riyria Revelations and Legends of the First Empire to claim the maximum effect.
“When a snowball rolls and grows this big, no one person can hope to just stand in front and stop it. The whole thing has a life of its own now, and mere words can’t hope to kill”
The last quarter of Esrahaddon was outstanding. I read the last quarter in one sitting. That should tell you how compelled I was. And for me, this is achieved because I have read all the previous books in the world of Elan, especially The Riyria Revelations. I can’t emphasize this highly enough. The scenes in Avempartha gave me goosebumps. Yes, I am talking about the one with the voices—you will know which one I’m referring to if you have read this book and The Riyria Revelations. My heart skipped a beat during that moment and more. Even though I knew what would happen in the climax sequence of the book, the emotional impact was never diminished. It was simply breathtaking. In a way, I’ll say everything that happened in this book and—chronologically—the previous eight books will undoubtedly improve my reading experience of The Riyria books. Of course, I will read The Riyria Chronicles and The Riyria Revelations again in the future. There is no way I’m not reading The Riyria books again after gaining all this irreplaceable knowledge and truths about the world of Elan and its legends. And hey, lastly, without spoilers, there’s a possibility of a post-Riyria book/series happening now.
“Strength is the only virtue recognized by the powerful. And to those who use spears and clubs, power is muscle and physical speed. All else is worthless, for in their insular worlds they cannot imagine any other form of strength, mostly because they lack the capacity to imagine. In Banka’s men, Ezra saw what he now understood to be all that was wrong with the world. Ignorance born from a blind reliance on brute force dominated in the way large trees denied sunlight and water to the ground, stifling the growth of flowers. For what good are flowers? What virtue is fragile beauty?”
Reading Esrahaddon as the 19th book in Sullivan’s universe granted a rewarding reading experience. If The Riyria books are Sullivan’s Lord of the Rings, then The Legends of the First Empire and The Rise and Fall Trilogy would be his Silmarillion and The Fall of Numenor. Well, not as complex and intricate as Tolkien’s, obviously. But it is not far-fetched to brand them as the First Age and Second Age of Elan. And Esrahaddon is a stunning concluding milestone that will satisfy fans of The Riyria Revelations and Legends of the First Empire. The history of Elan has been told. What’s next? The fifth novel in The Riyria Chronicles, Drumindor, is being released next year. There is also the possibility of at least one more book in The Riyria Chronicles, and maybe even (as I said) a post-Revelations novel/series. Whatever comes, I know I will read everything in the world of Elan, and even without any of these upcoming books, I know I will be rereading The Rise and Fall Trilogy, at least Esrahaddon, and the entire Riyria Chronicles and Riyria Revelations again in the future. Bravo, Michael J. Sullivan.
“Worthiness comes from the heart… From courage in the face of adversity and fighting a battle with dignity even though you know you can’t win. Sometimes you fight and lose because you must. Doing so is right and good and worth it.”
The Rise and Fall: 13.5/15 stars
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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