Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

“I like any plan where I don’t die a horrible death.”

Never judge a book by its cover right? Well, guilty as charged. I don't really read a lot of fantasy novels and Michael J. Sullivan's Theft of Swords -- the first volume of the Riyria Revelations -- reminds me why this tends to be the case. Sloppy writing, overflowing with cliches, plot holes galore and a knack for excessive info dumping. What happened to a little subtlety? Split into two novels, the story revolves around two expert thieves and their adventures as they are hired to steal back two different swords. They get dragged into the political turmoil of the land, meet a bunch of different characters along the way who help them on their journey, find themselves in sticky situations where they have to rely on their skills and wit to escape, encounter treacherous villains, get into lots of swords fights, hook up with some Wizard and at one point even do battle with an ancient flying basilisk. Sounds exciting right? Well, not really. It's all sorta dull. The premise is decent enough and the story actually starts off great but it goes quickly downhill from there. There were so many parts that left me scratching my head in confusion or disbelief. If you are working within the fantasy genre, it is imperative for the author to make sure that the world and story they create is believable. Unfortunately for Sullivan, none of it makes a whole lot of sense.

Sorry if it sounds harsh, but this novel comes across as amateur fan-fiction. I'm probably being overly generous in giving it two stars when it probably deserves much less. I don't give out half-stars but if I did, 1.5 sounds about right. See, the first section isn't completely terrible and captured my interest just enough to keep me reading but the second part is where the novel really suffers. During my recovery in hospital, I was looking for something light and entertaining at the time. With such a cool-looking cover and after reading a brief synopsis, Theft of Swords seemed most promising. Unfortunately, my instincts were wrong again and despite the novel's numerous flaws, I still somehow managed to finish it. Don't ask me how, it must have been the meds I was on that messed up the synapses in my brain. Anyways, the story has potential and I was hoping that it would develop into something worthwhile but instead it left me thoroughly frustrated with its inconsistencies--the slapdash narrative, uneven pacing and shoddy world-building being the most glaring negative aspects. I couldn't help but feel that the author was making up the story as he went along without any clear sense of where the actual narrative was heading and unsure of how to reach a proper conclusion.
Leaving out key plot details either through incompetence or as a narrative strategy to create suspense or intrigue  is ineffective here because Sullivan is not a skilled enough writer so the story ends up floundering in no-man's land. Not once did I ever get a clear picture of this particular world, its inhabitants, various regions or places (The wizard's prison comes to mind. What the hell was that?) It's all a jumbled mess that is barely comprehensible. The two main characters are interesting enough and share good chemistry but it's a shame that every other aspect of the story falls flat. They are supposed to be expert thieves, capable of coming up with expert plans but the solution to every problem seemed so predictable. In fact, most of the story is silly and predictable.

Then again, there are still several more novels in the series so hopefully I am wrong in my current assessment. Perhaps the author manages to do a complete 360: fleshing out the story and characters and then somehow tying everything together with coherent narrative. Suffice it to say, I have my doubts. Had I read this novel under different circumstances, I would have abandoned it sooner instead of forcing myself to wad through 600+ pages of mediocrity. It is highly unlikely that I will continue with the series but if I'm ever scrambling to find something to read while on the toilet, The Riyria Revelations might prove to be most convenient.

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