Theft of Swords is the debut joint novel (The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) of independent turned mainstream fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan. It’s the first part of three two-novel books, and I quite like it. Now to be perfectly frank, this book is probably better suited to new readers of fantasy. It’s quick, easy, and covers a number of topics and tropes in a more ‘traditional’ style, and so far as I have read, doesn’t really stray into new territory for the genre. It’s adventure fantasy that ramps up the politics and shades of epic as it progresses.
Another thing that I admit barred me from liking this book more than I did was the ‘ye olde pseudo-medieval european world’. I’ve read about it, read about it a few hundred times probably, and I find myself less likely to read/enjoy a book if its set there, unless it does something really interesting with the social constructs or history. There are a few shifts I like, such as the subjugation of elves and so on, but for the most part it doesn’t do anything too ambitious with conventional fantasy tropes.
Theft of Swords is as mentioned before, comprised of two novels. I found the first one started really well, but didn’t sell me all that much as it continued, due in part to moving around a lot for a smaller novel. It was good without feeling exceptional in any one regard, a sort of baseline. The second one however picked up a lot for me. It narrows down the locations covered into a small pool, which makes the storytelling far tighter. Overall, it was far more cohesive and paced. I especially liked how Sullivan used some of the oldest tropes in the book, older than Tolkein ideas, like the princess in a tower, the dragon and the knight and so on, but subverts them in a variety of ways.
The writing style is crisp and lively, without being intrusive. It’s sparsity hinders it somewhat early on as I’m a very sensory oriented reader and the only minimal prose I’ve truly loved is from Glen Cook’s The Black Company, a topic I may geek out about on a later date. Once it gets going though, it’s an easy and fun read. However, the minimal prose hurts the world from feeling unique or fleshed out, as cities and town are painted with Medieval Generica Paint©, when he doesn’t give any details to set it apart from the hoi polloi of fantasy.
While The Crown Conspiracy may be a little awkward, overall I found Theft of Swords to be a fairly well-written pair of stories with enough dash and laughter to ease new readers into a series. If you are looking for a break from the grit and realism that much of the market is targeted towards, and need a breather from more complex machinations, Theft of Swords might be up your alley, picking your pockets and making unruly threats (Worst joke ever?).