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Milo, aka “Bane of Kings” reviews The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan, the opening title in the Riyria Chronicles Duology, published by Orbit Books on August 6.
“This is how prequels should be done. Smart, clever – engaging, The Crown Tower is a stellar return to the world of Riyria, accessible for newcomers and veterans of the series alike – one of the strongest novels of the year so far.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
When the news regarding The Riyria Chronicles prequels broke, I was somewhat torn on the decision. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Riyria Revelations novels, the original six-book series by Michael J. Sullivan collected as three impressive omnibuses, delivering us some fantastic lead characters of Royce and Hadrian – but a part of me was somewhat cautious about this before I jumped in reading. Would we be looking at another Phantom Menace, or would we start to get tired of the characters? Or a little bit of both? As it turned out though, I shouldn’t have worried. Michael J. Sullivan’s The Crown Tower opens The Riyria Chronicles in an amazing way – full of confidence, and sets up the opening act of this duology wonderfully well, making this novel as good as the original series, if not more.
TWO MEN WHO HATE EACH OTHER. ONE IMPOSSIBLE MISSION. A LEGEND IN THE MAKING.
A warrior with nothing to fight for is paired with a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Together they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm’s most valuable possessions. But it isn’t gold or jewels the old wizard is after, and this prize can only be obtained by the combined talents of two remarkable men. Now if Arcadias can just keep Hadrian and Royce from killing each other, they just might succeed.
The Riyria Revelations and The Riyria Chronicles are two separate, but related series, and you can start reading with either Theft of Swords(publication order) or The Crown Tower (chronological order).
The Crown Tower, for all of those who are unaware, tells the first meeting of Hadrian and Royce. They weren’t always Riyria after all, and this novel explores how the two characters met and what circumstances drew them together in a smart, entertaining way, with plenty of interesting things uncovered throughout this novel – made even more interesting when you consider that this isn’t just Hadrian and Royce’s origin too – we get appearances from the rest of the main cast in the Riyria Revelations, such as Gwen – to name just one, allowing for an interesting look into these characters, particularly when those who have read the future books will know exactly how they’re going to develop as the book goes on.
And that’s, to an extent – the major problem that I had with The Crown Tower, readers of the book who have read Ryria Revelations before will know which of the characters are going to make it through. We know that they’re going to survive and we know in some cases who’s not going to make it through, which robs some the predictability of the novel. It’s like watching any other prequel series that you’ve seen before, The Phantom Menace and its sequels, X-Men: First Class or Origins: Wolverine, or even The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. You know what’s coming next, you just can’t help it. Which is why, to Sullivan’s credit, he manages to make the elements of the book that we aren’t quite in full knowledge about yet unpredictable, engaging and enthralling. Heck, even the stuff that we do know is coming next is awesome, and told with the experience that Sullivan has gained over the course of his previous series, he’s put out some of his strongest work yet with this book, and it’s really enjoyable to read, as the author manages to make it feel fresh and entertaining.
The book itself fills in a lot of gaps that readers might not necessarily be aware about in the original Riyria Revelations, and it helps us explain how these characters got to this point in the beginning of the first novel, and readers themselves won’t find themselves bothered by the fact that the book may lack unpredictability. It’s great at exploring characters as well, and there’s a clear difference between Royce and Hadrian that we meet here and in the original works – they’re younger, and more inexperienced. Take the opening chapter for instance – as soon as Hadrian gets off a ship, he gets robbed – and comes across as a character who’s really got plenty to learn in future books, almost surprisingly for someone who from what we know has been in a lot of armies, and would most likely have a considerable amount of experience. Royce is almost an exact opposite of Hadrian at the start of the novel, and it’s really interesting watching them develop over the course of The Crown Tower.
Readers of Riyria Revelations will be aware of Sullivan’s skill at creating a page-turning read, and The Crown Tower is no different – I breezed through this novel very quickly and was ready to move onto the second as soon as I finished (although I ended up taking a small break inbetween to freshen things up), and the novel’s size when you compare it with the likes of George RR Martin and Brandon Sanderson will be a welcome relief to those of you who are tired of massive, 1,000 page-length reads.
Therefore, in conclusion – there are plenty of things to love about The Crown Tower. I haven’t seen a negative reviewer for it or its sequel yet, and it’s well worth your time, be you a reader who has experienced the wonderful Riyria Revelations or not, as Sullivan manages to make it appeal to both. This is one of the strongest reads of the year so far, a really solid instalment.