Saturday, January 15, 2011

Indie Book Review: The Crown Conspiracy

I'd like to introduce you to The Crown Conspiracy (The Riyria Revelations) by Michael Sullivan.  This is a six book series revolving around a fantasy world and the goings on therein.  The Crown Conspiracy is book one in this series, and, having read it, I'm looking forward to books two through six.  

I may sound a little hard in the coming paragraphs of this review, and I want to explain something up front, the Crown Conspiracy is a wonderful bit of old-school sword and sorcery (though this particular book was a bit light on magic) fantasy.  If, like me, you grew up in the days DragonLance and Forgotten Realms, this story feels like an overdue homecoming.

Let me begin with the good: the writing is lovely, detailed enough to let you know what is going on, who is doing it, and why, without falling into the Anne Rice trap of describing everything in such painstaking detail you want to skip pages or fall asleep. 

The Crown Conspiracy is a very carefully written book.  One of the lessons I learned as a writer was 'if it's not vital to the plot, leave it out.'  Writers don't always do that.  Indie writers really don't always do that.  I had a few spots through the story where I was thinking, 'and we're reading this why?' but all but one of those threads eventually got wound back into the story.  No matter how obscure a bit of the story may feel when you are reading it, there's a reason for it, and I like that very much.  That also means you need to pay attention to everything that happens, what looks like a throwaway line will come back and be important later. 

I loved the main characters.  Loved how they played off of each other.  There is a sort of well done buddy film feel to this book.  Royce and Hadrian genuinely like each other, making it easier for the readers to like them. We got enough back story so we didn't feel lost, but enough tantalizing details were left just out of reach to whet your appetite for more tales of Royce and Hadirian.  That can be a hard balance to pull off, and Sullivan did a lovely job with it.  He also pulled off another trick of the master writer, secondary characters that feel real, but don't clog up the story with unimportant back story.

Now for the less good: I can't call it bad, because it's not, but because the rest of the story is so strong little bits like this stick out.

This book has one mystery, 'Who murdered the king?'  As the book begins, the only thing we know for sure is that Hadrian and Royce didn't do it.  Beyond that we're left in the dark.  And being in the dark works, it's good to go through the possible options and rule them in or out.  Then we go beyond 'in the dark' into intentionally misled by the author.  He dangles little bits of story in front of us to make us think one thing, and then whips them out from under us when he finally lets us know what's up.  There's an almost sucker punch sensation when we find out what is actually going on because of the way the story is set up.  Like the misdirection was written purely for the purpose of misdirection. 

Sullivan wrote a very complex climax to the Crown Conspiracy.  There are at least six lines of point of view he switches between as he keeps building the tension.  Some of this is very gratifying, very clever.  One of the points of view is a bit annoying.  When you're that close to finishing up you don't want to suddenly break away to a point of view of a character who was last mentioned three hundred pages earlier for a few paragraphs and then dies two pages later.  It would be like watching Return of the King, getting to the battle for Mordor, and then slipping away for two minutes to see what Arwen is up to.  She might be doing something really interesting, but unless you're a diehard fan, you're going to fast forward to get back to the action.  However, once the book gets back to the action... Oh yeah, it's so worth it.

Sullivan has given us a fantastic first course, balancing the elements of his composition almost flawlessly, putting just enough on the plate to leave you feeling satisfied but still wanting more.  Lucky for all of us hungering for the next course, Avempartha, book two, is already out.  

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