A new phenomenon in the past few years are authors who gain a contract after they have obtained succes selling their novels online through self-publication. Michael J. Sullivan is an author like that whose popularity earned him a book deal. In these cases the question remains if they have rightfully ignored originally by the publishers or not. I had some doubts about starting with this series, but after having read several positive reviews I decided to give it a go, although my instinct is rarely wrong.
The first novel of the fantasy series the Riyria Revelations is A Crown Conspiracy (2007). To quickly sum it up, it is a mainstream fantasy in the tradition of Eddings and Feist, although it is more Feistian in its world-building and setup with familiar names from the real world mixed with elves, dwarves and some magic. So on the side of originality there is not much new to find although Sullivan does manage to add some ideas of his own. There is however no real different twist or take on the typical fantasy tropes.
Were it note for the lack of young characters one could classify the novel as Young Adult. It is not dark or scary, events remain more adventurous than dangerous, the plot complexity is of a low level and fairly straightforward. Most of all the atmosphere is very light-hearted and easy-going. The main characters are good-minded and usually honorable criminals. The characters themselves don’t seem to be very bright. The way they are portrayed and how they act seem to fit more in a Young Adult setting as the approach simplifies things and if the reader doesn’t get it they get the chance to explain things just to make sure. This way there is a lack of complexity to the characters as the author presents the necessary facts a bit too easily.
Sullivan tries to avoid info-dumping by adding natural circumstances in a dialogue. Unfortunately the chosen characters seem to be too well informed, providing a bit too exact or complete information as if they are giving a lecture, which again seems to be out of place for their character.
So depending on the audience there is still quite some space for improvement. It may seem I’m quite critical, but this is simply typical for mainstream fantasy. To be honest, fans of Feist and Eddings will enjoy this novel very much, because it contains a lot of the “fantasy tropes” they love.
On a positive note, I did enjoy the story. Especially the first part I consider to be, generally speaking, quite good and engaging. After that it sagged a bit with the above noted weak elements, but it never fell flat and there were several good moments too which were quite inventive. As I consider the story to be an important component of my judgment it was a good first novel overall. Enough to make me want to continue with the next installment. Then again, my expectations for mainstream fantasy aren’t that high. I knew what I was getting into and my instinct told me right, although I hoped for more.
So to answer my earlier question, based on this first book, I can say it is a safe bet for a publisher aiming at the mainstream fantasy reader. There are some weaknesses, but the story is good enough to hold up, and to be honest, I’ve read far worse fantasy novels. So nothing outstanding and not bad either. A fine read for someone in need of some easy reading.