26 April 2016

Books: The Crown Conspiracy By Michael J. Sullivan (2008)

So what I thought was three books turns out to be six and while that is fine, I’ve decided not to continue on reading this series.

I’ve been reading fantasy novels for decades and I’ve reached a point where this genre no longer surprises me; it's all the same, predictable and bland. But I'm still drawn to the field, so I'm always looking for someone, anyone to take those same tropes and give them a fresh re-telling. If I was fourteen, fifteen and just discovering fantasy, I may have been impressed and want to continue on, but Michael J. Sullivan is the reason why I find this sort of fiction difficult to enjoy now: he's a talented author rolling out same old, same old. Sigh.

As mentioned in a previous post, I had read The Crown Tower, the first book in Sullivan’s prequel series to The Rivria Revelations, which the author originally self-published as six books (The Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising, The Emerald Storm, Wintertide, and Percepliquis). When Orbit acquired them, they repackaged the six books into three omnibus volumes (Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron) containing two books each. While this was a fiscally responsible way to do this, I was sort of put off by this design, if only because I would’ve liked them re-issued separately. But that is just me. 

Anyways, after reading The Crown Tower, I decided to begin reading the original series, despite some reservations. Those uncertainties arose due to some negative reviews I read, in particular a 2012 appraisal from the site StrangeHorizons that tore the novel(s) to shreds. And while Good Reads was filled with positive appraisals, the doubts I had about The Crown Tower I took in after completing that book sort of affected my views on The Crown Conspiracy (or Theft of Swords…this is very confusing). This is why, at times, when searching for a new writers, going to Good Reads, going to the comment section on Powell's or other e-retailers can influence me. Sad, but true.

In the first book, we are is introduced to Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, who make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in the murder of the king. Sentenced to death, they have only one way out. 

Yeah, that’s about it. What I find, and sort noted in the prequel book, was The Crown Conspiracy plays out more like a Western than a true fantasy novel. Or, if you like, a meshing of medieval England(?) with every trope of that genre has put to paper and film (and are the elves here supposed to be replacements for the Native Americans or black people, or a combination of both?). There is a wizard, though Sullivan skips on actually explaining anything about how magic works here. At times, it seems the idea of magical aspects in his world comes across more as a myth; it seems to have all existed long ago and nobody is sure if the tales are true or made up children stories.

While Sullivan skimps a lot on the World Building themes that can bog down other books in this genre, he tries to build up the supposed animosity between Royce and Hadrian, which if you read anything on the series, indicates they supposedly hate each other. I mean, while they may approach the same things in different ways, they both seem to respect each other. Of course, The Crown Conspiracy takes place twelve years after The Crown Tower (which introduced the characters), so I guess they founded a mutual appreciation society in those years.

But the biggest problem with this book is how everything, and I mean everything, lands at the corner of Convenience and Coincidence. Part of the problem lies within the premise to begin with. How could two extremely smart men as Hadrain and Royce fall for the job that gets the story going? Sullivan clearly paints them as highly intelligent thieves and mercenaries, and the ease in which they stumble into the trap makes them astoundingly stupid.  Then, as someone aides in their escape, they meet Myron, the lone survivor of destroyed Abbey, who also has an eidetic memory and (conveniently) is also the son of a rival to man who hatched this convoluted plot to begin with. With Myron in tow, he’s now able to tell Hadrain and Royce the long history of this land in great detail. And while people with Myron’s ability exist, I found this way of telling the story rather contrived and unbelievable. While I understand the need for exposition, the choices made here seem lazy.

Then let’s get to the villain of this piece, which is clear from the moment he’s introduced. I never doubted for a movement that Uncle Percy Braga (Percy!!! Yeah, beyond Percy Jackson, almost all fictional characters named Percy turns out to be villains –or misguided like Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter books) was the architect of this coup. This upsets me more, because it’s so obvious. I mean, after some 40 years of reading, it is hard to surprise me, but, as noted, the challenge for me when finding new authors in a genre I have been reading that long is how they take the same themes and twist them in a new direction, much what George R.R. Martin did -even if I've not completed that series.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that Michael J. Sullivan is going offer us nothing new here. And while I enjoy the sometimes sitcom-style banter between Royce and Hadrain, it’s not enough to continue on reading the other five books in this series. 

And what about the prequel books? I do have the second book eventually coming from the library, so I may end up reading it because it needs to be transferred in. But I also now see why Sullivan admitted he has no idea how long the prequel series will continue, as I noticed in this book the tendency to have characters mention events that took place in the past, but Sullivan does not go into detail with them. This indicates to me some of those previous adventures that only got a sentence or two, will be expanded into prequel novels, like the history between the men and Gwen which was explained in The Crown Tower

But, alas, I have many, many other things I do want to read, so this writer and this series will now end here.

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