20 April 2016

Books: The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (2013)

The arrival of Michael J. Sullivan to the top of my reading list is not that strange, because it happens all the time. But, until last week, I never considered reading one of his fantasy novels. But I was in B&N recently and saw the latest volume of his Riyria Chronicles. I assumed it was the last book, so I mentally ticked off a list I have on books that I may want to read in my mind. But before I put the book back, I saw the introduction by the author which explained that The Crown Tower was the third book in his prequel series and that there was three other volumes that take place 12 years before this book called The Riya Revelations. And while he encourages readers to start in publishing order versus chronological order, he also noted if someone wanted to start with the prequel series, it was designed to be enjoyed that way. The only thing, it seems, he has no idea how long the prequel series will go on, unlike the original which was just three long volumes, which is why he prefer you to read in publishing order.

I’m not sure I like this type of publishing. Of course, we are linear people and we watch TV, movies and we read books in a linear fashion. But series books, and on rare occasions, TV and movies (though this is changing) can change that. But I still don’t seem to like this, if only because prequels have a tendency to be even more difficult than sequels. It’s like origin stories of comic book superheroes in some ways, because a lot of fans of that genre find origin stories to be the dullest aspect of, say, Spider-Man

Off on my tangent: 

Over the decades I’ve been reading, a few authors have created series of books that are set in the same universe, but separated by the ages. Katherine Kurtz comes to mind, as she’s been writing multiple trilogies (5 as of 2014, with one standalone novel) that are, basically, historical fantasy novels set in some alternate English universe of the, 10th, 11th and 12th Century. Each trilogy is set in a different time, but along the same timeline, which kicked off in the 1970s with the trilogy, The Chronicles of the Deryni, which is set in 1120/21, followed by The Legends of Camber of Culdi trilogy, which is set between 903 and 918. Three other trilogies follow, each alternating in the timeline Kurtz has created. Most people have read her books in publishing order, but I’ve read some have also tried to read them in chronological order. But I’ve also read that reading them in that order could reveal spoilers, so (as they’ll always do) the writer wants you to read them in published order. 

Another author who has done this is L.E. Modesitt and his current 18 volume series, The Saga of Recluce.  Those novels were not published in chronological order, because the first book, 1991’s The Magic of Recluce, is actually volume 17 of the current 18 books. And yes, the author has stated that publication order is the appropriate reading order.

Anyways, this brings me back to Sullivan’s Riyria novels. Doing some research on him, and reading his author notes, we find out he wrote six books in the series before they were even published. And after a long adventure of self-publishing and other exploits, the novels finally found a home at Orbit (who has been around in various forms and publishers since 1974). It appears that Sullivan decided to start his series with the (possibly) the final volumes first, before embarking on what could turn out to be numerous prequel tales. It’s an unusual to say the least, but interesting way to publish books.

But I decided –at first- to read the first prequel book, The Crown Tower. This is the first adventures of Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn, two men who hate each other from the first time they meet. We learn that Arcadius Vintarus Latimer, Professor of lore at Sheridan University, has recruited the two for a daring mission. Blackwater is a warrior with nothing to fight for and Melborn is 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 so this prize can only be obtained by the combined talents of two remarkable men. Now if Arcadius can just keep Hadrian and Royce from killing each other, they just might succeed.

I did enjoy the book, and it’s a fast read. Sullivan keeps the premise light, the World Building to a minimum, and insults fast and loose. In many ways, it read like a potential screenplay for a TV series, as it kept the settings in a very much everyday world, which is okay. I mean is it a familiar formula, with familiar forests and so forth, so no need to be all George R. R. Martin. But sometimes this works, especially if the writer has a good grasp of their main characters, which Sullivan clearly does. But overall, this read like a western more than a fantasy. There is a subplot, one that goes on way too long, that deals with a prostitute with a heart of gold –and apparently, some sort of supernatural power- who grows weary of being abused and with gold given to her by her dying mother, decides to setup a brothel right across the street from the place she used to “work” in. Again, its straightforward trope hijacked from every TV, motion picture, and Louis L’Amour western paperback. I grew weary of it after a while, and desired it to go away.

Still, since these are prequels, I’m guessing Gwen is an important character and this is her back story that probably does not get fully explained in the first series (?)

So, instead of reading the second book in this series (though I do have it coming through the library eventually), I did score a copy of Theft of Swords, the first book in the original first trilogy. So I’m thinking I may just go back in forth. But we’ll see.

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