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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Michael J. Sullivan Gets Enthusiastic Review from Nerds Review Site

Title: The Crown Conspiracy
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Genre: Fantasy
ISBN: 0980003431/978-0980003437
Publisher: Asipirations Media, Inc.
Pages: 310
List Price: $11.99
Name of reviewer:Mike Ferrante


Reviewed by Mike Ferrante for Nerds Review Nerds Review Site

Yes, I am still working on Open Your Eyes, for all its scant 152 pages it is a surprisingly dense book. In the meantime I flew through Sullivan’s The Crown Conspiracy in just about a day. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay the book and its author is that immediately upon arriving at work I went and grabbed its sequel, Avempartha off the new book shelf. It is my understanding that The Crown Conspiracy is a debut novel and, that being the case, it is a surprisingly mature one with relatively few new-author stumbles. Part of that maturity is likely a result of the fact that the entire series of books was written before The Crown Conspiracy went to press.

With it’s main duo, a pair of thieves named Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater The Crown Conspiracy will likely draw comparisons to Fritz Leiber’s similarly employed duo. However, other than the professional and physical similarities between the characters (quick small thief, big brawny fighter) it is there any overlap ends. Royce and Hadrian are two well-developed characters shrouded in mystery and written with a delightful dry wit that few veteran authors could emulate. You get hints about the duo’s past, but they are surprisingly small tidbits and yet they are strangely satisfying. Perhaps it is simply that the characters’ presence in the here and now is so fully-realized that everything else is merely secondary; regardless I’m excited to learn more rather than disappointed that I learned so little.

The plot revolves around our two thieves, or independent contractors if you prefer, who take on just about any job (with sufficient notice) for just about anyone as long as the price is right. In what could easily be shown as a throwaway introduction (it isn’t) to what is our two “heroes” do Sullivan deftly captures not only their skill, but their character as well. That same introduction shifts quickly though naturally into the novel’s main plot and it isn’t long before we find Royce and Hadrian in chains and accused of regicide. I don’t want to delve into deeply into things after that, lest I ruin it for you, but from there readers are taken on a twisting plot full of political machinations, the crushing weight of history, a surprising wit (Hadrien’s remarks while hanging in the castle dungeon’s actually elicited a genuine laugh out loud moment), and plenty of action. It is an extraordinarily tale told with a mature voice that would be impressive from a veteran and is even more so from a new author.

The Crown Conspiracy, despite being the opening act to a new multi-book saga called the The Riyria Revelation, is refreshingly self-contained. According to Sullivan’s webpage each of the novels will be self-contained though part of a greater whole. How that will work in later books, as the weight of back story grows stronger, remains to be seen but here at least the start to finish story is a welcome thing. Looking at Sullivan’s webpage there is also this quote:

The series is intentionally written with a “light hand” avoiding long-winded descriptions of unfamiliar names in order to keep the pace rolling. The result is a story that creates depth though the plot, characters, action and dialog, rather than narration.

To which I respond: Amen! This is certainly true in The Crown Conspiracy and all the narrative force is funneled to drive the plot forward. That doesn’t mean that their aren’t moments full of evocatively described scenes but those moments arise with a very natural flair directed not so much at the reader but from character to character. The description of magical prison was particularly impressive though the attempt to enter the prison was very reminiscent of the Fellowship’s attempts to gain access to Moira. However, this is seems an entirely intentional as Royce quips, more than once, about the stupidity of magic words to lock a door. Earlier in the book I found myself especially moved by the description and story of “the Squirrel Tree.” It is a surprisingly quiet moment and it expertly gives the reader insight into the speaker’s mind but at the same time hammers home just how nasty the villains are.

Late 2008 and 2009 have thus far been very good for the speculative fiction market. I have no idea how the actual numbers look in terms of sales but the quality of new fiction I’ve read over the last several months has been impressive to say the least. With the “big” publishers putting out any number of quality titles it is far too easy for independently published titles like The Crown Conspiracy to get lost in the shuffle. Aspirations Media Inc. (AMI) seems to have had some problems of late (http://www.librarything.com/topic/63671&work=6204998, see Message 7) and Sullivan managed to negotiate a deal to get Avempartha out, as I understand it, pretty much on his own. There isn’t a massive marketing push. The Crown Conspiracy and it’s sequel Avempartha are out there and garnering attention thanks mainly to Sullivan’s own work and word of mouth. It is a work and series that deserves attention. Simply put, I couldn’t put this book down and, when I did, I went and picked up the sequel right after. So if you’re at all interested in new and excellent fiction head over to your local bookseller of choice (who usually take special orders), or Amazon, or Sullivan’s own website and pick up the The Crown Conspiracy you won’t regret it.
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