Avempartha sees our “heroes” from The Crown Conspiracy back in action and in as fine a form as ever. The opening scenes in the novel, the set-up, is a fantastic intro for readers who read the first book and an excellent and highly entertaining way to recap a bit of back story for new readers. It is a quick little conversation between Royce and Hadrian and a third-party and while it manages to encapsulate parts of The Crown Conspiracy it does an even better job at managing to illuminate the moral complexities of the roguish heroes.
As with The Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha starts out with a simple plot: a young farm girl hires Royce and Hadrian to save both her father and her village. Of course, there is a nigh invulnerable beast that is terrorizing the village and a magic sword that most be stolen in order to stop it. Said sword is locked inside the elven tower, the titular Avempartha, and it’s up to Royce and Hadrian to get it. Of course things get complicated as our duo is drawn into the subtle weaving of a certain extremity challenged wizard while at the same time caught in the machinations of the Church of Nyphron.
Avempartha, manages to create some diverse settings. I was extraordinarily fond of the juxtaposition of the essentially mud hut village in the shadow of Avempartha and it is rather clever symbolic link between Ersashaddon’s descriptions of humans and elves. At the same time Sullivan crafts each setting with, if not an equal amount of detail, with equal amounts of care and atmosphere. While Avempartha a tower on an island in the middle of a river hanging almost off a huge waterfall is certainly the more impressive and awe inspiring visual there is a certain charm to the village with its pig chasing little girl, solid black nights, and isolated feel. Despite the aura of fear and isolation that little village manages to brim with life, desperate life to be sure, but there is a brightness to it that Sullivan again juxtaposes with the innards of Avempartha empty save for the dead. That’s some fantastic stuff there.
I remember once staying with family friends in England. They had a house about 45 minutes to an hour outside London it wasn’t a huge house and they had “caravan” out front that I got to stay in. At some point during our first night I opened the door and it was like a wall of black. No lights, nothing, just blackness. There is a palpable weight to a night like that, especially laying alone in a tiny little caravan, even if family and friends are in a house only a couple dozen feet away. There is a moment in Avempartha, as Royce and Hadrian huddle with a family on their first night in the village, when that memory came back to me. That blackness, punctuated by the sounds of a hunting beast, is chilling moment in the novel. The fear and loss of the villagers becomes a much more believable and real thing from that point on.
If there is one thing that Avempartha does better than its predecessor is that it manages to reveal even more information about the world of Elan and our protagonists. Admittedly this occasionally veers towards some “infodump” territory (some moments with Esrashaddon and one brief moment with the Princess meeting some church “personalities”) but Sullivan maintains the admirable tradition of keeping most of the world building as part of the action and tied to the plot of the novel. The only really clunky moment is in the beginning of the novel when we get huge influx of information on Royce’s past. It is entertaining, Royce and Hadrian tend to have a MST3K kind of rapport when they’re being talked at, but I found it a bit awkward in execution and not necessarily pertinent to the overall plot of the novel. Regardless, I would hardly call that a major stumbling block.
If The Crown Conspiracy left you with questions rest assured the Avempartha puts you well down the path of having them answered; if it doesn’t answer them outright. The book really goes beyond those questions, delving deep into the world of Elan and revealing a deeply detailed history and an increasingly complex web of factions within factions. The Church of Nyphon in particular moves from the scheming jerks category straight into the major threats category. However, Sullivan is careful to weave in subtle hints with regards to various sub-factions within the church itself. You have the inquisition-like elite soldiers lead by the arrogant Luis Guy, the politically scheming faction of Bishop Saldur, and (potentially at least) the seemingly more spiritual minded individuals the Princess encounters during her stay at the church’s home location. Throw in Esrashaddon’s claims as to the churches true intents and you have one twisted little web of possible motivations and end goals. It sounds a bit complicated but with the majority of the narrative following Royce and Hadrian the moments of church scheming are almost like a respite from the action and mystery of the rest of the novel.
The only major problem with Avempartha is that I have to wait until October to read the next book. I suppose, if I were a glass half-full kind of person, I’d just be happy that we know, relatively, when the next book is coming out, or even that Sullivan has the series planned out and mostly written from start to finish. I’m very much a glass half-empty kind of person though so my disappointment at having to wait borders on physical discomfort. Anyway if you haven’t yet tried either The Crown Conspiracy or Avempartha yet then you might want to head on over here and take advantage to that 2 for 10% off deal (22.50 for both books!)! Avempartha is another strong entry that exceeds its predecessor in both depth an scope. The Riyria Revelations is shaping up to be one of the most original and entertaining fantasy series I’ve seen in years on par, and often better, than anything any of the major publishers have to offer. Get reading people!