Michael J Sullivan
Ridan Publishing, 2009
First Line: Amilia made the mistake of looking back into Edith Mon’s eyes.
Nyphron Rising is the third book in Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations following both The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha. The first novels set the bar rather high and I’m happy to report that Nyphron Rising manages to live up to its predecessors in just about every respect and even manages to pass them in some. Following the events of the first two books the Nyphron Empire has reemerged from the ashes of history to threaten the kingdoms of Avryn. Lead not so much by the prophesized return of the imperial heir but rather by a regency of corrupt church officials the new empire has managed to subsume a number of the surrounding nations leaving the kingdom of Melengar to more or less fend for itself.
As with any series Nyphron Rising is dependent upon the events of the previous volumes to place its story in context. Where Avempartha and The Crown Conspiracy managed to stand relatively well on their own that is most definitely less the case for Nyphron Rising. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and Sullivan does a better job than most authors in crafting a tale that, despite being reliant on the context set by his previous, stand confidently on its own two feet. I still think that a reader walking in off the street, so to speak, would find Nyphron Rising an enjoyable read in and of itself but each novel is part of a greater whole that is slowly being uncovered.
Perhaps most surprising is that where both the previous volumes focuses more or less on the heroes of the series, the thieves Royce and Hadrian, in Nyphron Rising the duo actually ends up sharing center stage with the Princess Arista of Melengar. While previous volumes in the series, and her reintroduction here, she is initially cast as something of the spoiled princess archetype the bulk of the novel focuses on her emergence as an actual human being. I was almost blindsided by this. In fact when first reading from her perspective I was mostly impatient to get on to more time with Royce and Hadrian. However, the more time Sullivan, and the reader, spends with Arista the more she manages to come into her own. Furthermore, rather than upset the dynamic and flow that defines Royce and Hadrian she serves as an in, a means for the reader to observe the depth of the relationship between those two characters. As the story progresses and Arista becomes more familiar with her companions she becomes less an observer and more a participant.
Nyphron Rising is a bit of a broader work then the previous entries as well. While the main thread of the narrative focuses on Royce’s, Hadrian’s, and Arista’s attempts to gain allies for Melengar there is almost as much time spent on both the politics pushing the Nyphron Empire forward and the heir that is nominally its head. As the first line indicates Sullivan also takes the time to introduce a new character, the good-natured and straight forward kitchen scullion Amilia. Sympathetic and honest she is the reader’s anchor in the murky political and religious waters at the heart of the Nyprhon Empire. Put into something of a difficult and wholly unexpected position by circumstances beyond her control Amilia’s chapters exemplify a fascinating blend of tension and heartwarming compassion that throws the bald power mongering around her into stark contrast.
Amidst introducing new characters, broadening the series’ overarching plot, and fleshing out old characters Sullivan somehow manages to squeeze in examining the history and upbringing of both Royce and Hadrian. Along with Arista the two thieves manage to stop and visit the birthplaces and childhood homes of both Royce and Hadrian. The novel focuses a bit more intensely on Hadrian since his desire to retire from the thieving/spying business is one of the primary sources of tension between the two friends. Given what we learned about Hadrian in Avempartha (which I’m not going to spoil here) Royce’s attempts to uncover more about Hadrian’s upbringing not only serve as a valuable means of further deepening Hadrian’s back story but a excellent way of learning more about the history of the world without an excess of long expository passages.
Indeed, Sullivan’s ability to add to his world and characters while remaining focused on the plot(s) on hand is impressive and serves to drive the novel forward at a breakneck pace. There some occasional problems however, primarily with Sullivan telegraphing some of his character’s moves a bit too neatly. Primarily this problem arises via Arista’s use of magic and her discoveries over the course of the novel early on chart almost directly into important developments towards the novel’s end. In addition Arista’s sudden attachment to a rebellious leader late in the novel felt a bit contrived, but not so much as to be distracting or off putting; especially in light of what I saw as something of a growing rapport between Arista and Hadrian. In truth I’m of the opinion these are minor problems that never really detracted one whit from my enjoyment of the novel.
If you are a fan of fantasy and have yet to check out the Riyria Revelations you might consider turning in your credentials. While I can’t recommend it as a starting point for new readers Nyphron Rising has raised the bar once again for future installments in the series. Sullivan effortlessly blends an old school fantasy feel with a reinvigorating verve and an original voice that make it stand out from the crowd. Of course there was one major problem with Nyphron Rising….it ended. In addition to being available via your standard booksellers you can of course purchase the novels directly from the author as well and if you have the time don’t forget to check out his blog. Meanwhile I’ll be anxiously twiddling my thumbs as I await news on Emerald Storm.