Review: Wintertide by Michael J. Sullivan

Wintertide by Michael J. Sullivan
Wintertide by Michael J. Sullivan

Wintertide
Michael J. Sullivan
Ridan Publishing, 2010 (to be republished in The Heir of Novron by Orbit Books in 2012)

Wintertide is the penultimate volume of Michael J. Sullivan’s The Riyria Revelations, out of print as a single volume (thankfully provided to me for review by Robin Sullivan) it will be available alongside Percepliquis as The Heir of Novron next month. The events of Wintertide spawn directly out of The Emerald Storm with Royce and Hadrian having finally tracked down Degan Gaunt, the supposed Heir of Novron (I remain a sceptic) to the capital city of the Novron Empire where he has been captured and is awaiting trial. Also in the city, the damaged Empress is awaiting her marriage and the Princess of Melengar, Arista is also awaiting execution. To make matters worse it turns out that Melengar is under seige by the Imperial army and isn’t doing so well. It is this revelation that prompts one of the greatest mistakes any group of heroes can make: they split the party. Royce heads back to Melengar to check on his lover Gwen leaving Hadrian to extract Gaunt on his own.

As far as I know Wintertide marks the first time that Royce and Hadrian are really separated for any length of time (at least while “on screen”). It is a curious thing to see them operate in absence of one another. It was a refreshing change to see the often calculating and reserved Royce display some emotion and his near reckless decision to hare off after Gwen was directly in line with how his character has changed over the course of these five novels. It was also fun seeing Hadrian get to play the role of “mastermind” in the prison break of Gaunt; a venture that has predictably awful results.

Wintertide offers a more complete glimpse at noble society. Seeing Hadrian forced to rub shoulders with knights is an excellent way to highlight his rough nobility, humility, and subtle confidence (or sometimes not-so subtle as when he calmly informs an entire room that he knows how to kill them all) when he his contrasted so starkly against the arrogance and entitlement of the Imperial Knights. I absolutely loved the way Hadrian, by just being Hadrian, earned the respect not only of some of those same knights but of the working class servants as well. Hadrian’s conflict with the betrayal he has been forced into making comes closer to the surface the more people seem to adore him and yet with stakes so high I still found myself wondering if he would go through with it.

Royce as at his most human in Wintertide. Over the course of four novels we have watched as he slowly admitted his need for other people in his life and watch how doing what’s right (and only occasionally benefiting from it) has helped him become, if not a better person at least a more complete one. Gwen is no small part of that fact and his concern for her, over and above the potentially dire threat to Heir of Novron, speaks to that fact. Of course there is a moment towards the novel’s end where the old Royce, the pre-Hadrian Royce, reappears and well he isn’t someone you’d want to know.

Wintertide constantly offers scene after scene that have magic and memorable touches. From Royce and Merrick’s tete-a-tete (surprisingly more civil than one might expect given their past), to Hadrian taking on knights with only a towel, even Modina gets a moment to shine, and the novel’s climax is so full of awesome I can barely describe it. Wintertide moves at lightning pace and does with an air of portent and doom that never quite dissipates even after the book is over and done. At Wintertide’s end there are still a number of big looming questions that I don’t know how Sullivan will wrap them up in one more book.

The Riyria Revelations is decidedly old school sword and sorcery fantasy done right. It is a refreshing change of pace, or rather perhaps a nice accompaniment to, the grim and gritty fantasy that is so in vogue these days. Wintertide is the first book in a while that had me up and reading up far later that I should have been. Wintertide is a major turning point for many characters both big and small, shaking the status quot to its foundations. How Percepliquis will follow the changes initiated here is anybody’s guess but I absolutely cannot wait to find out. Wintertide will be available as part of The Heir of Novron late in January.

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