Thursday, February 18, 2010

[Review] 'Nyphron Rising' by Michael J. Sullivan

Title: Nyphron Rising
Writer: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 362
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Third in The Riyria Revelations
Publisher: Ridan Publishing


War has come to Melengar. To save her kingdom, Princess Arista runs a desperate gamble when she defies her brother and hires Royce and Hadrian for a dangerous mission. As the power of the Nyphron Empire grows, so does Royce's suspicion that the wizard Esrahaddon is using the thieves as pawns in his own game. To find the truth, he must unravel the secret of Hadrian's past...what he discovers could change the future for all of Elan.

Where ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ and ‘Avempartha’ read as standalones ‘Nyphron Rising’ would be a great deal of a challenge, if the reader has not invested the time and resources to read the first two installments in the Riyria Revelations. Events are tied and the actions along with the consequences they spawn will shape the course for the characters in the upcoming installment, which I am oh-so-anticipating to read. As the natural halfway-point for this six volumes series, ‘Nyphron Rising’ is a middle book and as such its major storylines do not resolve, instead set the stage for the culmination in the soon to follow novels in the series.

To further back up my claim the storylines do not seek a way to collide into each other and run neck to neck with any visible connection. On one hand we follow the coronation of Thrace as Empress and the resurrection of the Empire, now that the heir has presumably been found. However, the reader’s shown the heart of the Empire and its true face, which is not something pretty. As far as I grasp it, the very first incarnation of the Empire served to the well-being and the unity of its subjects against the dangers that were the other races in the past. This incarnation is more about greed and the ambition of cunning with their schemes to own, to have, to restore and rule what they think is entitled to them. The clergy it would seem is not so innocent or pure, especially master Machiavellian character, bishop Saldur, now pronounced as regent to the Empire. To emphasize how cold-hearted the men running the Empire are, we witness the de-humanizing treatment Thrace, now named Modina, receives. It was an interesting inside look into the relationship between Amilia and Modina, given the fact that the Empress suffers from detachment from the real world and is practically mute.

The other storyline is more dynamic and action packed, following princess Arista as she tries to prove her worth to her brother and her usefulness to Melegar, which is now at war with the Empire and not doing an admirable job, due to the lack of support from other kingdoms. The manner she chooses to do that is by hiring the Riyria and go on an almost suicide mission to strike a treaty with the nationalists. On the outside the storyline provides dealings with dubious characters, they face betrayal and they get caught in an uprising, organized and executed by Arista herself in Ratibor. However, on the inside this is a profound character study and development. It seems to be the heart of ‘Nyphron Rising’ as we see key characters learn more about themselves and solve dilemmas.

The biggest surprise was the focus on Arista’s development from spoiled royalty to an actual human individual, who is touch with the people and not separated by ranks and hierarchy. At first it was tedious to read her narrative, because I dislike such characters, but her development after Sullivan pushed her hard outside her comfort zone was one to behold. One could say she has become a woman in her own right and a witch in the more capable and resourceful sense, although there is some slight foreshadowing that he might wrestle with desire and temptation to use her powers to full extent. In the mean time Hadrian and Royce have some issues to work out as well. Hadrian suffers from depression and existential crisis, trying to find his vocation or at least something honorable to pursue, while Royce has hesitations, whether or not to leave his friend pursue his destiny. The rocky terrain their partnership endures through a new angle to look at the characters and that paired with the mission to track down the true heir to the Empire and decipher the games of the ancient wizard Esrahaddon makes ‘Nyphron Rising’ an interesting read.

Verdict: [B+] Despite the intrigue, the mystery and the ancient secrets that piece together a larger and impressive in itself picture, ‘Nyphron Rising’ didn’t quite do it for me. In comparison to the first two installments it pales a bit, but I can justify that with the natural need to have a book that prepares the chess board for the upcoming game in the world of Elan. Nevertheless, Michael J. Sullivan has carved his name in the genre and I am only sorry that he is seriously under-read.

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