The Crown Conspiracy by Michael Sullivan is the first in the six-book Riyria Revelations series. Sullivan explains in the book's Afterward that he wants to “bring the [fantasy] genre back to its roots...great characters, a complex plot, humor, and drama all in appropriate measures.”
Sullivan's Crown Conspiracy accomplishes this and more. The book is a fun, exciting, quick read, and a refreshing change from the 1,000-page fantasy tomes on the market these days.
Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melbourn are independent thieves in the Kingdom of Melengar. They take jobs that other thieves turn down, which makes their services valuable to the rich and the scheming. But business is slow lately and winter is coming. So when a scared noble asks their help to avoid a duel he will surely lose, Hadrian and Royce take the job assuming it to be a quick payday. All they have to do is retrieve a sword the noble already stole and hid in a church. Easy. They realize it might be too good to be true, but the thought of starving over the winter holds even less appeal.
They're soon wishing for the grumbling bellies they tried to avoid.
Not only are they framed for the murder of the King of Melengar, but they find themselves unwitting participants in an adventure where their actions determine the freedom of Melengar and the entire continent. I can't reveal much more about the plot without giving away some entertaining twists, but the story gives fantasy fans the adventure they crave without descending to overly-gruesome violence or cliched magic from the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.
Hadrian and Royce are master thieves, yet they have an honorable streak that brings them more trouble than they'd prefer. They act so honorable at times that it makes you wonder why they chose a life of crime to begin with. Both have secret pasts they'd rather not talk about, and both have talents they prefer to keep hidden by their lives of thievery. Sullivan does not make clear what those secret pasts are, but he explains that The Riyria Revelations, though six books, is meant to be one epic tale. The next books will surely reveal more about these fascinating characters.
My only criticism is that Sullivan's bad guys had a penchant for "monologue-ing." Whenever it appeared our heroes were dead meat, the villains had to explain their schemes in detail and essentially brag to the good guys “boy, are you screwed now.” Unfortunately this seemed to happen in exciting scenes, which brought the action to a standstill.
Despite that, Sullivan gave me the kind of story that made me fall in love with fantasy when I was ten. The Crown Conspiracy is a worthy start to what is sure to be an epic series.
The Riyria Revelations series is available in print and eBook on Amazon.