The Spokane County Library District (SCLD) offers both print and ebook editions of "The Crown Tower" by Michael J. Sullivan to its patrons. This is great news for anyone who loves sword and sorcery adventures, but may not be able to buy every book that sounds interesting on sites such as Amazon.
"The Crown Tower" is the first installment in the two-volume series "The Riyria Chronicles." The books in this duology are prequels to his popular "Riyria Revelations" novels. "The Crown Tower" tells the story of how the protagonists from those books--the amiable swordsman Hadrian Blackwater and the mysterious thief Royce Melborn--met and began working together.
Sullivan's Riyria novels are all highly entertaining adventure stories with exceptional plotting and terrific characters. They would appeal about equally to fans of old-school fantasy books by authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis or George MacDonald and fans of the more edgy, somewhat subversive works that have become popular in recent years by writers such as Joe Abercrombie, George R.R. Martin or Richard K. Morgan. For someone who has not read a Riyria novel yet, "The Crown Tower" is a great place to start.
In the original series, Royce and Hadrian had many adventures in the grand high fantasy tradition that involved characters such as an immortal wizard, a hostile dragon, and an unreliable dwarf who would do anything to get his hands on Royce's special dagger. They explored much of their world in a quest to stop a villain from forging an empire out of several independent kingdoms. But at first, they were just thieves who took on difficult jobs for wealthy members of the ruling class.
"The Crown Tower" goes back to before Hadrian and Royce went into crime together and gives them an origin story. About half of the book is devoted to their first heist and how a supporting character from "The Riyria Revelations" more or less forced them to become partners even though they originally hated each other.
Fans of the original series will appreciate learning more about Hadrian, an important character named Gwen DeLancy and several events that were mentioned in those books. First-time Sullivan readers will appreciate the strong female characters and the fun mixture of humor and gritty action. The constant bickering and banter between Royce and Hadrian makes it impossible not to love them as they get into various dangerous situations they are not quite prepared to handle.
Sullivan intended "The Crown Tower" to work as a standalone story because he didn't want readers to feel like they needed to be familiar with all the Riyria novels to understand what they were reading. However, the book mentions a lot about the formative years of Hadrian and Royce, including several things that could potentially spoil surprises from the original series if somebody wanted to read the books in chronological order. So, it is easy to see why Sullivan recommends reading his novels in the order they were published. Still, the stories are good enough that at least some readers wouldn't mind knowing some things before they are supposed to.
"The Crown Tower" was written after Sullivan wrote "The Rose and the Thorn", which is the second book in "The Riyria Chronicles." The book goes into a lot more detail about things that were mentioned in "The Rose and the Thorn" so in a weird way it is a prequel for a prequel.
Reading the two books in the order they were written makes it very easy to appreciate learning more about Gwen and what she went through in the process of opening her brothel and how Royce and Hadrian met her one fateful day. Someone who reads them in the correct publishing order may wonder why the second book summarizes so much of the content of the first novel. That is the closest thing to a flaw to be found inside the pages of "The Riyria Chronicles" and most readers will probably be too busy enjoying the stories to waste time thinking about things like this.
"The Crown Tower" features swordplay, feats of derring-do, a suspenseful burglary attempt and many other pleasant surprises waiting to be discovered by fantasy buffs who may not have enough of that sort of thing in their lives. The book will be loved both by fans of "The Riyria Revelations" and people who really need to go back to the library, or the SCLD website, or a Spokane-area book retailer and get their hands on the rest of the Riyria novels as soon as possible.
The book is enjoyable on its own merits, but why should someone deprive him- or herself when there are seven more novels featuring Royce and Hadrian? One Riyria novel is not enough.