Fans of Michael J. Sullivan's series "The Riyria Revelations" should be thrilled to learn that the Spokane County Library District (SCLD) offers both volumes of his prequel duology "The Riyria Chronicles" in the Digital Downloads section that is available through the SCLD website.
The second volume in the new series is called "The Rose and the Thorn." The book reveals more about the early adventures of his unconventional heroes Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn. According to the description on Amazon, the story takes place 12 years before "The Crown Conspiracy", the first book in the "Riyria Revelations" which is collected as part of the omnibus edition "Theft of Swords".
The books don't have to be read in the order they were published to be enjoyed, but it might be a good idea to read at least "Theft of Swords" first because there are spoilers for some things in "The Crown Conspiracy" and details that were gradually revealed about Royce and Hadrian over the course of the original series are mentioned during key scenes. Reading "The Rose and the Thorn" with no prior knowledge of Sullivan's work would be kind of like watching the Star Wars movies and starting with the third prequel.
With that in mind, "The Rose and the Thorn" is still a great read for readers who prefer either classic fantasy works by authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien or Lord Dunsany, or more recent sword and sorcery novels by authors who subvert genre conventions and have their characters speak like they live in modern times such as Joe Abercrombie or Richard K. Morgan. The novel is a little edgier than "The Riyria Revelations", but Sullivan's great sense of humor and the essential goodness of Hadrian and Royce keep the book from being too dark in spite of all the murders and mayhem.
Royce and Hadrian are very good at killing people, which in some ways makes them excellent fantasy heroes. Royce is a former assassin with incredible physical abilities that may qualify as superhuman (readers of "The Riyria Revelations" will know much more about him and why, for example, he can see in the dark). However, in other ways, their flaws make them less than ideal protagonists. Royce's almost complete lack of compassion is his biggest weakness. Hadrian's reluctance to kill again and his desire to see the best in people make him less effective than he could be, even though he means well.
Hadrian and Royce, in the process of helping their friend Gwen DeLancy, find themselves trying to protect a young woman named Rose who overheard a conversation between conspirators who were trying to eliminate the royal family of the kingdom of Melengar. This allows Sullivan to bring characters from the first series into the story, such as Princess Arista and her steadfast bodyguard Reuben, without having them directly interact with the protagonists. This should add to the enjoyment for his fans.
On one level, the book works brilliantly as a way to learn more about supporting characters from the original series. On another level the book succeeds as a way of showing Royce and Hadrian starting to figure out things they had mastered by the time of "The Crown Conspiracy." Their actions often have unexpected consequences that make things worse--especially as Royce gradually realizes that torturing or killing people aren't the right solutions for every problem. This should be a lot of fun for readers.
Sullivan beautifully captures the voices of Royce and Hadrian and makes them completely consistent with how they were depicted in the earlier books while showing an earlier stage in the process of them becoming good people. One particularly well-written scene describes some of the burdens Hadrian carries around from his days as a soldier. He has some survivor guilt coupled with memories of truly terrible things that were at least partly his fault. Royce is basically a violent sociopath with few redeeming qualities, which is oddly fun while at the same time demonstrating that Hadrian had a positive influence on him over the next 12 years.
"The Rose and the Thorn" is a satisfying addition to the histories of Royce and Hadrian that will leave fans wanting more. New readers can look forward to reading "The Riyria Revelations" and the first prequel "The Crown Tower." All of those books are available from SCLD either in print or ebook editions, for those who can't afford to buy their own copies. Readers who have already read the other Riyria books may get motivated to start at the beginning and fall in love with Sullivan's characters and his world all over again.