Review: Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

Posted by DarkChaplain at 8/13/2016
Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer, Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom, and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.
This series had me excited since it was announced, years ago. Back then, the titles and covers were still very much placeholders, but I still feel fond of the original title of the novel: Rhune. Having read the book now, the title is more fitting than ever, but certain concessions have to be made for the sake of clearer marketing, I guess. Either way, the novel met my expectations and I am looking forward to the coming years' releases.

The Story:
"Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer, Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom, and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun."


The Review:
Age of Myth is a wonderful novel. I had long anticipated its release, and I was not disappointed by anything but the fact that there are five more novels in the series to go, most likely to be released annualy. While I love that this turned into six whole books while Sullivan was writing it (as he tends to finish a series before putting the first book out there), this means that it will likely take til 2020 for me to finish it. On the flipside, it also means a great summer read every year to come.

Stylistically, Age of Myth is a typical Sullivan novel. It is family friendly, avoiding grimdark slaughter killing for its own sake (though it is not afraid to depict killing and maiming if it serves the plot and characters!), it doesn't descend into vile language, and the characters are all easily relatable. There is also a sense of humor about the dialogue and exposition, many quotable scenes, and a good dose of hope even in the darkest hours of the story. Like with Riyria, both Revelations and Chronicles, it is easy to recommend this novel to fans of fantasy epics, and might even be a good choice for a young teen's first fantasy novel. It is approachable, endearing and something you can put down with a good feeling.

While the Legends of the First Empire series shares its setting with Riyria, it is set thousands of years earlier in the timeline. It sets out to tell us of the real events that led to the formation of the First Empire of Novron, since, while there were many hints and revelations spread out through the Riyria Revelations, history is written by the winners, and much is lost over the millennia. This series is going to set the record straight, and in doing so give a new perspective to old readers, while having no entry barriers for newcomers. It is a great recipe for a series like this, offering almost a blank slate for the author to build upon myths, and in turn avoiding heavy spoilers across series.

The story of Age of Myth primarily follows five characters: Raithe the "Godkiller", Malcolm the ex-slave, Persephone, the old village chief's wife, Suri, a young mystic whose friend is a wolf, Minna, and Fhrey magician Arion, tutor to the prince. While initially completely unrelated to one another, the four come together throughout the story and it is a marvel to see their relationships grow, both between them and with the other inhabitants of the Dahl Rhen village.

It all kicks off with Raithe and his father crossing the border into Fhrey territory, upsetting an elven noble. He slays Raithe's dad and in turn ends up getting knocked out by his slave, Malcolm, and consecutively killed by Raithe. This earns him the reputation as "Godkiller", but as word of his deed spreads and people start questioning the Fhrey's godly and immortal nature, the elves take vengeance on the tribes of men.
Young mystic Suri gets wind of impending doom for humanity, the Rhune, as the species is called by their elven overlords, and goes to warn Dahl Rhen's chieftain of it all. Persephone welcomes her, but has to take things into her own hands as with the death of her husband, leadership passes on to an incompetent and selfish fool. She ventures out with Suri to ask the ancient oak Magda (seen on the cover) for advice in preventing her people's extinction.
Beset by brigands, the two women are saved by Raithe and Malcolm, and thus the core group is formed.

Arion, meanwhile, is sent out by the Fane, ruler of the elves, to bring back the wayward Fhrey Nyphron, who has turned his back on his peers after his father was humiliated by the Fane in what should have been an honourable duel. Through her, we see the misconceptions of her people when it comes to the outside world and the Rhune in particular. She is a very sympathetic character who is hard to dislike, and values wisdom over raw power, which puts her into stark contrast with one of the book's antagonists, First Minister Gryndal.

Other characters join the cast as the story progresses, including a dangerous, man-eating bear, Nyphron's band of outlaws and Persephone's friends at home. The latter are very interesting to me, and will be instrumental in the following installments. The girl Roan, for example, is very shy and withdrawn due to past trauma, but also highly inventive and puts into context just how undeveloped the Rhune truly are, despite their familiar mannerisms. To give an example, she invents a pocket!

“A pock-et. That’s what I call it. You know, like a poke—a little sack? But this is a tiny one. So it’s a pocket. See?” Roan picked up a bit of string from her worktable and slipped it in. Then she let go, leaving it there as if she’d performed a magic trick. “Because it’s open on top, I can put stuff in and take it out with one hand, and it’s always with me.”

Then we have headstrong but alluring Moya, who is adored by almost everyone despite her sharp tongue. Brin, apprentice to Keeper of the Ways Maeve, also prefaces every chapter with a note on characters, environment, and the times they live in. Then there is the old hag Padera, who is snarky and full of life hacks. But I particularly liked poor Gifford the potter, who was born deformed and has a speech impediment. His relationship with Roan is touching in all the right ways, but also sad. The excerpt for book two, Age of Swords, which is added at the back as an extra, mainly concerns these two, making me very excited to see their characters grow in the future - for now, however, they were well-established and are some of my favorites from the book's side characters.

Surprisingly, Nyphron isn't as prominent in the novel as Riyria readers might expect. His role is established firmly, and he has many good scenes, but he is left ambiguous as well. I actually liked that. His time will come, but this book was primarily about Persephone and Suri, with Raithe close by and Malcolm as a strong support yet also left ambiguous in many ways.

From the list of characters I have given, you'll notice that the book is fairly heavy on female characters. While men are involved too, especially on chieftain Konniger's side of things or the Fhrey, I feel that the female cast is particularly strong and all encompassing, with virtues and vices included. Of course, Sullivan has a history of writing compelling, relatable and authentic women; Arista, Gwen, Thrace, Rose and co all spring to mind from Riyria. But here I feel he has crafted a tight-knit group of women who complement one another so well, special praise is in order.
In a way, you could even say that Age of Myth is an emancipation story, heralding a shift in societal norms, all without being preachy or devolving into self-righteousness or being judgemental.

Honestly, I was in love with this book from the start. Sullivan's prose is inviting as ever, marrying familiar tones with a great, unknown world full of new discoveries waiting for its inhabitants. It is a much more magical setting than the "present day" Riyria books present Elan as. There are many hints and ties between the two, which are fun to explore.

But the adventures of the characters here are very different from the outgoing nature of Riyria stories. Where every new novel saw Royce and Hadrian venture out to new locations and perform different tasks, Age of Myth is more concerned with the story of Dahl Rhen and its people, and constructing a fledgling society and putting its patrons and main gears into place. It is something I liked a lot about Graham McNeill's Legend of Sigmar trilogy; it took myths from millenia after the facts got lost, put them into context and explored the origins of what people in the present day take for granted. Age of Myth provides a new, fresh perspective with many original ideas in quite the same way.

Sullivan has a way with telling emotional, mature stories that still know to appeal to younger audiences as well. This book is no exception. It had me curse my Kindle's batteries on many occassions, especially while stuck at the airport for almost a day. Getting to hear the story narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds once again also helped; he truly is the voice of Sullivan's works, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
It is an addictive novel that I had to force myself to put down when my girlfriend got home. It made me smile and laugh and fear and fret. Its dark and grim moments were carefully balanced against the lighter tones and hope for the future, despite looming threats to all Rhune. I had to force myself to walk away from bookshelves on vacation and not to buy a hardcover copy right there and then; I was already pushing the weight limits on my luggage!

Age of Myth is a damn good book, and I am glad that all my excitement of the past few years since announcement paid off. It is one of 2016's greatest hits for sure.

Age of Myth on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


The Reading Lamp

0 comments:

Leave a Reply

DarkChaplain's bookshelf: read

The Dragon Engine
Tomb Raider II #7
Star Wars #22
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Adaptation #3
Deathwatch: The Last Guardian
The Harrowing
Whacky
The Awakening
Blackshield
Poe Dameron #5


DarkChaplain's favorite books »