Book Review: Theft of Swords, Book One: The Crown Conspiracy

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

Title: Theft of Swords
Author: Michael J. Sullivan
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

What’s it About: Hadrian and Royce are held up at arrow point by a gang of thieves, who then back off when Hadrian mentions “Riyria.” The two men head off to Archibald Ballentyne’s castle to steal some letters that Ballentyne, the Earl of Chadwick, would have used to blackmail Marquis Lanaklin.  The money Hadrian and Royce make from this should last them a full winter without additional work; however, the next day Hadrian is approached by a man asking their help to recover Count Pickering’s sword for a duel. 

The catch? It must be done the following night at Essendon Castle, and the client pays them a handsome sum. After some deliberation, the men accept despite their rules, which in turn sets off an interesting chain of events.  When they climb the walls of the castle to retrieve the sword, they find the King’s body, and are accused of murdering the King of Melengar.  They get taken thrown into jail, but the daughter of the king, Princess Arista, saves them with the caveat that they take her brother, Prince Alric with them for safety to a hidden prison. 

When Alric wakes up the next day on the boat, he attempts to fight them thinking that he has been kidnapped, only to find out that the soldiers of the Royal Guard are attempting to kill him, and ultimately agrees to work with Hadrian and Royce. The three men seek shelter at an Abbey, only to find out the next morning that the Abbey had been burnt by vandals calling themselves the Royal Guard.  In addition, the vandals killed everyone but one individual–Myron, the son of Marquis Lanaklin. Soon Myron joins the three men on the journey, agreeing to venture out of the safety of the only world he has ever known–the Abbey–at the request of Alric to help find the secret prison.  It so happens that Myron has a photographic memory and is able to remember every page of every book in the Abbey’s library.  

The four men find themselves against a stone range, which hides the location of the prison.  At first, they’re unable to get into the prison, but soon Royce figures out that the way in is Alric’s ring.  They ask to visit the prisoner, a 900-year-old wizard chained to the chair by the name of Esrahaddon.  Coincidentally, the man knows why they have come, and enlightens them on the events in the world.  He convinces them to free him, helps them evade the Novron guards who are there to stop him from escaping, and helps them to exit the prison. He then splits from the group, indicating that he will be in touch soon, and even though Royce and Hadrian do not like the thought of letting go of a man that the Crown thought to be dangerous for 900 years, they have no choice as they need to return Alric to his rightful place. 

Along the way, Alric and Myron get kidnapped by men pretending to be the Royal Guard, but Hadrian and Royce save them with the assistance of the townsfolk. Then they head to Count Pickering’s estate to inform the count of the treason and form their next plans. 

In the meantime, Arista deals with her uncle, Percy Braga, who has some questions for her regarding Alric’s disappearance. Arista finds out that her uncle is the one behind the murder of her father; however, before she is able to do anything about it, her uncle comes to her room in a secluded tower and asks about her state of mind.  He then starts making accusations against Arista to make it seem like she was the one behind her father’s murder, and tell her that she will go on trial for witchcraft as well as the murder of the King.  He then locks her in the tower with the help of the Dwarf. 

As the severity of the treason dawns on them, Count Pickering calls in additional nobles to help support Alric’s cause against Braga.  Hadrian and Royce assist the Pickerings and Alric to come up with a battle plan, but when information about Arista’s trial reaches the castle, Alric asks the two thieves to ride to save her.  

On the morning of Arista’s trial, Braga meets with Bishop Saldur of the Nyphron Church, where it becomes evident that the Church has maneuvered Braga into a position in the Royal Court for their own purposes.  There’s a scheme by the church to get in control of all of the surrounding monarchies, stacking the deck against the current ruling system without appearing to do so.  Saldur introduces Ballentyne to Braga, and they discuss the love letters that Ballentyne had stolen out of his possession. According to Saldur, those letters were coded messages from Marquis Lanaklin to a messenger of King Amrath. He then goes to explain that all of the individuals that the Church had carefully placed in positions of power in the monarchies of the surrounding Kingdoms have found themselves to be rulers of those kingdoms through unusual accidents. Saldur also reveals that he had asked Braga to teach a lesson to the monks in the Abbey as they were the ones who were the messengers carrying the “love” letters.  The men realize that Alric might send Hadrian and Royce to save Arista, so they prepare an ambush, not realizing that they will be outsmarted. 

Hadrian and Royce pay off some men, and slip past the guards in the sewers.  Arista’s trial had started with Braga and the nobles loyal to the Bishop telling outlandish stories that seal Arista’s fate. During the trial, the Head of the Royal Guards informs Braga of the thieves’ capture, and then gives him a piece of paper, which unbeknownst to him is a message from Hadrian and Royce. This message forces Braga’s hand at the trial, as they tell him that they have the princess, so he runs to get Arista out of her tower to the trial.  A battle ensues in which Hadrian fights Braga off, keeping him at bay, while Royce picks the lock to the tower.  What Royce realizes too late is that by picking the lock, he had triggered a trap placed by the dwarf, Magnus, in the tower, which weakens the structure of the tower.  Every step that Royce takes means that the step he got off of will fall away; however, Royce outsmarts Magnus, by jumping ahead every other step, leaving himself some leeway to come back down.  As a result, he’s able to make it all the way to Arista, get her out of the tower, and brings her back down to the door, when the tower collapses on them. 

In the meantime, the army that Alric had gathered at the Pickering’s home advance on Medford, the capital of Melengar, to take back the city. As the battle starts, the people of the Lower Quarter, one of the city’s poorer districts, rise up against the Royal forces as a result of Hadrian’s and Royce’s connections and planning, in which they organized a resistance by telling the truth surrounding the death of the King and the disappearance of Alric. Overtaken by grief at the men he’s lost, Alric charges to the gates, announcing himself and demanding to be allowed in.  The Royal Soldiers, upon recognizing their King, allow him and his entourage to pass through the gates into the city, and into the castle.  When they arrive at the castle, Count Pickering fights and ultimately kills Braga in a duel, which Hadrian admits he could not have done because Melengar laws say that any commoner who kills a noble will be punished with death. 

As Alric and Arista walk away from the battle, they meet Saldur, who tells them that Braga was insane as a way to save face with the two in spite of his betrayal.  Both Alric and Arista are skeptical of the Bishop, but do not choose to change the status quo. They encounter Ballentyne, who Alric wants to put into the dungeon, but Saldur protects Ballentyne in a diplomatic maneuver, and the siblings are none the wiser of their connection.

A while later, Alric gets Crowned, and the legend of Prince Alric and the Thieves gets told by local storytellers and theaters.  The night of the coronation, one building burns light in the Artisan Quarters.  It was a former hat store, which was turned into a study for Myron to re-write the books in the Abbey.  Hadrian and Royce knock on the door of the store, startling Myron, and then tell him the news that they got Alric to agree to rebuild the Abbey as payment for Arista.  This elates Myron, and he takes them up on the offer to return to the Abbey to spearhead the rebuilding effort. 

In a different Kingdom, on the same night, Ballentyne wakes up in his study to find that Braga’s head was left on his lap, with a message on the wall written in blood warning him off to not interfere in Melengar’s affairs ever again. 

My Verdict: The first book of the Theft of Swords was gripping, and amazingly well written. I loved the mysterious Royce, and the good-hearted Hadrian, both of whom are thieves for the royal court’s intrigues. The book was fast paced, but it was what kept it very interesting. I was invested in the stories and characters of Royce, and Hadrian, and really wanted to get to know them better. I suspect there’s more to Royce and Hadrian than we know, and they have a role to play in the future books, more specifically in the sense that they’re somehow related to the whole premise of the book–finding the Heir of Novron. The only way to find out is to keep reading.

Alric and Myron on the other hand provide a comic relief almost to the seriousness of Hadrian and Royce. Alric particularly grows out of a helpless prince to someone ready to take action for his people, and someone that is worthy of being King. Myron is funny with his constant surprise at different things that he’s encountering and experiencing. For example, he makes everyone jump in surprise and fear at a tavern, as the atmosphere was tense and they were expecting to find guards, when really he wanted to point out a brown horse, which he has never seen up until that moment.

Saldur is such a complex figure, because he’s able to weasel his way around and out of things, even though he’s suspicious and is a major threat to Alric and Arista. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get what is coming to him in this book, but I sure hope that he will get it in the next one.

Overall, the book was a great read, and I can’t wait to continue reading the next in the series.

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