Book Review: Theft of Swords, Book Two: Avempartha

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 spare the life of Wyatt Deminthal, the man who pretended to be Count DeWitt to hire them two years ago, when Wyatt reveals that he bougth a young girl from a man named Ambrose Moor. They walk through the city of Colnora, where they encounter individuals from the Black Diamond, a guild of assassins and thieves Royce used to work for, who not only tell Royce’s history in the guild, but also tell them that a woman is looking for them. 

Hadrian and Royce find Thrace Wood of Dahlgren, who has sought them out at the behest of Esrahaddon (now going by Mr. Esra Haddon), in order to save her father who wants to murder a beast that has been haunting their village.  To do so, Hadrian and Royce have to break into Avempartha, an Elvish tower on river bordering  Human and Elvish lands. While the price she is offering is low by their standards, Royce agrees to the job, surprising Hadrian, because of his curiosity surrounding Esrahaddon. 

In the meantime, back in Melengar, Arista becomes King Alric’s newest Ambassador to Dunmore.  Due to her new post, she leaves from Medford, the capital city, with Bishop Saldur, Bernice (her new handmaid who is to spy on Arista for Saldur), and Mauvin and Fanen, the two sons of Count Pickering. Along the way, she stops at Ervanon, meeting with His Holiness the Archbishop of Ghent, one of the highest ranking members of the Church of Nyprhon.  The Archbishop and Saldur question Arista about Esrahaddon, attempting to turn her against him, but she is unable to give them any more information as she doesn’t know Esrahaddon’s whereabouts. After she leaves, the two of them go to a meeting with the remaining Curia, where the church’s plans are revealed–they want to unify the different realms under one central authority who the Church can control, a guy like Lord Rufus. 

Royce, Hadrian and Thrace make it back to the village, and settle in for the night, when the creature called a Gilarabrywn attacks the village. The next morning Royce leaves for Avempartha with Esrahaddon, while Hadrian goes about ensuring the villager’s safety by putting them into the Margrave’s Manor. Everyone in the village goes, except for Theron, Thrace’s father, who is more stubborn than a donkey and refuses to leave his home as he seeks to avenge his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson, who were killed by the Gilarabrywn.  It takes Thrace’s near-death experience to get him to come around. 

Arista meets with the King of Dunmore, who continues to accuse her of witchcraft, and mentions Melengar’s tolerance for elves as disgusting.  He turns her away, and so Arista meets with Mauvin and Fanen where she reveals that the contestants are heading to Dahlgren. The nobles, church, and contestants arrive in the village, and kick out the villagers from the Manor, taking all of their livestock for themselves.  Hadrian realizes that the contest is to defeat the Gilarabrywn and tells Fanen and Mauvin to stay away.  Soon enough, the Archbishop does reveal that this is indeed the purpose of the contest, stating a legend that whoever defeats the Gilarabrywn is the true Heir of Novron, the Empire, as it’s been over a thousand years, and lineages are difficult to trace. As a result of her stay at the Manor, Arista befriends Thrace, who tells her about Esrahaddon. 

 With the help of Magnus, the dwarf who attempted to kill the in book 1, Royce, Esrahaddon and Hadrian enter Avempartha through an underwater labyrinth. Magnus then reveals that he was hired by the church to create a replica of a blade, at which point Esrahaddon realizes that the Church is trying to start a puppet emperor and hinder Esrahaddon’s efforts to reinstate the heir. After Royce opens the door to Avempartha, which confuses Magnus and Hadrian as neither can see the open door, Esrahaddon reveals that in order to enter Avempartha, you must either have Elvish blood, or be granted verbal permission. 

The first contestants take on the Gilarabrywn, and become sacrifical lambs. Bishop Saldur believes it is going well, and brings Deacon Tomas to meet with Luis Guy, the sentinel, which is when Deacon Tomas reveals that Esrahaddon is in the area, along with two strangers. Luis Guy rides out with two members of the Sentinel group and finds Hadrian sparring with Mauvin as a show for Theron.  Mauvin had just asked Hadrian how Hadrian knows the secret move of the Teshlors, a group of knights that were the Emperor’s personal body guards during the empire 900 years ago. Hadrian just waves him off, telling him that his father went to war.  As Luis talks to him, Hadrian is quick to realize that Luis is fishing for information on Royce, and refuses to give up any information, only telling him that Mauvin and Fanen Pickering will be traveling back with him.   

At Avempartha, Royce has separated from Esrahaddon, and made his own way up to the Gilarabrywn’s balcony, where he finds half the sword with the Gilarabrywn’s name on it. It turns out that the creature is self aware enough to snap the sword in half, as it is the only thing that can kill it. Royce returns to the village, at which point the Gilarabrywn attacks the village in vengeance for stealing half the sword. Luckily, the whole village along with Hadrian and Royce are hidden in the well, when the Gilarabrywn burns the homes and heads over to the Manor. 

At the Manor, Arista leaves her room after ordering her bodyguard to hold Bernice, her old handmaid, behind in her room. During her walk, she falls into Thrace, who tells her that the village bell is ringing, and together they enter the courtyard as Lord Rufus rides out onto the field to face the Gilarabrywn.  Of course, Saldur gives the speech to the girls that history will be made tonight, but it turns out otherwise.  The replica sword made by Magnus does no harm to the Gilarabrywn, and Lord Rufus is killed. The beast then attacks the manor, setting it on fire, and takes both Thrace and Arista as hostages. 

The next morning, the villagers find a burnt town, and run up to the manor, where they start digging for survivors.  Deacon Tomas tells them that the Gilarabrywn spoke to him, telling him that he will trade the women for the sword and to return it by tomorrow night. They find other survivors including Mauvin and Fanen, as well as a badly burnt Hilfred, Arista’s body guard. Mauvin tells them the story of the attack, and notes that Bishop Saldur left the manor in a carriage. The villagers band together and decide to leave the village to go to other locations, considering that they have lost everything.  Hadrian wants to leave as well, but Royce convinces him to stay, and he returns to Avempartha to steal the remainder of the sword. 

Hadrian stays behind and speaks with one of the contestants, Tobis, who made a contraption against the beast, to trap it.  He also speaks with Magnus about creating a replica sword, when Luis Guy rides up with eight men and threatens to kill Magnus for not doing a good job with the sword. Hadrian steps in to protect him, and Luis starts to speak ill of Royce.  He knows that someone has entered the Citadel, Avempartha, which is clever because only someone of Elvish blood can enter, and begins to describe Royce, after which he says that it’s a problem with crossbred elves as they can pass for human but they are inhumanly evil. Luis is trying to make sure that no one unworthy of the crown of the empire gets it. Ultimately a fight breaks out in which Hadrian kills at least four men with the help of Theron and Magnus, while Mauvin and Fanen defend themselves against four other men. As a result, Fanen gets killed, and Mauvin is injured, as Hadrian manages to kill the sentinel guards just before they kill Mauvin. With the help of Deacon Tomas and other men, they help staunch Mauvin’s bleeding, at which point Hadrian tries to look for Luis Guy. Magnus tells him that the man had grabbed a horse mid-fight and run. 

Back at the tower, Arista and Thrace are trying to find items in the pile of trophies that the Gilarabrywn has in the hopes that they can find something to defend themselves with. The beast had taken off the balcony to lull the “thieves” into a false sense of security, returning only momentarily to check in with Arista and Thrace.  When it hears footsteps, it lifts off the balcony again, and a man in a black cloak shows up.  The figure makes no movement, but a bright flash of light goes off, blinding everyone including the Gilarabrywn, who recognizes Esrahaddon and is scared of him.  It grabs Thrace and flies away, leaving Arista with Esrahaddon and Royce.  While she cries for those that she believes she has lost in the fire, Arista also reveals that Thrace had taken the hilt of the sword with her.  Esrahaddon takes Arista and Royce around the fortress to the Valentryne Layartren, as there’s nothing that either of them can do to help the village right now. It is at this point that Esrahaddon reveals that Avempartha is so old and not initially intended as a fortress, but as a tool for studying and practicing advanced magic, functioning as a focusing element.  They enter the Valentryne Layartren, which Esrahaddon uses with Arista’s help, to scry for the magical pulse of the amulates he had given to Jerish of the Teshlors, and Nevrik, the heir of Novron. He asks them to keep this information to themselves as they will be able to see it, and it may put them as well as the Heir in Danger. 

 The Gilarabrywn returns to the manor, and Hadrian gives it the fake sword as agreed upon.  It states that the deal is complete, but that it cannot allow anyone who has seen even half its name to live, and attempts to kill it. Hadrian manages to only stab the beast in the eye, when Tobis uses his machine to capture the beast in the netting at which point Hadrian stabs it in the other eye. Not realizing that he got trapped by the net, Hadrian’s feet go out from under him when the Gilarabrywn rises, and starts lashing out with its tail, striking Hadrian bluntly and rendering him unconscious. It pursues him, but Theron goes after it, driving a piece of metal into the Gilarabrywn’s side, stopping it from killing Hadrian. Alas, the Gilarabrywn swipes at Theron, stabbing him, and Thrace runs to him.  Theron tells her that he’s proud of her before he passes away in her arms, at which point Thrace is hell-bent on getting revenge on the Gilarabrywn because it took everyone she’s ever loved from her.  She pulls out the hilt of the sword, and thrusts it into its body and the monster shatters, throwing Thrace and Deacon Tomas to the ground.  Deacon Tomas gets up and approaches Thrace, prostrates himself before her, calling her “Your Imperial Majesty.”

At the banks of the Nidwalden River, where Avempartha stands, Esrahaddon, Royce, and Arista go separate ways. Esrahaddon tells Royce to be prepared for bad news, and then speaks with Arista who turns against him. Royce returns to the manor, which is now filled with tents.  Magnus tells him what had transpired, and Royce steals back his knife from Magnus, after which he tells the dwarf to steal some horses. Arista enters a tent, and Royce sneaks in as well. They talk with Hadrian, and Arista tells them that they have to take Mauvin because he killed some of Luis Guy’s men.  She promises to look after Thrace, who Deacon Tomas is trying to make the Empress.  

Deacon Tomas protests against Bishop Saldur and Luis Guy, who are trying to say that he’s making it up. Once he leaves the tent, Bishop Saldur and Luis Guy go after each other, about how this could have happened that Luis lost his men to a bunch of farmers.  Luis tells him that there is more to Hadrian Blackwater and Royce because Hadrian knows Teshlor combat, and Royce is an elf. Luckily for him, Hadrian is in an infirmary tent with a guard watching him. They discuss Thrace, and realize that she may be their best shot because the Nationalist movement is showing that the nobility are afraid of the commoners, and by choosing her as the empress, they would speak to the peasants who already revere the church and bring them back in the fold.  Besides, she’s emotionally shattered, so she would be easier to control. Ultimately they decide on announcing her as possibly being the Heir, but will not accept her until a full investigation is conducted, which should give them a month to figure out what to do.  

Royce takes Hadrian, Mauvin and Magnus deep into the woods, and leaves them there, doubling back to ensure that no one has followed.  He visits Thrace’s house, and sees the mound for Theron, when he senses two figures at the edge of the wood, but when he looks up, there is no one there. At last, he returns to his group and they continue on. Royce offers Magnus a place of solace that is looking for an experienced craftsman of stonework, which Magnus accepts as he loves stonework. As Hadrian struggles to put on a shirt over his bandages and broken ribs, Royce notices a medallion on Hadrian’s neck, which Hadrian has always worn but never told him where he got it.  Hadrian simply tells him that he got it from his father. 

My Verdict: This book is more entertaining than the first one, and reveals a lot of Hadrian’s and Royce’s background. They’re both my absolute favorite characters, and I am so glad that my instinct about Royce from the first book was right–he is part elf. Now, I have a hunch about Hadrian, but I guess I will have to read on with the next books in order to see whether or not I’m correct.

There are so many details in this book, about what the church has been planning, and how it continues to give a facade of being fair to everyone, but really it has been working behind the scenes to put things in motion, which so far have worked out in their favor. I loved how Esrahaddon has been able to piece together things about what the church is doing, from things he heard or was told. While I’m not entirely convinced that Esrahaddon is a good guy–he did admit that he orchestrated Arista’s father’s murder to some extent, which makes me wonder what his real motives for this were and what occurred to make him put this in motion–I am rooting for him to find the true heir so he can stop the church and set things right. I also hope that Arista finds out the truth about Bishop Saldur so that they can kick this guy out of their lives once and for all but more importantly I hope she has a bigger role to play in these books, which seems to be the case from how much more of a role she had in this book.

I enjoyed the different perspectives of all the characters in the book, which showed that they were living through the same moments differently. While most other books would have structured the different points of views by making them separate chapters, I really liked that this book kept the same time frame in the same chapter, especially towards the end. This made it easier to see that these were complementary moments at a singular point of time.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I cannot wait to start reading the second volume of the series. It’s a great read for when you’re on a train or flight.

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