“Time had sneaked in and stolen her recklessness.”
Michael J. Sullivan has done it again: He has written a book that doesn’t need to hide behind any other work in contemporary fantasy. His latest masterpiece, Age of Legend, the Kickstarter of which I had the honour to participate in, begins after the Battle of Grandford at the end of the previous book, Age of War.
This makes “Age of Legend” the fourth book in Michael’s “The Legends of the First Empire” series which I whole-heartedly recommend to, well, actually anyone who reads. (In fact, my wife isn’t really into fantasy but thoroughly enjoyed Michael’s Riyria books.)
I already wrote it in the review for the previous book but this latest instalment solidifies this feeling: More and more, “Legends” turns into Michael’s magnum opus. The Riyria books, which are fairly different from Legends, are undoubtedly great but the narrative depth of Legends is absolutely remarkable.
Michael gets pretty much everything right and this starts even before the actual book with his “Author’s Note”:
“Now, there are a few things in this second half that I’ve done differently than my other books, and I want to warn you about them in advance.”
This is expectation management done right – before we even get started Michael informs us about what he has done differently. I love his transparency.
The main part of the book again takes us to the war of the Rhunes against the Fhrey and lets us accompany our heroes Persephone, Suri, Brin, Gifford and the others in their global as well as their personal struggles. True, some of them take a backseat compared to the earlier books but to me at least this feels completely natural – there’s so much story to tell that the narration has to concentrate on slightly fewer characters. Some of them grow far beyond what I expected (and they themselves!) and some fall short of their own expectations.
Michael is a master of characterisation, though, and consequently, those characters he focusses on truly come to life and “feel” real, alive. Literally nobody here is perfect, none of them are spotless white-vested heroes. As do we all, our heroes struggle – against their own fallibility, their doubts and, of course, an enemy who considers them animals.
Among all the considerable developments in this book, Michael never loses his touch for careful world building, e. g. a very simple question…
“I noticed a number of carts being lashed to horses outside. What’s that all about?”
… leads us to the invention of chariots. Just as in the earlier books this is executed brilliantly.
And while all this plays out about 3000 years before Riyria and, thus, long before our time, Michael carefully makes us think of contemporary challenges but never preaches or lectures us:
“The dwarf?” Malcolm paused and thought a moment. “Well, I wasn’t referring to him specifically. But now that you bring it up, I should point out that you run the risk of painting a whole race with the same ugly brush, which could have unexpected consequences in the future.”
I think Michael’s greatest gift and the key to understanding his work but especially “The Legends of the First Empire” is his empathy. The downtrodden, the despised – however deserved that may be – are not beyond redemption. This deeply human attitude is part of what makes me love his books:
“Empathy—the ability to understand and appreciate the feelings of others—is the cornerstone of civilization and the foundation of our relationships. Lack of it . . . well, lack of empathy is as close to a definition of evil that I can come up with.”
In the beginning, I already referred to Michael doing Kickstarter projects for his latest works (and even this he does pretty much perfectly).
Kickstarter projects are great for this kind of stuff – the author finally gets more than just a meagre share of the proceedings and we, the readers, get to read the book earlier at the very least and, if committing by pledging higher amounts, lots of other goodies. I certainly wish more authors would make such good use of Kickstarter.
So, if you’re into fantasy go ahead and read Michael J. Sullivan’s fantastic books!