TLDR; Legends of the First Empire are magical pieces of art but accessible to everyone, created by an amazing author and you don’t want to miss out on any of his books if you even remotely consider reading fantasy.
I rarely feel compelled to write a review and it’s actually the first time ever I feel an obligation to write one.
Michael J. Sullivan is the creator of Hadrian and Royce, two unlikely heroes, put together by circumstance, fate or whatever you prefer. I enjoyed those novels greatly and can hardly wait for the next installment. They, both the characters and the books, are clever, entertaining and feature very unobtrusive yet important morals. Those novel have always hinted at what Michael might accomplish and what, to me, seems to rapidly become his magnum opus: The Legends of the First Empire
Calling the books of the Legends a prequel would be unfair because even though their narration predates Hadrian and Royce by far, they shine on their own. In Legends, Michael narrates slowly and patiently (at first at least!) how humanity rose to power beyond the elves, dwarves and other races around in his world. Is it actually Michael’s world, though?
I would laud his world building as brilliant and hardly ever matched. That would be wrong, though, because Michael didn’t just invent a world and built upon it; instead he cautiously took our world and gave it a living, breathing history. I can imagine how my great-grandparents lived but that’s pretty much it. Everything that came before them is a rather murky affair; I have read about earlier times and while it (sometimes) sated my curiosity, I never really “connected”. In countless museums I’ve seen in great detail how people from pretty much any period lived and that, too, was interesting on an intellectual level but I never felt pieces falling into place.
And then Michael came along: Starting from the day-to-day life in a small settlement to leveling entire mountains using magic, he tells us how we might have come to be. While Micheal is certainly most capable of painting said history with broad strokes, he has an immensely human understanding when to apply the small brushes and use tiny strokes to unerringly add details that fit in so neatly that you might not even notice them.
Every little details has its place and its meaning. Every character is a small world in itself and fits into the big picture or, actually, the piece of art Michael created (did you try burning something with your mind yet, Michael? 😉 ) and you’ll understand them, feel with them, sometimes want to shout at them or grab and shake them.
Speaking of characters: Michael’s characters are far from Aragorn, Gandalf or any other heroic types. Michael’s heroes are you and me, everyone. Most characters actually do what they do because they simply have no viable alternative. They don’t want power, or lord over anyone or even create things – they just can’t help it.
Now, go and read those books – both you and they deserve it!