The war between humans and the mythical beings, Fhrey, has finally begun and Michael J. Sullivan weaves another engaging story in the third book of his Legends of the First Empire series. Come inside to check out my review!
It’s Summer time, which means (for some of us nerds) it’s also a great chance to catch up on some reading. This week a new fantasy book hits the shelves that you may want to pick up: Age of War.
This is the third book in Sullivan’s Legends of the First Empire series, the overall goal is a telling of the planet’s (not sure which one) history and how they evolved into a more advanced civilization. Contained within are you typical fantasy tropes, but they have such a unique spin on them, seeing it in action is more fun than you’d think.
Being the third novel in this six-part series, we’re definitely at the point where you NEED to read the other books to understand what’s happening. While Age of War is a lot of fun, you won’t have any idea what’s going on if you haven’t picked up the previous novels, Age of Myth and Age of Swords. The good news is that they’re great books so you should read them anyway!
Age of War starts off almost immediately after the events of Age of Swords and keeps the primary focus on the human characters of Raither, Persephone, and Suri. The human clans of the land have managed to unite, appointing Persephone "Keenig" and leaving her in charge of their fight against the Fhrey (who were once considered their gods).
With the leadership in place and having returned from the land of the Dherg (dwarves) with the knowledge of crafting iron swords, preparations for war are in full swing. When the humans along with their Fhrey allies, the warrior Galantians, take over the Fhrey stronghold of Alon Rhist they have a place from which to truly begin their rebellion. Once the Fhrey Emperor learns of what's transpired, he orders an army built up and embarks on a journey, with his naive son, to put an end to the human uprising for good.
Despite having better weapons and the stronghold advantage, the humans are still in for the fight of their life and facing an uphill battle. As both sides prepare for the battle to come, a hidden threat within their walls could spell doom for the humans. Once the Fhrey arrive, prepared with their corps of magical warriors, the fate of humanity lies in the hands of a few brave souls, a desperate plan, and a mad dash by the unlikeliest of heroes.
Thankfully, some of the series' secrets that have been teased since the first novel are resolved (to a degree) in Age of War. While we still don't have ALL the answers, we're not left hanging either and the result is some closure and new storytelling possibilities down the road. I won't get into them here, as that would constitute some serious spoilers. Suffice it to say, the payoff from all the teasing feels legitimate and doesn't come off as cheap or unnecessary.
Broader Story, But Still Personal
One of the things I've enjoyed the most about this series is the fact that it feels like a big epic story, with events that shape the world, but manages to do so by telling a smaller, more intimate story. For the most part, Age of War sticks to this idea, but it definitely makes the story a bit bigger than before. There's a more significant passage of time throughout the book as each side prepares for war, but there's still personal stakes that keep you invested.
The focus on the characters throughout the major events offers up a point of view that manage to put you in their shoes. I've read a ridiculous amount of fantasy novels in my time, and giant battles between elves, humans, and wizards isn't exactly something new. Because the novel keeps the focus tighter on the character, who've never experienced anything like this before, all of it feels fresh and new. Seeing the battles on their level gives it a sense of scale and awe that I otherwise may not have noticed. This character focus also makes you care a significant amount about the events as they unfold. The tension in the final act is palpable, and when someone is injured or dies, it's very impactful.
Despite coming in just a tad shorter than the previous books (a full 100 pages shorter than Age of Swords), there's still plenty of lore and world-building thrown in there. One of the things Sullivan has done wonderfully on the series so far is continually building up the world and exploring its history/customs without feeling forced or overwhelming. That continues to be the case with Age of War, but it's obvious the story is beginning to put more emphasis on what's happening "now."
There's still plenty of great things to dive into, however, with some excellent twists on the fantasy genre that gives it all a fresh feeling. The only issue I've had is that the book really doesn't spend any time recapping prior events. The series is meant to flow together fairly seamlessly (one of the reasons for him writing ALL SIX of them at the same time), but since we’re reading them once a year, I feel like I spent most of the first act trying to remember everything from before. In all, this feels like a minor gripe in an otherwise great book.