Age of Myth (Book)
The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.
If you’re in the market for some new high fantasy material to read this Summer, Michael J. Sullivan’s new novel, Age of Myth, could be exactly what you need to kick off your Summer reading list. Check out my review to find out why!
I’m always on the lookout for great fantasy books. Along with science fiction, it’s my favorite book genre and I’m always happy to devour more and find new authors to take me to different lands. As such, I was very interested when Del Rey sent me Age of Myth. While Sullivan has made a name for himself by self-publishing (very successfully) a series of fantasy novels, this is technically his “debut” hardcover in the larger world of publishing.
Even so, Age of Myth takes place within the same world he’s created in the previous books (which have been re-released in newer versions), the Riyria Chronicles and Riyria Revelations. Don’t let that deter you, however. Even if you haven’t read any of the previous books, Age of Myth is set in the distant past and works entirely as a standalone work. There’s no prior knowledge needed to enjoy the novel, though after reading it, I’m MUCH more interested in checking out Sullivan’s previous works.
Age of Myth is the start of a new fantasy series, The Legends of the First Empire and assembles an unlikely group of heroes together in order to confront a bigger problem coming to their world. There are humans in the world but their life is hard. In terms of development, they’re just about nomadic tribes, and live in separate/diverse clans who don’t always get along.
Then you have the Fhrey, who are similar to humans, but significantly stronger and nearly immortal. Some command magic, and they rule over the world in a paradise of sorts, entrusting a faction of their people with guarding the borders, lest humans try and cross over. Because of their enhanced nature, the Fhrey are looks upon as Gods by the humans, but when Raithe (one of the book’s leads) kills one with the help of a slave named Malcolm, it sets in motion a series of events that can only lead in one direction: an uprising.
Age of Myth is only the first book in this series and sets the wheels in motion for a far bigger conflict. Even so, the novel manages to tell it’s own engaging story that concludes in a satisfactory way, while implying the bigger obstacles to come. In this way, I really surprised by the book. All too often with these high fantasy series, we get books that feel largely incomplete because they’re part of a larger series. Plenty of authors keep important threads dangling for later, but the result is a story that feels weak until the next book releases.
Blessed, this isn’t the case with Age of Myth. Instead, we get a far more personal and smaller scale story, with the inklings of revolution providing more of a backdrop than anything else. I can’t begin to stress how much I appreciate this. I read a lot of fantasy/sci-fi series, and it’s one of the most annoying aspect of many planned out series. For the sake of “hooking” readers into the next book, they shortchange the novels, failing to give them a complete structure.
Instead this book plants the seeds of the larger story, while keeping the focus on a handful of interesting, but wildly different characters. Raithe is a reluctant (but talented) warrior, then there’s Persephone who finds herself searching for a purpose after her husband (a chief) dies and she’s ousted from her role, plus Arion a magic wielding Fhrey who finds herself divided, and lastly a little girl, Suri. She’s a mystic with surprising powers, and despite her age helps spur the people to action and move the story along.
The basics of the story are that, in the wake of Raithe killing one of their own, the Frhey are retaliating and begin wiping out clans of humans. Raithe, of course, is just trying to escape and find his own piece of freedom/happiness. Persephone is giving warning about the impending danger from Suri, and embarks to the forest in search of answers. Along the way Raithe and Malcolm stumble across their path and things speed along from there.
There is a LOT more going on, but I really don’t want to ruin it for you. Despite the end of the world type scenario, the story keeps itself grounded within the clan (Dahl Ren as it’s called) and their struggle to survive in a world that’s drastically changed from the norm. Age of Myth is really a story about these characters finding a reason to step up and be the heroes the world needs, even if it’s something they didn’t expect--or want.
Characters and Pacing
Age of Myth brings a big mix of characters who come from a wide range of backgrounds, yet their journey and coming together feels entirely natural. Nothing within the book really feels forced, and instead the story flows out smoothly and at a great pace. The characters do seem to fall into fantasy archetypes, but they’re interesting enough to forgive. This is especially true because all the female characters (the majority of the primary cast) are really awesome. They aren’t damsels in distress and continue to drive the events of the book. Raithe is more of a catalyst to the events and while he steps up and helps, even he’s looking to Persephone for guidance.
As such, it’s a nice little twist to the typical tropes while still keeping the characters interesting. This personal attention to the characters and what makes them tick, is really what keeps you reading and sucked into the entire time. Speaking of getting sucked in, Age of Myth has an incredible pace. The book comes in a little over 400 pages, but it took me no time at all to blaze through it. It’s a quick read and doesn’t stays focused. While it does a substantial amount of world building, it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t feel like pure exposition. Information about the world and history seem to come naturally through conversation and actions. The book isn’t slowed down by lengthy history lessons, which is another problem with some fantasy tales.
The plot moves along rather quickly, and keeps you glued to the pages. It hit a moment fairly early one where it was legitimately hard for me to put it down every night. I wanted to keep reading, to keep learning about this world and the characters. I enjoyed how the series is setting up it’s magic system, trying to do something a little different without re-inventing the wheel either. Even though there are only a handful of action sequences in the book, it never felt dull. Something was always happening and moving forward, but when the action did come it was impressive and a joy to read through.
Michael J. Sullivan has proven he has the chops to hang with the top dogs of fantasy writing. He’s developed a world that feels unique and familiar all at the same time, populated with characters and cultures you want to learn more about. All of this is handled deftly, without bogging down the narrative. There wasn’t any point in which I thought to myself “come on, get back to the good stuff”...because it was all good stuff and a blast.
While some of the characters and story beats feel familiar and archetypal with the genre, it still manages to keep your attention and leave you wanting more. It’s the start of a larger series, but manages to tell it’s own complete story, so you be left on a huge cliffhanger, but will be satisfied until the next book lands in stores.