Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: The Crown Conspiracy

The Crown Conspiracy (US - Canada - UK)
By Michael J. Sullivan (Website - Goodreads - Forum)
Publisher: Aspirations Media Inc (October 1, 2008)
Paperback: 310 pages
Excerpt (PDF)

The Crown Conspiracy came highly recommended by bloggers whom I trust, and for the most part, I found the recommendations to be right on.

The story begins with a common movie-style opening, with Royce and Hadrian demonstrating what they do, which is steal things--mostly for nobles who want the item stolen as part of their intrigues. Royce is a thief and Hadrian is a fighter. The mission they complete is loosely woven into the rest of the story, but at first, it just seems like a random mission. Don't let that fool you.

For the next mission, a nobleman wants them to hide the sword of the best swordsman in the land. Why? Because this hapless nobleman must fight said swordsman in a duel, and the sword is rumored to be magical. All this turns out to be a set-up when they find the king murdered. The king's daughter also believes they were set up, and she has a scheme for unearthing the truth. Unfortunately, her scheme involves their kidnapping her brother, the crown prince and new king.

Michael Sullivan is a gifted storyteller. He comes up with likable characters and twisty plots. However, overall, I think the novel needed a bit more. More of what? Well, more conflict, for one. Royce and Hadrian got along a bit too well. Even when Royce disagreed with Hadrian's choices, he went along with hardly a grumble. The two were like a well-oiled machine. When they abducted Alric--the prince--he was a bit too willing to believe their story and work himself into their machine, kind of like a new cog. They pick up a fourth guy, Myron, a sheltered monk who has perfect recall. Another cog. I would have liked to seen a bit more trust-building among the new guys.

I also would have liked to see a female character among the main group. It didn't really need another character, but how much more fun would the story had been if Myron had become Myra? And this was her first time around men . . . ever? I think mixing it up with the sexes makes a much livelier story, even if you don't have any romance going on. As it is now, it was like a meal with all salt, and no pepper.

I did like all the characters, but I really wanted to get inside the heads of Royce and Hadrian. We get to see Alric's and Myron's angsting, but none of that for Royce and Hadrian. They just do their job, and don't seem to have any problems, outside of the main problem of being framed for the king's murder, which, I do admit, is a doozie.

The biggest problem this book had, in my opinion, is its overly-familiar subject matter. This is a Tolkien-derived fantasy with a shot of Dungeons and Dragons--the stuff of Forgotten Realms shared-world novels. In recent years, I've seen very few works of "high fantasy" outside of Young Adult, and they all have had new takes on familiar themes, such as sexy goblins (Magic Lost, Trouble Found), interesting twists (Goblin Quest), and fleshing out the bad guys (Queen of the Orcs, Orcs). I still enjoy this kind of fantasy, but it is definitely not a hot trend.

The ending was brilliant, with just a few snags. Royce had to get by a trap which was so difficult it was over-the-top. If I played this novel as a role-playing game, I would have accused a gamemaster of being a "killer DM"for including such a trap. On the other extreme, a minor character had no trouble at all whipping up the local peasantry to revolt against the guards. Not enough time was given to develop this. People are usually remarkably content with the way things are, and it takes a LOT to get people to revolt.

However, the ending was highly entertaining, and the pages just flew by. I finished the entire final quarter of the book in one setting. Most of the plot threads were tied up, leaving just a few for a subsequent volume. Hints were laid about that, including a rescued wizard who just sort of walks out of the story, never to return. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him.

Mr. Sullivan has made a good start with this series, but I hope to see him branch out into something more original one day. With the success that this series is already enjoying, I have no doubt he will be very successful.

8 comments:

Robin Sullivan said...

Tia,

I'm so glad you enjoyed The Crown Conspiracy and I'm pretty sure you are going to LOVE book 2 and especially book 3. Another reviewer mentioned that Book 2 really seems like the start of the series and in some ways they are correct - This is just a "fun little romp" to introduce you to the world and some of the main players. It does not "go deep" as it were because there is a "slow burn" to finding out these characters and why they are as they are. (i.e. Royce and Hadrian seemed like a well oiled machine - which is perfect because that is exactly what they should be at this part of the story - this will not always be the case however).

Also I think you are going to find some really great female roles to come. I can't saw too much more lest I spill the beans but based on your comments here I'm optimistic you will enjoy.

Avempartha (book 2) is due out in a few weeks - may I send it to you?
Feel free to email me send me a message on GoodReads or Blogger.

Thanks for the great review - I really enjoyed reading it!

Jeff C said...

Nice review, Tia. I really am going to have to buy this one. I think it would be a perfect choice to be my first Kindle purchase. I have been looking for something to read on my ipod touch and this looks to fit the bill. I just need to find time to fit it in among some of the other books I want to read.

Dark Wolf said...

I am gald you liked it, Tia. When it comes to Royce and Hadrian I went along with their relationship. That's because I have a childhood friend (who I see rarely now), but with whom I went along without much debate between us. It is like you wonderfully said "like a well-oiled machine".

I am looking forward to "Avempartha" and I am convinced that we will see more of that wizard, Esrahaddon. I really liked his short appearance.

SciFiGuy said...

Tia your recommendation is good enough for me. It sound like a fun read and it is nice to see entertaining fantasy novels being written that don't weigh in at 500 pages plus.

Tia Nevitt said...

Robin, thank you for the offer. I will contact you by email.

SciFiGuy, it is definitely a fast read. I hope you enjoy it!

Janet said...

I love the cover.

Robin Sullivan said...

Janet,
The cover was actually painted by Michael (the author) - Glad you liked it. The cover that the publisher had originally planned was not nearly as nice so Michael threw this together to give them an idea and it turned into the final one ;-)

Robin Sullivan said...

Regarding the covers - the third book's first past cover design just came out - you can see all three of them at:

http://www.michaelsullivan-author.com/three_350.jpg