Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Thievery #3: "The Crown Conspiracy" by Michael J. Sullivan

I believe I heard about Michael J. Sullivan from Moses Siregar III via an interview down at Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing; wherever it was, I immediately became intrigued. Granted, at the time I was more intrigued by the "author's story" - Sullivan published with a small press, Aspirations Media Inc., and apparently wrote the books for his dyslexic daughter - but I was also won over by the sweet cover art and my own insatiable desire for all things "medieval."

Now, first of all, no one told me to bring my dice bag; so let me warn you, if you start reading the Riyria Revelations series - of which "The Crown Conspiracy" is the first volume - bring your polyhedrons.

1. Fighter, mage, cleric, thief: The first thing you're going to want to hoof off with from Sullivan's repertoire is an uncompromising classicism. The original Dungeons & Dragons classes are all here in their splendour, right beside elves and dwarves that - like in that original 1st edition boxed-set - are classes instead of races. If Sullivan called wizards "magic users," this book would be 1st edition.

2. Conspiracy: Have you been following Cablegate? Of course you have - because everyone loves a good conspiracy (they're just conspiring to hide it). Sullivan's plotting is fantastic; the whodunnit remains unsolved to the end. But the point is, it's a dang conspiracy, and we all know there's nothing more alluring than the idea that ancient and arcane organizations are pulling the heartstrings of today's political systems.

3. Evil Empires: I'll just link to this, and you can imagine it happening in a fantasy setting. Plus, when you implement the Evil Empire trope, you get to make use of the "well-intentioned rebel," "profit-hungry profiteer," and "perverse clergyman" tropes, as well.

Despite the fact that The Crown Conspiracy is a very "conventional," "medieval" fantasy, Sullivan writes it in a fresh and exciting voice. I really appreciated the fact that he didn't dawdle, that his characters - who are just common thieves - were always doing something (and not standing around whining à la Rand al Thor, Frodo Baggins, and every other "Chosen One" fantasy fans have had to suffer over the years), and that the first story of this series lived up to its name by hammering me with constant, authentic, and enjoyable revelations. According to his WikiPedia page, Sullivan was inspired to brevity by Hemmingway; all I can say is, I dig it.

However, as a responsible member of the Thieves' Guild, I must warn you: "The Crown Conspiracy" also exposed a trap.

Find/Detect Traps 101: Small presses?

I had big beef with the fact that there were roughly two hundred - two hundred, and I'm not even exagerrating like I normally do - missing commas in this book. There were also a half-dozen additional commas in places they shouldn't have been (my favourite example being when a bartender expressed genial agreement by saying, "Sure, thing." Haha.)

On the one hand, this is the writer's responsibility. But it's also the kind of thing I would hope an editor would, y'know, notice and point out. I'm not sure what Aspirations Media Inc.'s editing process is, but it can't be adequate; I could do a better editing job self-publishing. So: are small presses analogously small, poison darts in the treasure chest of literature? It appears so, because Aspirations Media Inc. has the capacity to deliver a crippling blow to the aspiring book-thief (the kind that steals publishing tips, anyway).

But! I enjoyed this book all the same - even if I had to tell myself that the people of Apeladorn just spoke and experienced reality in a funny, pauseless way. Sullivan's a great storyteller; I only wish he had a better editor.



  1. Wanton Cruelty To The Common Comma, eh? But "experienced reality in a funny, pauseless way" is a nice save. Good work, authorial intent.

    I suspect I wouldn't like this book, despite its commitment to brevity and movement. I just don't like...medieval.

  2. If you don't like medieval... this book ain't for you. It's also quaint-medieval - like, nice overlords and no widespread contagion - which was fun at times and annoying at others.

  3. Ha! I just found this one by a Google search. Thanks for the mention and it was great to read your comments on The Crown Conspiracy.