The Rose and the Thorn is the second book in the Riyria Chronicles by Michael J. Sullivan. It - like the previous book, The Crown Tower - is a prequel to the Riyria Revelations. But unlike most prequels, Mr. Sullivan has done something absolutely superb here: created a tale that both satisfies as a back story and excels as a stand alone, page turner.
As the novel begins, a year has passed since the events in The Crown Tower. Royce and Hadrian have been working together during this time, pulling small jobs and becoming better acquainted. Naturally, their relationship has changed, becoming less antagonistic, but they still have huge differences in their outlook on life. Hadrian is less naive about people but still retains his innate goodness of heart, and Royce, though still one careless insult away from unleashing his inner sociopath on someone, has begun to understand that killing is not the only solution to every problem. But even with their differences, they are obviously much more comfortable with one another, and together, they decide to return to the city of Medford for a visit with Gwen: the woman who so unselfishly provided them with succor at the end of The Crown Tower.
But while Hadrian, Royce and Gwen are the “stars” of the show in The Rose and the Thorn, the novel is about so much more. We are given intertwining tales about Viscount Albert Winslow, the royal family of Medford: King Amrath, Queen Ann, Prince Alric, and Princess Arista, the Pickerings, Bishop Saldur, Percy Braga, and even Reuben Hilfred – who was a minor character in the Riyria Revelations but whose story comes to life before our reading eyes. And as Mr. Sullivan slowly reveals all these amazing plots, his rare, writing brilliance becomes clear to see, for each of those lovely, individual stories begin to mesh together, creating a single, overarching tale. A yarn that not only encompasses this novel and the Riyria Chronicles but also the Riyria Revelations as well.
And somehow while juggling plot lines, Mr. Sullivan also finds time to gift each character with his or her own unique personality. There are no cookie cutter characters in this novel. Each character is well rounded, having their own unique history, problems, hopes, and fears that foreshadow their future selves but does not lock them into a particular role. Indeed, even those characters a longtime reader knows will one day be revealed as “evil” are so life like that you will find yourself hoping that somehow they will see the error of their ways and change before their fate closes around them.
But what about Hadrian and Royce’s hilarious camaraderie, I hear many of you asking?
It is there. But it is developing gradually in a realistic way, not springing forth fully grown. And when that camaraderie does rear its head in this story, it is always amazing to see the unlikely pair slowly becoming the Riyria we all love.
Overall, this is a wonderful, entertaining fantasy, worthy of inclusion into the ranks of the best novels of 2013. While some readers call Hadrian and Royce and their adventures simple, uncomplicated fantasy, if this is an example of “simple fantasy” novels then I would label it simply brilliant and ask every writer out there to begin to emulate it. It quite frankly is just that enjoyable to read.
Now, those of you that have read my reviews know I always find something to critique. (It is a “review” after all, which means you want to hear the bad with the good, right?) So I’d feel remiss if I did not mention a few, minor issues I had with the novel.
So here goes . . .
I really do not have any complaints worth writing about. Obviously, the tale is lacking some sense of suspense; it is a prequel after all. However, even though a reader of the Riyria Revelations already knows what happens, Mr. Sullivan does an excellent job of circumventing this problem and penning a rousing adventure that presents enough new insight into characters and plots to make you enjoy finding out how it all happened.
Go get this book and enjoy it!
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank Netgalley for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.