Age of Myth by Micheal J. Sullivan
This is part 1 of an epic fantasy, and it does not disappoint. There are recognizable elements of elves, humans, and dwarfs, but they’re woven together in such a masterful way that, although they’re not completely fresh, they feel authentic to this world. That’s all I ask for from epic fantasy world building. The elves rule the world. Specifically, the Elven tribe of the Myraltih are in charge of the most technologically advanced empire. They’re so powerful they pay the humans (the Rhunes) to fight each other and assorted enemies (goblins, ect). The elves won a war several centuries ago against the dhreg (dwarves), but it’s their relationship to the humans that sets the stage and matters in this series (or at least in this first book). The elves keep the humans as slaves and consider them basically animals. There’s a scene where the evil vizier, Gryndal, unearths a ‘den’ of Rhunes and demonstrates how filthy and animal like they are to the prince and heir to the elven throne. (This also works as an establishing character moment for the prince–it’s the moment where he decides the Rhunes aren’t better than animals, too.) It becomes clearer as this story continues that the real plot is about the inheritance of the elven throne. The building of the plot to that point is interesting, but it’s not clear for some time that tumbling the elven empire is going to be the main drive of this series. But it’s worth it to stick with this series while all of those bigger details unfold.
The characters are introduced in a slow but purposeful way. It was like we were zoomed in on these characters (starting with Raithe) and then the plot slowly pulled away and revealed the true scope of this series. I loved that. We start with Raithe and his father trespassing on the elves land to hunt game because the elves have banished the Rhunes to sub-par and barren lands that are bad for farming and short on game. Raithe’s father is killed by Shegon, who has a real blade compared to Raithe’s sub-part copper sword, but Shegon’s slave, Malcolm, knocks Shegon out with a rock. Then, Raithe finishes him off with a lucky but well-timed sword stroke, and–bam!–Malcom and Raith are on the run together. It didn’t originally make sense to me why Malcolm was so eager to run off or kill Shegon (it’s a brash move that goes against his established intelliegence), but we’re provided with a ‘post-credits’ sting that even manages to explain that inconsitency.
Persephone is the wife of another Rhune cheif, and her husband dies in the first chapter (killed by a bear, Grin the Brown, who’s destined to become a large part of the plot from the intro). Persephone is confronted by a young mystic, Suri, who brings her wolf into the city to warn Persephone and the cheif that disaster of epic proportions is on its way to destroy the Rhune peoples. Persephone and Suri initially didn’t seem like strong characters or like they had much to offer the plot beyond ‘and the other reindeer’ at first, but after they team up with Raithe and Malcolm, it becomes clear that Persephone’s village is going to be the star location of Age of Myth.
Age of Myth is wonderfully character driven. I kind-of-not-so-secretly hate the phrase ‘character driven’ (ISN’T THAT SUPPOSED TO BE EVERY STORY?), but if it applies to anything I’ve read recently, it’s this series. The main plot slithers along and always feels like it’s at the ‘edge’ of the story, and it feels like the characters more than any epic fate or larger forces drive this story. The first taste of the larger plot is when we’re introduced to Arion, a powerful elf Myralith (aka sorceress), and her POV gives a glimpse into how fracture and frankly fucked-up the royal elven lineage is. When Arion heads out to deal with the elven and Rhune rebellion, I got excited knowing that she was about to step into the tumultuous conditions happening on the edge of the elven kingdom. The pace picks up gradually and the climax starts throwing character revelations and genuine plot twists, and I was like ‘oh, this story has more? Yes please.’ There aren’t any major ‘epic battles’, but the smaller scale works well for this series and helps ground the entire tale.
Rating: 5 stars. The slow burn pays off at the end. This is a strong start to a series I’m really looking forward to.