Theft of Swords – by Michael J. Sullivan

In a world where bad things happen to good people, and good people get tromped on daily, I opt for a way out through reading fantasy. I want a hero with a sword, or maybe two, or even three, like Hadrian Blackwater. I want someone with a nimble mind who can find a way into the wrong places for the right reasons, and out of any place whatsoever for the sake of survival. Someone like Royce Melborn. If they’re both enterprising thieves who steal from one aristocrat, only to steal the same thing back for another, so much the better. I love it.

What author Michael J. Sullivan lacks in polished writing skills he makes up for with his two main characters, who are thieves for hire. Because of Sullivan’s self-publishing success (though not overnight I might add) through e-books, which finally paid off with a book deal, Theft of Swords has been one of the most talked about books in the fantasy genre.

I liked it because it was highly entertaining, mostly because of the humorous way these two unlikely heroes deal with the harsh realities of life in a feudal system – namely politicians (lords, etc), weird religious cults who scheme to “take over the world, Pinky”, who work hard at keeping vassals (that’s most of us), as vassals, with no foreseeable way out of their lot in life. That’s what I like about fantasy. We battle giants and dragons all the time, but in a good fantasy story, there’s always a way to win. And if the heroes cut and parry with sharp, well-honed humor as well as a bastard sword and a lock pick so much the better.

I’ve read a few reviews of the Riyria Revelations series, some of whose writers chose bad quotes from the books to back up their bad review. And they chose well. What they don’t mention, however, is the hilarious opening where the two famous thieves, Hadrian and Royce, find themselves victims of robbers in a deep, dark wood. I had to read some excerpts to Mike, so we could both have a good chuckle. So there were a lot of good quotes to make up for the bad. Case in point, one reviewer had to wait to read the book because his wife got to it first. I loved that.

The differences between the two thieves make them a great team. Royce has an uncanny ability to get through any door and sneak around without a sound. He also doesn’t take any job unless there’s something in it for him and his robber enterprises. Hadrian is the big brawny guy whose prowess with swords (he carries three), is legendary. But his heart guides the duo into some mighty big messes that Royce has to think their way out of.

At the beginning, when the two are accosted by the forest robbers, Hadrian tries to talk their way out:

“What do you say, Royce? We give them a bit of coin so nobody gets hurt?” All he gets is a withering glare. “I’m just saying, we don’t want any trouble, am I right?”

“You don’t want my opinion,” Royce said.

“Why do you have to make everything so difficult? They’re probably not bad people — just poor. You know, taking what they need to buy a loaf of bread to feed their family . . . Right? (He nods in the direction of the thieves).

“I ain’t got no family,” flat-nose replied. “I spend most of my coin on drink.”

“You’re not helping,” Hadrian said.

The humor stays consistent throughout, and the unlikely duo must extricate themselves from one dilemma after another. No. Theft of Swords and the subsequent series is not Lord of the Rings. But neither is it as bad as those Sci-Fi/Fantasies obviously written by Harlequin Romance writers hiding under pseudonyms. Which are patently awful. I find the series so entertaining I can overlook the fact that there are inconsistencies, some two-dimensional characters, and that the author’s simplification, in some areas, is a little too simplified. But I can forgive all for love of Hadrian and Royce.

I recommend it for a good, old-fashioned, B-Grade, romp through the countryside adventure that moves. We ain’t talking about Shakespeare here. Just an armchair flight to another world.