Age of Swords: Book Two of the Legends of the First Empire, by Michael J. Sullivan
This is the second book in the Legends of the First Empire saga from Michael J. Sullivan, who is quickly moving up on my list of favorite authors.
There is the kind of mood, pace, and sense of character in these books that attracted me to Tolkien’s writing. This particular volume involves a quest that has much of the feeling of Lord of the Rings but isn’t nearly so much of a sausage fest. The story features dwarves, elves (more by mention than taking a role), giants, an evil spirit, and people with magical powers. There are an amazing number of heroic roles given to women.
The central story takes up after the events of volume one (Age of Myth) and carries the survivors forward. There is still tension between the humans (Rhune) and the god-like Fhrey and it’s clear that war is near. But the Fhrey have magical powers and powerful weapons. The humans haven’t even discovered the wheel, no one has the bow, and the human swords have just transformed from copper to bronze but this can still be easily cut through with Fhrey weapons. It has become clear that the Fhrey, who can live for thousands of years, are not immortal and can be killed but that’s meaningless if the weapons can’t pierce Fhrey armor.
Working through these problems are Persephone, the widow of a leader of a Rhune tribe; Arion, the Fhrey magician who has changed sides and now trains Rhune mystic Suri; and the injured but creative genius Roan. These four women are trying to prepare for war and one of the biggest issues is finding a better metal for weapons. They go to the dwarf race, who promise a thousand swords in a metal as strong was what the Fhrey use, but in return they need to help clear out the dwarves’ ancestral mines that have been kept inaccessible for 6000 years by a mysterious prisoner. The four women become part of a ferocious journey into the mines.
Meanwhile, the Fhrey are continuing their own internal political strife in which a small rebellious force wants to take control to make sure one of the five tribes has rule over the others.
The characters are wonderful and it is easy for a reader to love almost every one of them. This is the real secret to creating tension in a book that the reader can really care about. Thank goodness there are four more volumes already written and waiting to come out every six months because this is one of those books that made me sad it had ended. Sullivan writes all his series completely before publication and had originally intended to just write five books. But there was a decision he mentions in the intro that made him extend it to six books. He then had to comb back through the earlier writing to weave in details so that actions in the last volume would make sense and be consistent.
The next volume, Age of War, is due for release in February of next year.