The series has had two editions and, as it might be confusing, I am giving you the full list of the titles.
The first edition, published as six books by AMI and Ridan Publishing (these books are now out of print) consists of the following parts:
- The Crown Conspiracy,
- Nyphron Rising,
- The Emerald Storm,
The Orbit version (most likely to be found in bookshops nowadays) consists of three books:
- Theft of Swords (1-2),
- Rise of Empire (3-4)
- Heir of Novron (5-6)
A classic fantasy story, full of great characters who have to save humanity and discover a lot about themselves in the process. You see? It must be a nice series if its summary can be included in one sentence!
What I liked:
A bunch of incredible baddies
I really mean ‘incredible’ here – three-dimensional, shadowy, complex and sometimes even funny. Take Sauly aka Maurice Saldur, the bishop and head of Nyphron Church in Melengar. He looks and often behaves like your average depiction of Gandalf from LOTR but even the most vicious sea snake would envy him the poison. This man is capable of anything and I suppose his “benign granddad” looks were meticulously cultivated over the years. The best bit – he thinks he is more or less ok. Well, as the old saying says prisons are full of innocent people. Sauly would never admit to any wrongdoing which shows that his conscience is non-existent.
The other specimen: Archibald Ballantyne Earl of Chadwick. I loved sweet, ambitious, cowardly Archie! Not only he was handsome and self-centered, he also managed to fall in love with only the proper girls – the most advantageous candidates at the moment. Every aristocratic father would be proud of him. The best bit - he seemed to be genuinely infatuated with his latest choice (not saying who, find out on your own) and he died as a result of his cheek. Really, who would invent a better way of getting rid of a baddie? Make him fall in love and get him killed because of that!
Finally Magnus the treacherous dwarf who almost got Royce killed twice – no mean feat – and then finally found out a bit about friendship and loyalty and redeemed himself.
How the series develops and ends
As you progress it becomes obvious this particular story was carefully planned from the beginning to the very end and maybe because of that the author was able to end it on a high note. Fear not, the mysteries will make sense, questions will be answered, characters will receive their dues and loose ends will be tied up leaving you more or less satisfied. Actually each book reveals a little of the whole picture but only when you know everything it is possible to appreciate how it seamlessly works together. Well, you might actually regret the fact that the end came so quickly. Mind you the plot of every of these six books is fairly stand-alone – a truly difficult thing to achieve in a series.
I complained in my review of the first book that the characterization was a bit lacking. I am happy to say it improved greatly in the next installments, especially when it comes to the pair of main protagonists, Hadrian and Royce. Well, especially Royce.
I liked most of them with one exception (more about her in the third section of my review). Fantasy books often presents females following some well-worn templates. Usually we get a pretty princess, worth fighting for, a servant who is useful and faithful but not especially pretty, a witch who is devious and clever but not especially nice etc. Here every female character comes with an unsuspected twist.
Arista is a princess but she is also a witch who must learn more advanced ropes on her own; she is not especially pretty and she must go through a lot to reemerge as an independent woman. Yes, she still needs that male arm to rescue her from time to time and give her more strength but, as far as princesses go, she remains independent - she thinks on her own, she plans her own future, she decides what is good and bad for her. I really liked Arista from the beginning, even when she was just a lonely girl sitting in her high tower, wondering how to make lesser magic work.
Thrace/Modina starts as a simple village girl but then she transforms; it takes a lot of pain but she manages to turn into a compassionate leader. She might have lost her innocence and ingenuity on the way but I liked her strength and I found the whole transformation rather believable, especially for a fantasy book.
Amilia also starts low - as a scullery maid - but then she provides Modina a much-needed support in crucial moments. She finds her knight in the shining armour in the process which was kind of sweet. She might be the weakest of those three, never exceeding her ‘friendly servant’ capacity, but still rather likeable. Overall not bad – I managed to say something good about three out of four female leads in this series! I can sometimes surprise myself!
Well, they are complicated as well, especially Royce who seems to be the most shadowy type, full of surprises, not all of them nice. It is sometimes difficult to call him 'protagonist' at all but it worked for me just fine. Hadrian provided a nice contrast to Royce, showing him that the better side of human nature still exist.
What I didn’t like:
For most of the series, like five books, elves are spoken about, hardly seen and not heard at all. Ok, there was one exception – a short scene between Royce and Ren, a half-breed which had been treated with kindness by the thief and found a way to show his gratitude in return. Throughout the books I kept wondering why elves were such a dirty secret (while it was logically explained, you can understand it only at the very end). They are presented as a race of very intelligent beings who could live for a very long time, their culture was so sophisticated and still most humans had only harsh words for them or half-breeds. It was actually strange any half-breeds existed at all, taking all this negative attitude into consideration.
Only in the last book we learn that elves can be brutal and murderous, that it’s either them or us and the future of mankind is endangered while they live. Well, pity because I would love to see them cooperate with humans – I am sure it could be arranged, if not for those pure breeds then at least for those with mixed blood. By the way the whole elf destruction routine felt over the top – not only were they trying to kill literary every last human but their methods seemed a bit haphazard, especially keeping in mind how powerful they were supposed to be.
The romantic interest of Royce is indeed my major complaint. She is a former prostitute and a successful businesswoman, owning Medford House (a brothel) and The Rose and Thorn Tavern. Reading the books it seems Miss DeLancy’s main occupation is to take care of Royce whenever he happens to be close – our good Gwen predict his future, feeds and pampers him and sleeps with him (but it is only hinted in a very delicate way). She is so good and sweet that she becomes annoying after a short while. The fact that she is also a person who knows everything the best doesn't help either. You know, she has a gift of Sight and I hate those ‘know-it-all’ seer types. BTW how come Gwen was able to predict Royce’s future while her compatriot seer almost lost her life while being coerced to do the same thing?
Overall whenever I read a scene with Gwen, it always put me in a blood-thirsty mood. Call it a hunch but I never believed in Royce’s and her ‘happily ever after’, especially when she told him that she had already chosen names for their future children (sic!). As a result I couldn’t wait for her to die. She was simply too flimsy as a character and too cloyingly sweet as a woman not to mention the fact that we never saw her in the role of a 'madam' or a prostitute. The scene of her death was the only one which I read with interest as it showed another aspect of Royce’s dark personality. Finally this saintly whore (an oxymoron, I know, but I couldn't restrain myself) was put to a good use. A pity it came so late – if I had anything to say I would get rid of Gwen earlier and I would pair Royce with an elf or a half-breed. If I sound callous and unladylike well, I do admit I like dark fantasy.
Despite my carping above I enjoyed this series very much and I would love to reread it after some time. I recommend it very strongly to fans of good, classic fantasy or just a good, consistent story. A warning: this series is highly addictive, buy or borrow all the books if possible or you will regret it later (like me).