Age of Swords
The Legends of the First Empire - Book #2
by Michael Sullivan
What I said about the first book? About how it's an exciting start to a new series? That's all true... but the second book didn't deliver.
Let me rant for a moment. One of my pet peeves with authors who write fantasy and especially stories set in ancient times (real-life or fantasy) is that they often feel the need to reinvent the wheel -- literally. They write in characters that invent things like bras and blowjobs (looking at you Ayla, from Clan of the Cave Bear) and steam engines, as seen in Assassin's Price by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Not only is it completely unnecessary, but 99% of the time, it's extremely inconsistent and unbelievable. It's one thing to have a character spend the entire book or series working out the details and obstacles of an invention, and it's quite another to do what Sullivan did and have a single character invent almost everything on the spot.
The story picks up where the first book left off: the Rhunes (humans) are preparing for war against the Fhrey (elves). The plot goes on to pursue what could be a fairly interesting story: the Rhunes can't fight Fhrey without weapons, which only the Dherg (dwarves) can provide. And the dwarves won't hand over weapons unless our heroines will destroy an evil demon hidden deep in the mountain kingdom of the dwarven homeland. Hey, sounds interesting to me, right?
But then we get to meet three characters from Book 1 that were barely introduced: Brin the Keeper, Roan the abused victim, and Gifford the cripple.
Gifford can't speak his R's. He says things like "Woan" instead of "Roan" and "Sowwy" instead of "Sorry." That's fine. It's a little over the top, but it's fine. Gifford is also deeply in love with Roan, though it is unrequited.
But here's where it starts driving me nuts. Roan is an unparalleled Bronze Age genius. To aid Gifford, she invents a crutch.
"What's this?" he says. "I call it a crutch." "Why did you call it a crutch?" "I dunno, sounded right."
OK, stop. People don't just make up words. You don't just make up a word to name a new object. Etymology is a thing. A crutch is called a crutch because it evolved from the old German word "krucke" which meant "hook."
Later on, the Rhune tribe is fleeing their town, and they need to have enough fresh water for the trek, so Roan invents barrels on the spot. Like, literally in less than a page from realizing "hey we need water", she comes up with the idea of a barrel, something that probably took years -- if not dozens or hundreds of years -- to perfect. She does it in a matter of hours.
"What's this called?" Gifford says. "A barrel." "A bawwel? Weally?" Gifford complains. Roan thinks and says, "I can call it a cask." "Why a cask?" "It sounds better."
NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. THAT IS NOT HOW LANGUAGE WORKS. The word "cask" evolved from the French "casque" which means "helmet." There are RULES for how words are created -- you don't just fucking make them up!
And that's not all Roan invents. She invents: the wheel, the wagon, barrels/casks, crutches, and the bow and arrow.
And the arrow? She sees the first person in the world shoot the first arrow from the first bow, and that first arrow goes wide, and she says "Oh, it needs fucking FEATHERS on it to stabilize its flight." She got that from the first arrow? Really?
The bow wasn't invented in a day. An arrow wasn't invented in a day. A barrel wasn't invented in a day, nor was a cart, the wheel, or writing.
Did I mention writing? Brin, the Keeper, theorizes about writing and invents a written language within hours of that theorization. Not only that, but three days later when she finds a tablet written in another language, she a) identifies it as writing, b) FIGURES OUT THE LANGUAGE, and c) READS IT OUT LOUD.
I'm sorry. I hated this book. I hated it so much. The overarching plot was fine, the Raithe storyline was fine, the Persephone storyline was fine, the Miralyith storyline was fine. But the Roan/Brin invention orgy was just too much for me. It was so awful.
I don't recommend this book to anyone, unless you tolerate lazy writing like that.