Age of Myth (Legends of the First Empire #1)
by Michael J. Sullivan
Review by Sam Lubell
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781101965337
Date: 28 June 2016 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Age of Myth is the first book in the five-book The Legends of the First Empire series. While this series takes place in the same world as Michael Sullivan's Riyria books, it is set about 3,000 years earlier so no knowledge of the previous books is needed to understand this one. The novel has good characterization and three of the four leads are strong female characters. The tone is on the lighter side of epic fantasy, with a good sense of humor.
The book opens when Raithe and his father are confronted by a god while hunting beyond the lands assigned to humans. Humans think the gods are immortal, but when his father is killed, Raithe kills one, with the help of Malcom, one of the god's slaves. It turns out the beings humans call gods are not divine immortals but a very long-lived race called the Fhrey. The Raithe and Malcom flee, but rumors spread of a human god-slayer and the Fhrey begin to kill humans and destroy their towns. Raithe just wants to be left alone, but circumstances force him to become a hero. Malcom functions as his sidekick and his ignorance of the human world provide both humor and reader-friendly exposition.
Meanwhile, in the human town of Dahl Rhen, Persephone (not the one from Greek myths), the widow of the town's former chief, encounters Suri, a 14-year-old girl with a pet wolf who claims to be a mystic with a message from the spirits that all the humans will die. Persephone knows she is supposed to step back and let the new chief run things, but she feels compelled to lead when the new chief dithers despite news that the Fhrey are annihilating nearby towns. Persephone is an interesting, flawed character. She is always convinced she knows best, yet is blind to a conspiracy in her own community, convinced that the people who have known her for her whole life would never betray her.
Suri is another outsider character with both a comic and serious role. Suri has grown up only knowing one human, the mystic who taught her, so is convinced other people are playing a game when they state the obvious--"Pointless, but popular. Everyone plays it. You're eating our bread. That isn't your bed. You have a wolf...." She talks to trees and gets answers and also communicates with her wolf. The Fhrey are convinced that humans are lower creatures because they cannot use magic, so are shocked when they see what Suri can do.
The fourth main character is Arion, one of the Fhrey especially skilled in magic. The recently deceased ruler of the Fhrey had asked her to tutor his grandson, now the heir, in magic. This annoys Gryndal, first minister, who wants to control the heir himself. Gryndal arranges for Arion to be sent into the human lands to capture a group of rogue Fhrey who did not want to participate in the murder of humans. Unlike Gryndal, Arion does not believe the Miralyith (powerful magic-user Fhrey) are gods. But she's still overly confident in her powers, which allow her to turn pools of water into spas and, in a moment of pique, turn a river into a walkway. When asked if 50 soldiers would be enough to go with her to capture the renegades, she is puzzled, "Why in Ferrol's name would I need soldiers?"
Naturally, all these characters meet up and the growing conflict between Fhrey and humans erupts into a battle. Both humans and Fhrey are forced to reevaluate their assumptions about the other. The characters are flawed, but learn and grow. However, the characterization of Raithe could be stronger; he spends much of the book reluctant and exasperated at the situations. The book has a lot of characters and made-up names; fortunately, the glossary in the back helps.
Although Age of Myth is the first in a five-book series, it does not end with a cliffhanger. The immediate situation is resolved, although it is clear this is just the end of the first stage of the struggle.
The Age of Myth is a fast moving book with lots of action and adventure. It is a fun read, not too deep, but entertaining. I think this novel is stronger than his Riyria books with deeper characterization. Fans of Dave Duncan or Brent Weeks will enjoy the book.