As a lifelong fan of the fantasy genre, sometimes there are days when I just need to pick up a book that will take me away.
This was the case about a week ago when I was at Barnes & Nobles, looking for a specific title. That title wasn’t available in the store (it was the first book of a series in progress, several years old already), and I found myself wandering the aisles. Of course, I gravitated toward the “new fantasy” section. Among the titles I saw, there were several old favorites that had simply been re-printed and several others that just didn’t catch my eye.
Then, my weary gaze fell upon something that stopped me in my tracks. A huge, beautiful, gnarly tree with tiny figures in the foreground. Not wanting to judge a book by it’s gorgeous cover art, I reached out for it. Opening it to read the back cover, I knew that I had found my weekend getaway. I was especially pleased to see it was “Book One” in a series and that the author had penned other collections as well. Opening the front cover of the book, I discovered that 5 titles in this series were already listed out as “forthcoming”. The author’s note explained in a few pages at the front that he writes the whole series before he publishes Book One, and that’s just his style. I may have swooned a little.
Age of Myth is the first installment of the Legends of the First Empire series, and it appears to be a prequel of sorts. Since the author, Michael J. Sullivan, is relatively new to me – I was both elated and the tiniest bit saddened to realize I would probably miss out on some references. This turned out to be a non-issue, as the book stood on its own as a fantastic adventure. It occurred to me that this being my first title by Sullivan made me feel like a kid today reading Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace before watching the original Star Wars trilogy. Incidentally, the novel I just linked was written (based on the movie) by one of my other favorite fantasy authors – Terry Brooks.
The world in which Age of Myth takes place is divided by barriers at once physical, spiritual, and cultural. The Fhrey race are recognizable as the nearest thing to haughty elves. They have established themselves as Gods in the minds of the human tribes. The description of the ancient Dherg is reminiscent of Dwarves. Since they’ve been underground for ages -buried by magical warfare- they don’t make an appearance in this particular book. If that feels like foreshadowing, it’s because I’m anxiously awaiting their appearance later in the series. Call it a hunch.
As is true of many of the great epic fantasy stories, there’s a handy map at the beginning of the book with the names of countries, rivers, and settlements. This will help you keep your bearing as you read the story. Your perspective travels between the strong but naive Rhunes (humans) and the ancient but zealous Fhrey characters. Even without reading the brief author’s note at the front of the book, it’s easy to get the feeling that this is an origin story for titles not yet read (by me). There’s a tangible sense that these factions are about to experience an epic culture clash that could either balance the scales or toss them into an apocalypse.
Each side has its heroes and villains, of course, but our main character is a salt-of-the-earth anti-hero. Raithe is a Rhune who begins, in the first few pages, believing wholeheartedly that the Fhrey are Gods. He is quickly disillusioned.
The rest of the story arc flows so well that I literally consumed it in less than 24 hours.
Reading Age of Myth felt like coming home. The world, the players, the conflict – all of it was balanced just so; the perfect blend of what I anticipated and what I had yet to predict. It felt fresh and familiar at the same time, like a refresher for readers who have been gone from the fantasy genre a little too long.
There are mystics and skeptics, magic and ingenuity, leaders and followers. Perhaps one of my favorite things about this book is that it has both male and female lead characters. Strong, fully-realized women are leaders of their communities and wield power both magically and politically. It’s wonderful to read a fantasy/adventure story and be able to relate to more than just the damsel in distress.
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If I had to give one criticism about Age of Myth, it would be that sometimes I wanted to throttle the heroes for being too trusting. Of course, if all the heroes could predict what their foils were up to, we wouldn’t have great stories like this. Still, there were several times I wanted to yell at the pages (or the characters themselves) that they were obviously (to me) being set up by the bad guys. It’s not much of a criticism, though, and as this is a story of beginnings, there will be plenty of time for our characters to develop a stronger gut instinct.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I now have a new series to anticipate (this book was released in the Summer of 2016, and the next is due June 20, 2017 ) and a new author to explore. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy and adventure. Displays of power, both subtle and vulgar, add to the excitement as well.