Book: “Age of Death” by Michael J. Sullivan
Publishing Info: Riyria Enterprises LLC, February 2020
Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC
Book Description: Winter blankets the land, and more than just hope has died. Prevented from invading the Fhrey homeland by the tower of Avempartha, the western army seeks a way across the Nidwalden River before the fane obtains the secret of dragons. As time runs out for both humanity and the mystic Suri, the only chance for the living rests with the dead. Having made their fateful choice, can a handful of misfits do the impossible, or are they forever lost to an inescapable grave? Do gods truly exist? Is it possible to know the future? And what lies beyond the veil of death? In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.
Review: Sullivan is not only an established fantasy author, but I have to think he’s one of the most successful as a self-published author. Not only did he start out his career that way and manage to break into the major league standard publishing circuit, he also has now managed to go back to self-publishing and break all kinds of Kickstarter records for books. It also works well for his fans, as I, like many others, was able to get my hands on an early ebook copy. Kind of important after that cliffhanger in the last one! Alas, a cliffhanger was here too (warning!), but, a Kickstarter campaign starts up again shortly, so my wait time is again cut down. Thank god! All of that is neither here nor there to my overall review of the book, but it’s a kind of neat unique trait of these books that I like to highlight. But, the long and the short of it: per the usual for this series, I had a great time reading this book and am now hanging on hooks waiting for the grand finale!
The last book ended with our grand party sinking to their “death” in a disgusting bog, hoping to journey through the land of the dead to the realm of the Fhrey where their dear friend and most powerful ally, Suri, is being held captive. This book picks up immediately from there as our party begins to make their way through the various lands of the dead, meeting up with old friends and new foes along the way. Suri, on the other hand, is caught up in the political maneuverings of the power that be among the Fhrey people, trying to determine friend from foe while protecting the deadly secret of dragon-making, the only advantage the human army has had on their side during this decade-long war.
As this is the fifth book in the series, the characters are all pretty well-established. Aside from a one or two new character that we meet in the underworld, we spend most of our time with these familiar faces. Of course, the challenges they face in the underworld bring new elements of their characters to light, but for the most part, they are all largely as we have come to expect. Of them all, I seem to be enjoying Moya more and more. In this book we see her face some incredibly hard decisions and losses. But the characters who saw the most growth were the two that have walked the line of villainy to some extent to this point, who both feel that they may deserve to be in some of the deeper levels of this underworld.
As far as the underworld itself went, I enjoyed the version we were given here. There were elements of it that were fairly predictable, the groundwork being laid early in the story and predictably coming to fruition later. However, I didn’t feel that this detracted much from the story. There were a couple of character introduced here that did take me completely by surprise, however, and it was exciting to finally see them on the page given how often they had been referenced in other books.
My biggest struggle with this book, however, was the pacing. All of the books are clearly part of six part, epic series, so none of them can truly be read as standalones. That said, they all felt like they had clear beginnings and endings with at least one character seeming to experience an entire arch through the one book. Even the last with its massive cliffhanger felt fairly complete on its own. Here, however, it’s like we were given the Moria scene from “Lord of the Rings”…and that’s it. Nothing before and nothing after. There’s another cliffhanger, yes, but I went in expecting that. It’s more that the story as a whole didn’t really feel like its own thing in its own right. More than any of the others, this one felt like a chunk that had been removed from a larger book and then made its own book. Like it could have been the “Part II” of a bigger book. Again, this wasn’t a game changer or anything, but it did stick out more in this book than in others.
Per the usual now, I really enjoyed this book. On its own, I probably enjoyed it less than others just because it didn’t really feel like a complete book so much as a long section of the previous book and, likely, the last book combined. I also missed not seeing as much of Persephone. But I’m excited for the direction the story is taking with Suri and the Fhrey and, of course, the cliffhanger leaves a lot of tension built up that can’t be resolved quickly enough. Fans of the series so far will be both satisfied with this one and left in a similar position as before: impatient for the next (and last!) book to come!
Rating 8: Gearing up for the final book, this fun fantasy adventure struggles to hold its own as a complete work, but rocks as the next step in the whole.
“Age of Death” is a newer title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy Releases of 2020.”
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