Theft of Swords: The Crown Conspiracy, by Michael J Sullivan

As Theft of Swords was originally 2 separate novels and is broken into 2 sections in the omnibus edition, I’m splitting my review of the book into 2 different sections also, to properly discuss each individual section.

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Publication date – November 23, 2011


There’s no ancient evil to defeat or orphan destined for greatness, just unlikely heroes and classic adventure. Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, are two enterprising rogues who end up running for their lives when they’re framed for the murder of the king. Trapped in a conspiracy that goes beyond the overthrow of a tiny kingdom, their only hope is unraveling an ancient mystery before it’s too late.

Thoughts: Originally published as the first novel of the series, Theft of Swords starts with The Crown Conspiracy, and I have to say, had I not already heard that the series vastly improves along the line, I might not have bothered continuing after having read this section of the omnibus. While the story is good and the dialogue between Royce and Hadrian is quick and witty, the writing is rather unpolished and feels quite amateurish, very identifiable as the author’s early work. It wasn’t so bad that the story got lost in the writing, so to speak, but it was noticeable, and made the book feel longer than it really was.

The story revolves around Hadrian and Royce, mercenaries and rogues with hearts of gold, a duo well-suited to encountering any kind of situation the world throws at them. Hired to steal a sword, they get embroiled in a plot to take over a kingdom, free an ancient mage, and generally end up in over their heads. As I mentioned previously, the banter between the two, as long-term partners, is golden, and some of the best in the book. A lot of the dialogue from other characters comes across as quite stilted at times, so Hadrian and Royce sound even better and more amusing in comparison.

Sullivan knows how to write a buddy duo like Hadrian and Royce, and it’s in them that his talent really shines in this early novel. They play off each other very well, have their own strengths and few weaknesses, though they don’t come across as being super-powered author avatars, which is good. They don’t feel quite real at this point, definitely remaining in the realm of characters rather than fleshed-out individuals in their own right, but the seeds have definitely been planted and the beginnings are there.

The story itself isn’t particularly complex though it does require some attention to follow. What starts off as a basic fetch quest turns into an escort mission, which turns into something far more political as a princess is kidnapped and imprisoned, accused of being a witch, and her kingdom is in danger of being usurped. Nothing ground-breaking, but still entertaining to read, the sort of thing a person reaches for when they want something familiar rather than something unique.

The world that Sullivan develops isn’t that striking either. Taking a rather standard approach to world-building, everything is clearly based on medieval Europe, with little diversity in sight. There’s use (occasionally grammatically incorrect use) of Old English, as well as rather formal and old-fashioned modern English being spoken by various characters, which gives a strong classic fantasy feel to the book. Mentions are made of elves and humans not getting along and staying far away from each other – again, a typical fantasy trope, but one that lends some interest here because it does express that even though humans are in control of the world right now (or at least the sections of the world dealt with in Theft of Swords), this wasn’t always the case. I’m curious to find out more about the elves; so far all info given has been in the form of hints and dark mentions.

As the beginning to a series, this could be a real take-it-or-leave-it book for most people. The biggest reason I continued with the series was because I’d heard from others that it really does get better as it goes on, and I wanted to see if they were right. So patience is definitely needed, especially given that Theft of Swords isn’t exactly a short book. If you’re starting this series for the first time, at least give it to the end of the first omnibus before you make a decision; I guarantee it does pick up as it goes along, even if the beginning is rather lackluster.

6 comments on “Theft of Swords: The Crown Conspiracy, by Michael J Sullivan

  1. This was a rare DNF for me, finally giving up when they released a wizard who had been spounting bad Shakespeare. I just didn’t buy anything I was being sold on this one.

    • I can definitely see that. The second part of the omnibus is definitely better, and a lot more fun to read, and I hear that subsequent books continue to improve. But yeah, it was tough to stick it out at times, and it was an exercise in patience. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d heard from trustworthy sources that the series improves a lot, it probably would have ended up being a DNF for me too.

  2. I like this series a lot, but you are right and I agree with others that it gets vastly better along the line. Following this pattern exactly, my favorite book was actually the last one! Definitely worth it to see how everything came together in the end and how the author had dropped all these different clues over the previous books. I’d be interested to see what you think of the later books if you do continue!

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