While The Stormlight Archive and Malazan Book of the Fallen fulfill my love for epic fantasy, Riyria (both Chronicles and Revelations) satisfies a different need. The sense of wonder that I obtain from reading Riyria, which is more of a classical fantasy, feels more intimate and cozy, if I can even describe it as such. Every time I pick up a book about my favourite duo, Hadrian and Royce, it is akin to coming home to meet old friends.
The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter is no different in that I enjoyed every minute I spent with these two thieves of conflicting personalities but complementing proficiencies. While no prior knowledge of the previous Chronicles books nor the Revelations series is required to enjoy this novel, it makes the reading experience more satisfying to have done so. Having read the former will help you appreciate how the duo came together against all the odds and the growth of their partnership - and budding friendship - through the years. And knowledge of the latter will give you a few snickers where some casual comments manifest as private jokes of sorts given hindsight knowledge. And there are always little Easter eggs scattered across the narrative for the seasoned reader - who doesn't love finding Easter eggs?
The premise is relatively simple, as deduced from the title itself. The beauty is, however, in the details. I have to give it to Michael J Sullivan for one of the most vividly portrayed locations that he has ever written thus far. From the grand architecture to the bustling streets and alleys, and the myriad of people in the city of Rochelle, the descriptions were beautifully evocative. True to his form, Sullivan has yet again given us great new characters from diverse backgrounds and races. There are also a few not-so-new faces for those familiar with the series. The story is essentially character-driven with just enough plot to keep it interesting.
Now, for the best part - it is about Hadrian and Royce of course! It is no secret that I have a strong positive bias to any form of storytelling about these two guys, so long as Sullivan stays true to their characterisation. The Chronicles form the backstory about how these two most unlikely partners-in-crime come together and then spent years as the infamous Riyria before the momentous events in Revelations. As such, most of the page time is dedicated to the duo, for which I am delighted.
Written in a limited third-person perspective, each Chronicles book has a slight focal bias towards one or the other member of Riyria. Hadrian in The Crown Tower, and Royce in the last two instalments. In Winter's Daughter, it is back to my biggest fictional crush, who has the most impactful narrative. And more often than not, it was Royce who has to deal with the unsettling influence from his "unusually kind, empathetic and forgiving" partner. The gradual changes wrought in him far outweighs that of his worldly views on Hadrian.
Hadrian was wrong. I do have a unicorn in my world, and that damn thing goes by the name of Hadrian Blackwater. He's a mythical beast impossible to believe in, even when he's right in front of me.
And speaking of Hadrian, the one minor complaint I had in this instalment was the lack of swordplay or fighting scenes. If you know Riyria, you will know why this can be a tad disappointing. The action is geared toward chase scenes; one which is gorgeously rendered by the amazing Marc Simonetti in the stunning cover of the book.
This volume is a highly satisfying addition to the Riyria Chronicles that adds to the backstory of Hadrian and Royce. It is with a heavy heart that I have to bid farewell to these old friends of mine for some time. I will look forward most immensely to meeting them again. Judging from the loose thread at the end of this story and the Afterword, I am holding my breath for the next one.
Note to Michael J. Sullivan - I want more, please!