Age of Swords was a great sequel in developing the characters that I've grown to love from Age of Myth. I can see why MJS named this as his favourite book of the series even at this early stage. I believe every author should be fond of the characters that they have created and writing that one book that highlighted their development most of all had to be the most fulfilling.
After setting the scene in the first book regarding the differences between the Rhunes and the Fhrey, Age of Swords proceeded to demonstrate what occurs when the bonds of subjugation of the perceived inferior race start to fray. Similar to the progression of our human civilisation stemming from the ability to travel, whether through curiosity or conquest, and to communicate with other humans in different parts of the world, the co-mingling of the out-cast Fhrey amongst the Rhunes and a chance meeting of Dhergs or dwarves, enabled the same. The discovery of the reclusive and covetous Dherg, and their know-how played a significant role in this novel. I have to say that some of these "advancements" did occur almost all too expediently or conveniently. It didn't really bother me though as I find it fits well into the character development.
I think we've just witnessed the world shift, and I doubt it'll ever be the same again.
As before in Age of Myth, there wasn't a tremendous amount of plot progression in this book. The material sought to give the reader better appreciation of the key characters and why these characters are so important. As such, there were instances where the pacing slows down and lots of conversations took place. As far as I am concerned, this matter. For the main reason being that The Legends of the First Empire is a prequel series for me in its truest sense as I have read all of Riyria Revelations and Chronicles. As such, one can I say I already have knowledge of the final outcome or destination. Hence, the journey becomes important to me; i.e. how MJS tells the story of what was actual vs what was "retold" in Revelations. And speaking of which, there was just so much fun and delight in discovering the linkages and references to the Riyria series. Whenever something makes me go "Oh my gosh, is it..." or "Is that...", my heart does a little dance.
One thing for sure, if one ever feels disillusioned or displeased with how badly written female characters are in quite a significant number of fantasy books, no look further than Michael J Sullivan to break that funk.
Although men were strong like rocks, any stone could crack. Women were more like water. They nurtured life and could shape the hardest granite through unrelenting determination.
The female characters in this series are astounding. They are smart, courageous, resilient, compassionate and strong without once compromising what makes them women. Persephone, Moya, Roan, Brin and Suri - their stories truly shine. There is no better word to describe the character development of this stellar cast, which a lot of time was spent on.
This is in stark contrast to the men, who seemed to be stubbornly irritating. Well, except for one outright star which I will come to later. I was especially annoyed with Raithe and Mawyndule. Raithe's arc seemed to take a step backwards in here with his reluctance to act and pessimism leading to an almost cowardly course of action. I definitely wished to see more of Malcolm to temper his insufferable whining. Mawyndule's POV was completely dislikeable as it served to drive the point of how the Miralyth believed themselves to be above all others and deserved to be within the pantheon of the gods itself. It was, unfortunately, a necessary evil to shape the narrative of the larger story at hand.
The saving grace amongst the men was no other than Gifford. I was delighted that he actually received a fair bit of page-time in here. Damaged as he was, his strength of will, determination and courage was extraordinary. His relationship with Roan was especially heart-wrenchingly wonderful and sad at the same time. An outwardly crippled man who does not view himself as such, and a brilliant woman who is broken inside.
Most people pitied Gifford and a few even despised him. He never understood either.
Another favourite aspect of this book is, finally, the explanation of the Art. Oh my gosh, it was so beautiful and I truly understand now why it is called the Art. The power of creation that exists in almost everything in the world; the threads and the chords and how it can be altered, manipulated by an Artist. Arising out of this particular narrative was an emotionally powerful sequence of scenes, definitely the most memorable for me from this book.
As much as I loved a whole lot of Age of Swords, it pained me that there are parts which I did not enjoy, namely Mawyndule's and the Miralyth arc. As necessary as it was, it was a bit longer than I would like it to be.
All in all, though, this is another really solid instalment into The Legends of the First Empire. Hopefully, with most of the key characters being established and judging from the ending of Age of Swords, we will finally be getting more action in the subsequent book, Age of War.