Hadrian and Royce compose Ryria. Named after the elven word for two, they are a pair of exceptionally good thieves. One of their jobs leads them to to steal a sword from the castle of the King of Melengar. Except when they get there, they find no sword, and instead find a dead king, for whom the murder is blamed on them. They are locked in the dungeon, awaiting their execution, when the princess Arista comes and tells them that she believes in their innocence, that a conspiracy is afoot, and that she’ll let them go if they agree to kidnap her brother, Alric, and take him to go see the wizard Esrahaddon. They promptly do so, and Hadrian being the honorable thief he is, despite complaints by Royce, sets them on their journey to Esrahaddon. Along the way they stop to rest where a monastery should be, only to find that it had burned down, and only a single monk named Myron, who has an exceptionally good memory, remained. They bring him along as well, and eventually arrive at Esrahaddon’s prison, where they promptly set him free, and he gives them clues about the conspiracy. They discover that Alric and Arista’s uncle had taken over, with Arista scheduled for execution, so Alric rouses the forces loyal to him to take back his castle. Hadrian and Royce are given the mission of rescuing Arista, or at least holding off her execution. Things get messy, but they pull it off, and things go back to how they should be.
Or at least they do for a while. It turns out this was part of a much larger conspiracy by the Church of Nyphron to put those loyal to them at the helm of the nations of Averyn to begin a new Empire. This is supposed to be kicked off by a competition by the Church claiming that only the heir of Novron can defeat a beast prowling the countryside, and hence the own who defeats it will be crowned Emperor. This is a complete myth, with the beast actually being a mystical being that can be defeated only by a single blade, which is locked in the elven tower Avempartha that hasn’t been accessed in centuries. Riyria are called upon in this regard when a girl from the village named Thrace comes to ask them to steal this sword from its resting place. The competition ends up a mess, and Hadrian and Royce fail more than they succeed, but the monster is slain, and an Empress decided, though not who the Church originally wanted.
The church official Saldur comes up with a plan to use the girl crowned Empress, now dubbed Modina, to begin creating the empire, with the plan to force her to marry someone more capable and kill her off eventually. The girl is essentially broken, so a maid named Amilia is given the task of essentially stringing her along into doing what’s necessary. And hence with the capital city of Aquesta at its center, the formation of the new Empire begins. Melengar, being the only country where the plot to replace the King failed, is the only one resisting this. Without allies in other kingdoms, the now Ambassador of Melengar looks to the nationalist rebellion for allies. Hiring Royce and Hadrian to take her, they go on a journey to meet their leader, Degan Gaunt. After a number of betrayals, things begin to take form, and Arista manages to establish some sort of alliance and take control of the city of Ratibor.
Her presence there is short lived as she discovers who the true heir of Novron is, and sneaks into Aquesta to save him or at least get enough information so that Hadrian and Royce can, but things don’t exactly go well. Riyria are busy aboard the Emerald Storm, a ship heading to the forsaken lands of Calis, where Melengar received intelligence that the empire’s forces would achieve a feat that would bring the war with Melengar to a close. They travel over seas, through jungles, fight in a coliseum, and even spend hours climbing up a ridiculously large building, but even with success things don’t quite go as hoped either.
At this point, the creation of an Empire is coming to a close, and the Empress is to be married at the Wintertide festival. Hadrian in a last ditch effort at saving the true heir of Novron as well as Arista ends up making a deal with Saldur where he must act a Knight at the games and kill Sir Breckton who was being a thorn in his side. Things go very badly for both of them, and ultimately everyone ends up in a dungeon, but Modina isn’t as broken as she once seemed to be, and she has her own plans for the Empire.
Just when it looks like things were going well, the elven army suddenly invades, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. While the human forces are completely incapable of halting their advance, a plan based on century old agreements to ensure humanities survival comes to be. It involves Hadrian, Royce, Arista, Alric, as well as various others going on a perilous journey to the long lost city of Percepliquis, the buried capital of the old empire, where they are to search for a horn. This journey has them grappling down lofty tunnels, sailing over underground oceans, fighting armies of goblins, and getting past massive beasts, but they pull it off, and save humanity. In doing so a tremendous number of revelations occur, the truth behind everything comes to light and ties everything from the beginning all together, the world and is changes forever, and while people die, overall it comes pretty close to a happily ever after.
Riyria Revelations is incredibly plot oriented. That is to say, the focus is completely on telling a good story. There isn’t much to say about larger themes that are supposed to be metaphors for real life, major life lessons that are supposed to be gained, or any type of depth along those lines. It’s a story that exists for the sake of being a story and does a good job being so. This also means that the lore and world building is also very much tied to the story itself. This is in contrast to other works where they try to build a large coherent and interesting world and spend a good amount of time slowly developing it through info dumping and the like. The world here isn’t especially interesting, rather its very cliche, nor does the author attempt to really create a base for it before beginning the tale, but rather only reveals whats necessary to reveal about the world as needed for the sake of the story. This leads to a very different style to the writing as compared to other works, where there is far less extraneous detail. It feels like each sentence is used much more efficiently, and hence an equal page count with this style ends up pushing a lot more story than other comparable works. This makes the entire novel very fast paced regardless of whats happening, and keeps the reader firmly engrossed in the tale itself as it progresses.
This works out very well because the story itself is what makes this series of novels amazing. Everyone expects a good story, with standouts having something like an especially god atmosphere, world building, etc. to put it above the rest. In these regards the series doesn’t do extremely well, as in a general manner for these aspects it isn’t terribly interesting, seemingly being very generic, and very traditional. But that’s fine, or possibly even good as it doesn’t serve as distraction, because Riyria Revelations excels purely on the basis of its plot. The plot spans the equivalent of six novels, each that are somewhat self contained tales, but what makes the series incredible is how all of these are tied together so well, with everything from the smallest details seemingly being impactful in some way later on, and despite seeming to be becoming somewhat convoluted, it wraps things up amazingly tying up all the details with a number of relatively simple twists and major revelations. How there are so many conspiracies and connections, large and small, with a large amount of depth overall, but everything still stays completely consistent is what makes the plot so extraordinary.
The last point of note, is the strength of the characters. The main characters are clearly the pair of thieves Hadrian and Royce, though there are a number of other important semi-main characters, mainly the princess wizardess Arista, the King of Melengar Alric, and the Empress Modina. Each of these characters goes through a good amount of character development over the course of the series, especially Arista, as well as major development in character relations. The romance was weak, but other than that it was incredibly solid. There are a whole bunch of side characters as well, and while they don’t really go through that much development, what makes them so interesting is how much they’re used and reused. There are a lot of character that feel like they’ve been used at some point, and will not really be seen from again, but are used again. They could easily be filled by different characters. Or rather, it would have been easier to have them filled by different characters, as they’re reused in a way that is consistent and connected to their previous appearances, which makes these side characters a lot more interesting than otherwise.
Riyria Revelations is a very fast paced fantasy series series with little fluff that focuses on the meat of the intricate plot and the great characters.
There is also a prequel series called Riyria Chronicles that was released after Revelations. I personally don’t like prequels in general as you already have a good idea of what’s going to happen and the answer to many mysteries. Here especially I feel this is an issue as I feel it’ll never reach the same scale, nor will things be as mysterious as most of the revelations have occurred. Nor will the romance be as good, as the Gwen stuff will be bitter due to obvious reasons, as would anything with Hadrian due to him not meeting Arista until Revelations, which would make any romance with him at all annoying. Still, they’ve gotten good reviews, so I’m at least somewhat optimistic. I’ll take a break before diving into them though.