The Riyria Chronicles is the prequel series to the Riyria Revelations, and currently at 3 books with a fourth one in the works. The author does suggest to read in publication order (Riyria Chronicles, then Revelations), but I found that it was still a fun series to read without any previous knowledge of the world or characters.
The Crown Tower is the first book in the Riyria Chronicles and the summary looked like too much fun to pass up: A world-weary ex-soldier named Hadrian teams up with a grumpy assassin named Royce to commit a difficult heist commissioned by a wizard. Having just finished The Lies of Locke Lamora, I was just in the mood for another good old heist fantasy.
The pacing was…not good. It took over half of the book for the main plot to get introduced, and then it was a huge let down because we don’t even see the heist itself! It gets done more or less in the passing, despite all the build up. While it’s likely just a misleading summary (I know authors don’t always have powers over those), the pacing of the book still felt off. I would have much rather have had longer sequences with both Royce and Hadrian interacting, have actually seen the heist, and maybe have had some longer action sequences, because those were pretty well-written. I will say that Gwen’s storyline felt mostly well-paced, thought it still could have cut out a few parts.
On that train of thought, I think Gwen’s storyline was handled quite well in terms of language and representation, but it just frustrates me with how unnecessary what happened to her was. Without spoiling anything, is there really no way that she could have avoided the tragedy that happened to her and still have ended up a successful business owner and a caring, sympathetic person?
While Hadrian and Royce’s storyline also has elements that could be seen as unnecessary (Pickles was an alright addition, but I don’t think he was entirely essential or added much to the book), I actually liked that the wizard decided to team up these two opposites and send them on a quest just because he wanted to. It was a fun play on the fact that in this genre quests often have heavy implications and reasons (“this was prophesied”, “If you don’t throw this into Mordor we’re all doomed so even though we dislike each other we’ll work together to save the world”, ect.), so it was kind of fun seeing someone do this because they just felt like throwing two people on a journey together.
The sequel, The Rose and Thorn, was weaker for me in terms of pacing and the insta-love. Sullivan, the author, mentioned that he started writing this before The Crown Tower, and it really shows that he was writing this book with the idea of a prequel in mind. I felt like we only got ¾ of a story instead of a full one because there were so many references and set ups for the Revelations series, which wasn’t a problem with The Crown Tower.
The plot is straight-forward: Hadrian and Royce are on their way back to meet Gwen a year after the end of The Crown Tower. When they return, they find that she is a suspect in a break-in at the royal palace, and a much larger conspiracy against the King himself. The rest of the novel is Royce trying to get revenge for the brutal beating Gwen endured and some of the other characters trying to find out what happened and foil the conspiracy against the king.
We also spend a lot more time with characters who aren’t Royce or Hadrian, its necessary to move the plot along. Like I said, this story is mostly setting up the situation for the first book of the Revelations series and feels like it has Royce and Hadrian at the peripheries of the story. Furthermore, much like in the previous book, the few female characters that we see for significant periods of time are either physically or emotionally harmed in order to move the plot forward.
I did like that we see the relationship between Hadrian and Royce grow-they work better together, they trust each other more and have more emotional depth in their scenes. This is the book where they formally create the titular Riyria-a company that performs heists for nobles in exchange for large amounts of money. There is also an honestly sweet reunion scene between Royce and Gwen which I loved, but for the most part this was the weakest book in the sequence for me.
The Death of Dulgath was the strongest book for me. It takes place a year after the second one, with Hadrian and Royce setting out for yet another adventure-this time, to prevent the assassination of an important Countess. We get to see parts of the larger plot that The Rose and Thorn showed, but the book still captures the stand-alone feel of The Crown Tower. It also has much better pacing than the previous two books, which I appreciated. I felt like Hadrian’s character went in a strange direction, becoming more interested in girls than the job, but the book still showed us why he’s a good companion for Royce: He’s compassionate, legitimately cares for people he just met on principle, and trusting. Unlike Royce, who usually acts like a grouchy cat.
To be fair Royce also gets a nice arc in this book, and despite the absence of Gwen (who needs her own series, honestly), we see that he has grown to love and care for her in a way that’s more toned down but feels sweet and genuine than the last book. Same goes for his relationship to Hadrian-he understands him well and is likely one of the few people Royce would trust in a situation where he’s not in control, and we get both told and shown that.
We also get introduced to some of the world’s more mystical elements, such as elves and magic. I wish we had gotten to see more of that before The Death of Dulgath, but it likely wouldn’t have fit with the tone.
Overall, I wish we had gotten to see more female characters, especially as their own characters who didn’t need love interests or pain to develop, and that the pacing for the first two books had been better. I’m also hesitant to compare it to more elaborate heist fantasies like the Gentlemen Bastard series or Mistborn because there’s not as much focus on the details of the plot or heists as there is on the characters and the relationships between them. But in the end it’s a fun fantasy series for someone who doesn’t want to spend hours pouring over tomes, and has engaging and witty characters that I would love to read more about.