As I said in a previous review, I started reading the Riyria series in the chronological order, not the publication order, which the author, Michael Sullivan, recommends. Which means going into Theft of Swords, I had an advantage over those who read in the publication order: I knew I liked the characters, and I knew what Sullivan’s writing style was like.
Theft of Swords is split into two parts, essentially. They’re the original first two books that Sullivan published himself, which were combined into a larger book when released traditionally. Sullivan says that the books are meant to read like a TV series with a lot of different episodes but a story arch interwoven between them (think Babylon 5 or Doctor Who), and he kind of succeeded. You don’t need much context to read the second if you skipped the first, but the larger plot continues in the background of both. It was great that despite being two completely different plots, both books matched the title pretty well.
I think I really liked reading in the chronological order, because it meant I didn’t have to wonder about a lot of events that are heavily referenced. I was very much right in that The Rose and the Thorn was basically a set up for the first book, and while the other books are still a lot of fun, I definitely recommend reading The Rose and the Thorn before Theft of Swords to spare yourself the melodramatics and to get a better context for the situation and characters. The characters are the ones we know and love, and having the context for the type of people Royce and Hadrian used to be gave me a large appreciation for their character development.
However, I was disappointed in Royce and Gwen’s relationship! It looked like they were showing a lot of growth in Death of Dulgath, and that their relationship was going to be much stronger in the Revelations series, but it was pretty lackluster in Theft of Swords. To be fair, Theft of Swords was the first books that Sullivan wrote with Riyria, so he can’t be expected to have mastered the world and all its relationships already. Even Terry Pratchett took a while to really get into stride with his Discworld series.
Overall, it’s pretty much what I expected and wanted from Riyria: fast paced adventure, fun characters and witty dialogue. Having the backstory of the characters and context for the world just made it more fun for me, but I’m sure people who read in the publication order had a great time wondering about character backstories and past adventures.