Review of Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan
Last month saw the release of Nolyn, the latest novel from Michael J. Sullivan. Set in the world of Elan, fans of Sullivan’s previous books will recognise many of the locations and characters from the Riyria and Legends of the First Empire novels.
Until reading Nolyn, I was unfamiliar with the Michael’s other works. There are obviously references to the previous books, but it was simple to infer meanings and relationships through dialogue and description. Therefore, I agree with the author’s assurance (in the foreword of the book no less!) that it is unnecessary to have read the rest of Michael’s works. That said, there is the potential for several scenes to be far more heartfelt than they felt to me, if I had been previously invested in the characters.
A quick aside before we really dive into the review. As mentioned before, there is a foreword from the author. Michael gives a bit of background to the story, and a quick note on his past and what he has planned for the future.
I personally love when authors do this.
For me, it changes the author from being a faceless name on the front of the cover into a real person, who is obviously enjoying sharing their world with all of us. It makes the book far more interesting, and I am immediately more invested. I am surprised that more authors don’t do this (It is also worthwhile reading the Afterword from Robin, Michael’s wife. The gentle chiding she gives him for the treatment of a character is fantastic).
Aright, detour over.
The novel starts with us meeting the titular Nolyn, who has just been sent to fight the Ghazel (goblins) in the Goblin Wars. He finds himself in the depths of the Erbon Forest (imagine a humid, equatorial jungle, full of insects, snakes and goblins. Not ideal.), where it soon becomes apparent that he is trapped.
It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that Nolyn survives this encounter – it would take a very brave author to kill the main character in the first chapter! Fortunately for Nolyn, he finds support in the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron (Seventh Sik-Aux), a highly skilled and feared group of fighters.
I really enjoyed the interplay between the Seventh Sik-Aux and Nolyn at this point. It really establishes the values of Nolyn. Particularly intriguing was the character Amicus, First Spear of the Squadron. Unrivalled in battle, he obviously has a tender spot for the men he leads, which is quickly expanded to include Nolyn. These subsidiary characters really carry the story for me. The camaraderie and levity of their relationships felt genuine, and I would perk up when I saw that the chapter would involve them.
I found a similar feeling about the supporting cast with Sephryn’s storyline (the other main character of the novel, and love interest to Nolyn). I was left with a hunger to learn more (particularly about the bonkers Arvis). Sephryn herself is a fascinating character, a half human, half Fhrey woman who is making her own way fighting for human rights, whilst still being somewhat eclipsed by her famous mother. She is put through emotional hell at the start of the novel, resulting in being blackmailed into carrying out an elaborate heist.
The final sections of the book has to be some of the most engrossing sequences that I have ever read. I was fairly blindsided at times, but there was enough of a pay off to still my protestations (to a degree).
Michael J. Sullivan certainly has an interesting writing style. He writes very well, but really casually. I mean, really, really casually (Hello pot? I have a Mr. Kettle on the line for you).
If I am honest, it worked for me. The easy nature of the writing meant that I found no trouble settling into reading fantasy names. You know what I mean, the High Fantasy novels in which every item, place and person is a garble of vowels, with sprinkling of consonants. When done poorly, I am fast removed from the story.
I will admit though, I may have groaned aloud at the description of one of the characters as being “more than a bit cross”.
Other than that minor criticism (I actually paused, and wondered whether to include it in the review as it feels like a mischaracterisation of the writing, but it can’t all be positive damnit!), I really enjoyed this book. I went into it with zero expectation and found a very pleasant read. The characters were fun, the world was large, and I was left wanting more. Easily my favourite arcs were those that involved the Seventh Sik-Aux (I would love to call them a rag-tag team, but they are actually quite accomplished).
Final notes, I found Nolyn to be a very entertaining novel. Having never heard of Michael J. Sullivan, I was pleasantly surprised by this story, and found myself drawn in to the world of Elan. If you haven’t read any of his novels, I can recommend this book to you, however you may want to start with his earlier stories to get a more complete picture (although I am afraid, as they are unknown to me, I can’t recommend them. You are on your own!).