Format: hardcover, first edition, 2018
Reading time: about 11 hours
One sentence synopsis: Royce and Hadrian take a job to find a man’s missing daughter, but the simple fact finding (and revenge) mission turns into something bigger, and the two men get more than they bargained for.
Michael J. Sullivan’s books (at least the ones I’ve read) have been both consistent and inconsistent for me at the same time. What I mean by that is that they’ve been consistently well-written so that I’ve been intrigued by them and look forward to reading them; they have been inconsistent, however, in the quality of the plot and its predictability. The previous book, The Death of Dulgath, fell squarely in the middle between The Rose and the Thorn and The Crown Tower. The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter, besides the interesting title, is the first Sullivan book I was able to acquire in hardcover. So where does it fall between the previous 3 books? Read on to find out, beware of spoilers, and have a look at some guest reviews…
Joshua S. Hill of Fantasy Book Review says: “The interesting characters we meet along the way – some who may sound familiar, and others who will never appear again – are beautifully crafted and bring their own quirks and personalities to an already rich tapestry. The city of Rochelle is an odd place – but, then again, eerily similar to some of today’s societal trends. In this Sullivan doesn’t hit you over the head with subtle societal critiques, but rather uses today’s absurd treatment of one another as fodder for a fascinating city with its own unique currents and eddies…I will say this, however. This is the first time that I thought Sullivan tried to fit too much into a book. It is a small thing, barely noticeable throughout the book, but enough that, by the time you close the final page, there are certain threads left hanging that seemed to be related but in fact, weren’t. A POV character simply disappears towards the end of the book, and a thread which Sullivan introduces for the potential of a future story only served to muddy the water of his main mystery. In the end, I wonder whether the confused ending was the result of trying to weave too many strands together. That, however, is a minor point in the overall scheme of the book.”
DarkChaplain at The Reading Lamp states: “The book is chock-full with great moments, adds background to Hadrian and Royce alike, brings the couple even closer together and, to my delight, ties a few more knots to connect the prequel Chronicles to the Revelations. Michael J. Sullivan is a master at making his world of Elan feeling interconnected and dynamic, whether it be through small easter eggs or a wider mythology…The new, and expanded on, side characters were honestly delightful as well. From Mercator Sikara, the Mir trying to find compromises and protect her people, over Evelyn Hemsworth, the old “hag” renting out her room to Royce and Hadrian and always, always added a motherly snark to a scene, to Duchess ‘Genny’ herself, the novel is stocked with interesting, dynamic and even inspiring characters. The villains, too, feel authentic and offer a proper challenge or three. There was never a dull moment, but plenty of laughter. It is incredible to me how well this entry straddles the line between being a depressing story about real oppression where even children may end up dead in an alley, and being a humorous adventure full of Jiggery-Pokery…I’ll just say that, whether or not you have read Riyria before, this book will entertain and excite you on its own merits, and if you have read other installments, you’ll end up with even more to appreciate.”
Finally, Kopratic of The Fantasy Inn opines: “Firstly, this book was excellently paced. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt things were dragging…The imagery is, frankly, astounding. The sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes are all accounted for. We even get descriptions of touch, too! I felt like I was living in the bustling city of Rochelle. Every line felt necessary, so the amount of editing that must have gone into this book definitely paid off. A major positive result of the writing is how it helps to convey the world-building…Sure, on the surface it might just appear that Royce is the pessimist (excuse me, realist), and Hadrian is the optimist. But they’re so much more. They’re amazingly well-rounded. And it’s not just them. Even the most minor of characters have their own, distinct personalities. Something I greatly appreciated was that different species’ characters also felt distinct. For example, we meet different characters who are mir. There is no “mir personality.” There’s “this is Villar’s character, etc.” Another thing is that this book employs some strong, extremely well-written female characters. They’re each strong in their own ways. They aren’t the same character with different names and hair colors. They aren’t men with breasts. From Evelyn the homeowner, to Genny the duchess (whom we meet in the opening chapter), we see a variety of strengths from these women and more.”
The strength (and hallmark) of a Sullivan book is the strength of characterization. Not just Royce and Hadrian, but also in the supporting characters. In The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter, it is the supporting characters that carry the story. From the Mir characters to crotchety old Evelyn, from Genny to Hadrian’s old war buddy, from priests to lords and peasants, each character is fleshed out with personality traits that remain consistent and unique. Their motivations are believable, and they are a delight to read. There’s some humor to be found here, and I chuckled a few times, especially in Royce’s and Hadrian’s relationship with Evelyn. She is one character that I hope appears later in the Riyria Revelations series.
The plot is effectively a murder mystery, as Winter, Genny’s father, wants to know what has happened to his missing (and presumed dead) daughter. This is a really great direction for Sullivan to take, because unlike the previous book, The Death of Dulgath -which suffered from being a bit too predictable – the murder mystery in this book allows Sullivan to dole the clues out slowly and keep the reader guessing how the plot will play out. A few twists here and there certainly help things along. Royce and Hadrian play Holmes and Watson, but of course with a different dynamic than that classic duo.
I also liked that more magic occurred in the book; in fact it seems as if each successive book ramps that up a little. How magic works is a bit of a mystery, so Sullivan can use it to move the plot to certain points, although he doesn’t use it as a deus ex machina so in reality it isn’t a major problem. Sullivan builds tension through the use of some of this magic, while at the same time Royce and Hadrian have to use a combination of wits and their particular skill sets to overcome problems, striking a good balance.
Another thing I liked that Kopratic mentions above is the liveliness of the city of Rochelle, particularly in the way that Sullivan describes it. He’s obviously put a lot of thought into the class system, the racial oppression of the Mir and Dwarves, the church’s role, the nobility’s role, the history of not only the city but also of the surrounding area, and the city’s layout and features. In addition, Sullivan accomplishes something a lot of other authors struggle with (and something that I always like to point out): he presents the “average” people in a way that makes you care about what happens to them. A city is made up of all kinds of people: blacksmiths, merchants, innkeepers, cobblers, guards – and they all play an important role in how a city functions and who the main characters have to deal with. Many stories push these supporting characters to the background…in others they are pretty much invisible. By fleshing out these people and making them integral to the story, Sullivan makes you care about Rochelle and what happens to the people that live there.
In conclusion, The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter is my favorite Riyria book to date. The plot is unpredictable, the pacing is excellent, the characters and city are well-written, and Royce and Hadrian do Royce and Hadrian things. This book is good enough to earn some Hippogriff Awards for 2018, so look for a revised version of that year’s awards that include this book in the near future. With no further books to currently read in the Riyria Chronicles, it looks like I may finally be diving into the Riyria Revelations series later this year…