The Disappearance of Winter's Daughter by Michael J Sullivan (The Ryria Chronicles #4)

Michael J Sullivan is, simply put, one of the best writers writing today. But his story is unlike so many others (and again, so very similar).

Sullivan wrote for years but got nowhere with agents. He then wrote six stories and self-published them. They were then picked up by a publisher and published as three books (each with two stories each). Then he wrote more, but these new stories were whole books, and set years before the original books. Then he wrote more books, but these were set thousands of years before the books he had already written.

Now he’s written a new book, and self-published it again, but this book is set back before the first three books (which were actually six stories) but after the next ones he wrote but which were set before the first three (six), and thousands of years after the next ones he wrote.
Needless to say, despite how much I love Sullivan, I found myself swimming in the deep end for a few chapters when I first started reading The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter. I couldn’t remember how old Royce and Hadrian were supposed to be in this book.

I quickly found my feet, however, and rejoiced in being reunited with two of my favourite characters (so much so that I’ve begun rereading Theft of Swords). This particular series (the Riyria Chronicles) are set in the early days of their partnership, Royce and Hadrian are therefore still in the “getting to know you” stage of their relationship and are coming to terms with one another’s eccentricities.

The story centres around the disappearance of a particular noble whose father wants revenge for her supposed death – lots and lots of revenge. Royce is obviously pleased about this possibility, but Hadrian holds out hope that it’s actually a rescue mission instead. Obviously, twists and turns quickly tip this story on its head and by the end of the book an entire city has been upended by Royce and Hadrian.

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.

The primary story was wonderfully fun, rollicking and fast-paced, tricky and clever. Sullivan has a knack for writing both wonderful characters – both large and small – but also for crafting a twisting and turning mystery that takes until the last chapters of the book to resolve. Sullivan should never give up writing Royce and Hadrian stories, for he has created two characters who, even if they were to spend an entire book bickering over the Medford aristocracy, are eminently and everlastingly entertaining and enjoyable.

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. The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter may not be as tight as The Death of Dulgath but it is nevertheless in good and close company. I can’t help but simply want more of Royce and Hadrian, and the world that Sullivan has painted leaves me ever intrigued by the various factions and intrigues. For Sullivan readers new and old, Winter’s Daughter is a fantastic tale told with the trademark class that only Michael J Sullivan brings to the table.

8/10 A fantastic tale told with the trademark class that only Michael J Sullivan brings to the table

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