Thursday, June 17, 2010

...In medias res...

Would I advise jumping into the Chronicles of the Raven series with Noonshade, the second book, well yes and no. Though I will say that it is a cracking good book in its own rite and could be read on its own but I think that some of the emotional impact of some of the events would be stronger if you start with Dawnthief. I would say, though, if you are a fan of old school sword and sorcery stories or the “new” grim and gritty fantasy you will probable enjoy reading James Barclay’s work.

The series was originally published at about the same time as a favorite of mine, Seven Erikson’s Malazan Tales of the Fallen. Both have more adult cast of characters then other fantasy novels of the late 90’s and like the Black Company books have a more military fiction feel to them and may appeal to more “adult” readers. Where Eriksons books are more unique in their style of fantasy and possibly harder to just jump right into (it took me two stabs at starting the series before I got stuck in to be honest) Noonshade is a more recognizable setting and easier to jump into. The world of Balaia is one populated by the usual suspects; elves, humans, schools of magic, “barbarian” hordes at the gates, the “civilized” cities in peril. Barclay’s magic is very visual, cinematic and easy to get a feel for and his combat is well written and likewise cinematic in delivery.

The main story follows The Raven, a well established mercenary force with a decade of experience, who saved the world from the threat of the Wytch Lords in the previous book and now have to deal with the fallout of their solution to the crisis. The spell they used opened a growing breach to a dimension inhabited by warring dragons. One dragon brood is protecting Balaia but the growing hole will become indefensible and the Raven being the culprits now must find or build a spell to close the breach between the worlds lest everyone die by dragonfire. But wait that is not all the barbarians tribes are still a potent threat and one of the magic colleges in protecting itself from destruction may be making things worse.The novel also tells the stories of the defending armies of Balaia and that of the invading generals and their forces.

James Barclay’s is a show rather then tell writer; his characters are built up through what they say and do so it takes a while to get a real grasp on them. His players have foibles no matter how competent they seem and only once did I feel that someone acted in a “typecast” way but people do act out of selfish self-interest even if its not the smart thing to do. The members of the Raven go through a whole lot in the course of the story and are changed by the events and some of them move on from the life they have been living in the end. The story has a real conclusion to the crisis introduced in it but there are still more tales to be told in this world - four more to date.

For the adventure alone it would be worth a read but the characters do stick with you after you finish. Noonshade deserves its place on the shelf of epic fantasy and sword and sorcery readers. James' website can be found here and you can click through here to PYR books website to read a bit of the first book Dawnthief... maybe I should have dome that before diving into Noonshade but c'est la vie...

Here is the cover copy for the first book Dawnthief:

The Raven: six men and an elf, sword for hire in the wars that have torn apart Balaia 

For years their loyalty has been only to themselves and their code. 

But, that time is over. The Wytch Lords have escaped and The Raven find themselves fighting for the Dark College of magic, searching for the location of Dawnthief. It is a spell created to end the world, and it must be cast if any of them are to survive.

And here is the description of Noonshade
Now the land of Balaia, still riven by war, must live with the consequences. The Dawnthief spell—designed to destroy the world, but cast to save it—has torn a hole in the sky, a pathway into the dragon dimension, and, through it, unfriendly eyes are turning to Balaia. 

With war already sweeping the land, there are no armies to send against the dragons. All that stands between Balaia and complete dominion by these tyrannous beasts is a tiny, but legendary band of mercenaries: The Raven. And if they fail, Balaia will fall beneath the wings of countless dragons...

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