Thursday, 8 January 2009

Bitesize book review: The first three Raven novels

With Brit author James Barclay signing a deal that will finally see his Raven series of fantasy novels published in the USA, I thought I'd help spread the word by compiling brief reviews of the first three novels - Dawnthief, Noonshade and Nightchild.

Dawnthief

(Originally published by Gollancz, 2000)

Blurb: The Raven have fought together for years, six men carving out a living as swords for hire in the war that have torn Balaia apart, loyal only to themselves and their code. But when they agree to escort a Xesteskian mage on a secret mission they are pulled into a world of politics and ancients secrets. For the first time the Raven cannot even trust their own strength and prowess, for the first time their code is in doubt. How is it that they are fighting for one of the most evil colleges of magic known? Searching for the secret location of Dawnthief; a spell that could end the world? Aiming not to destroy it but to cast it.

Dawnthief is basically a fast-paced fantasy adventure with plenty of high-octane action. Barclay strikes a good balance between humour and seriousness, and while the plot is nothing original it hardly matters as the story rips along at a frenetic pace. There is some decent character development, but probably the best element of the novel (and the series as a whole) is the well-developed magic system, which adds a real edge to the battle scenes and depth to the world as a whole. Barclay also manages to throw in some plot twists, which adds to the fun.

The novel does have its drawbacks. The characterisation is lacking in some respects, particularly with the character of Richmond and the relationships between certain characters (can't be more specific in case of spoilers!). The main plot is too pedestrian and would have benefited from some attempt at innovation (rather than the 'quest' formula of 'pick up item X, travel to location Y and defeat enemy Z.'

Still, what you have is a fun, action-packed romp that is worth picking up if you like adventure fantasy with plenty of magic and battles.

Rating: ddd

Noonshade

(Originally published by Gollancz, 2001)

Can't post the blurb for Noonshade, as it contains spoilers from Dawnthief. It will suffice to say that Noonshade follows the implications of the actions taken by the Raven in the first novel...actions that have dire consequences.

With Noonshade, Barclay moves everything up a notch. The writing is more confident, the plot tighter and more dynamic. There are some exciting sequences, and with the action happening simultaneously in more than one dimension, it gives the novel a bit more of an epic feel that was lacking in Dawnthief. Issues with character development are addressed in this novel, and the relationships are handled better than they were previously. Barclay also manages to avoid the 'middle book' feeling, managing to tie up the storylines nicely.

Rating: dddd

Nightchild

(Originally published by Gollancz, 2003)

Again, the blurb contains spoilers for the previous books, so I won't post it. Nightchild basically starts a new storyline, where a young girl is revealed to be the conduit of a magical power, which could prove dangerously destructive unless it is controlled...or neutralised. Can the Raven bring themselves to kill a young girl, if her death will save the world from destruction?

The thing that struck me the most about Nightchild was how Barclay's prose seemed more mature this time around. I feel that this novel is a little darker in tone to the previous two, and this is reflected in the characters' relationships and the choices they are forced to make. The premise of the story is interesting and makes for an engaging novel. I didn't like it as much as Noonshade, but that is simply my personal reaction. As a novel, Nightchild stands alongside Noonshade in terms of quality.

Rating: dddd

3 comments:

T.D. Newton said...

I've only read Dawnthief so far (weirdly, it was at the Library but it was an old edition with Swordy Heroguy on the cover and NOT my beloved silhouettes that I saw in Toronto) but I really enjoyed it. The story kind of had a rocky beginning because it thrusts you right into the action without any kind of build-up, but once you get your bearings everything is pretty exciting. By the end, I was really rooting for the good guys (which isn't always the case, believe me) and then really pissed that I couldn't just go pick up the next one in the series. Hopefully, if there's new cover art for the US editions it'll do the silhouettes justice. Excuse me while I drool some more over them.

James said...

As far as I understand, the US versions have brand new artwork. I have to admit they don't do a lot for me - certainly not as sexy as the silhouettes! Do a google search - they have weapons against a marble/stone backdrop.

T.D. Newton said...

ARGH! NO! Why why why!!
There is no justice in the world.

Well, I guess his reputation is already pretty much built even here in the U.S., perhaps he doesn't need eye-catching covers (I will miss the silhouettes, though).