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Friday, September 11, 2009

"Dawnthief: Chronicles of the Raven" by James Barclay (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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Intro: I first came upon James Barclay's series of books known as the Chronicles of the Raven when I moved to Washington a few years ago. I was looking for a new fantasy series and decided to check it out. When I got online I found out that it was only published in the UK but that it was a sword and sorcery themed fantasy. As that was what I was heavily into at the time I had very high expectations for Dawnthief. Three years later after another reread of the book, I am still highly impressed with Barclay's writing and am very excited that it was finally brought over to the US.

Overview: Many many years ago the treacherous Wytch Lords tried to take over Balaia through sheer force and destruction. The only reason that Balaia is still standing is by entrapping the Wytch Lords in a magical cage in a separate dimension. Under the belief that the Wytch Lords were no longer a threat, many people have gone on with their lives and became almost lax in their ways.

Recently one of the colleges of magic entrusted with keeping the Wych Lords imprisoned has noticed that the cage has become weakened causing the Lords to escape. Wesmen in the western area of Balaria have become more and more active in the coming months and it is believed that the Wych Lords are behind this increase in activity. The Wesman and the Wych Lords are out to destroy the eastern area and rule all of Balaria. The only way to completely destroy the Wych Lords and have any chance of victory with the Wesmen is through the mysterious spell Dawnthief.

Dawnthief is the most powerful spell out there in the magical world. It has the ability to be used as the most destructive spell and bring death and destruction to the whole world. When used properly it could destroy the Wych Lords and make victory possible to the eastern area of Balaia. However not everyone in the magical colleges believes that the Wych Lords have escaped and allow politics and past mistrust to cloud their vision.

In come the Raven: six men and an elf that are the most well known hired help throughout Balaia. They are known for their code of conduct during battle and for their incredible ability to get the job done no matter the task assigned to them. Unknowingly circumstances find the Raven helping out the "darkest" college in the quest to finding the components that'll allow the spell of Dawnthief to be cast.

Along the journey many betrayals, battles and people out to get Dawnthief for themselves come in the way. The ultimate goal in the end, is the survival of Balaia which hangs on the hopes of Dawnthief being cast correctly.

Analysis: Dawnthief is everything a fan of epic sword and sorcery fantasy could want. It has great battle scenes, realistic characters, and a great plot line that keeps readers wanting to read on until the end.

The first thing that jumps out while reading Dawnthief is that of the characters. Barclay doesn't shy away from developing a lot of the characters and showing realistic sides to them. While the Raven is a strong, fighting group that many writers might portray as tough, no nonsense characters, Barclay takes them to a different level. While at times the characters appear real, they show emotions for fallen friends, and are even quick to anger. I could actually imagine some of these people living in our world today.

Another aspect that makes the characters realistic is that of the conversations between the characters. The dialogue isn't stilted or awkward, instead the characters ask questions when they don't understand. There are various times throughout the book that characters don't understand everything that is going on. Instead they must piece together what is going on, ask questions of each other and draw from each character's strengths to achieve a goal. There is no one character that is all knowing and this makes it appear a little more real.

Although it did feel as though many of the characters were fully developed and had many different sides to them there were still a couple of characters that weren't developed as well as they could have been. The Unknown, Hirad Coldheart, and the two college mages, Ilkar and Denser are all very good stand alone characters. However some of the other members of the Raven and some of the Lords that readers come across in the first novel could have been developed a little more, and I hope to see that within the series. We catch a small glimpse of two of barons throughout the novel but it'd be nice to see a little more of them as the series continues.

The many different plot lines and events throughout Dawnthief, make for the second reason this book is such an upstanding novel. Dawnthief isn't focused on just one major plot line, there are plenty of subplots that add to the story and draw a more detailed picture of the land and politics that go on throughout Balaria. While at times the story does jump around from one area to another, and one meeting of a group to another, it never gets confusing or complicated. The multiple layers of the novel add to the experience and make for a great story.

The last strength of Dawnthief is that of the battle scenes. The scenes are detailed and realistic. Barclay keeps no characters safe throughout Dawnthief. Although the Raven are supposed to be this majorly successful group of fighters, they experience injuries and make mistakes in battles. This could happen even to the most veteran of fighters and it was nice to see an author see and admit that some of his or her characters can have flaws and make a mistake.

In the end, Dawnthief exceeded my expectations and even on a second read through of it years later I was still just as captivated as I was the first time around. Barclay brings back the sword and sorcery that captivated many readers of fantasy and made them fall in love with the genre in the first place. With his captivating characters and detailed world and magic system, readers will be wishing that they were asked to join the Raven and fight along side the likes of The Unknown Warrior, Hirad Coldheart, and Ilkar.


Gilgamesh said...

This has been on my to-read list for a while. Maybe I should read it soon. Thanks!

The Reader said...

I liked this book as lot & especially since the events of this book make the rest of the series storyline very plausible.

Looking forward to the remining reviews Cindy.


Jeff C said...

I am very much looking forward to the next 2 books. well, the next 6, really :)

Cindy said...

Thanks everyone! Yes these books really are good, and it's a very rare book that is just as good the second time around! Since it had been 3 years or so I forgot a few details so some of it was a surprise but it really was nice on a reread :)


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