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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

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

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Introduction: After my reading of Dawnthief, James Barclay's first novel in the Chronicles of the Raven, I was very excited to jump into Noonshade (Read FBC's review of Dawnthief here). Barclay had done such a wonderful job of making readers feel a part of the Raven that I was anxious to see what he had up his sleeve and if he lived up to what he wrote in Dawnthief. Noonshade was everything I expected and a little more.

Overview: Noonshade picks up right where Dawnthief left off. With the apocalyptic spell, Dawnthief having been cast now the land of Balaia must deal with the consequences of casting such a spell.

The spell although designed to destroy all the world, had been cast to destroy the Wych Lords and save Balaia. Instead an after effect was that a hole has developed in the sky. This hole is a portal of sorts that connects Balaia to a world where dragons rule. While this portal has existed for a long time, there are many evil dragon clans that wish to cross over and soon take over or destroy all of Balaia.

It is up to the great dragon clan known as the Kaan to defend the rip in the sky from all the other dragon clans that wish to see break through.

While the Kaan is fighting to defend this rip, Hirad Coldheart and the Raven are given the task of crossing the land in order to find what can close this rip in the sky, and prevent an even worse force from destroying Balaia then the Wych Lords.

As if the problems of the rip growing in the sky weren't enough, the Wesmen are still waging war in the hopes of being able to take over all of Balaia for themselves. They have successfully cornered one of the colleges of magic in a corner and have trapped those powerful mages inside the tower with no way out.

With all the problems facing Balaia, it is again up to the Raven to battle their way across the land to save all of salvation. This time the enemies are not only on the land but can also come from the sky.

Analysis: Dawnthief, being the first of a series, set the bar really high for James Barclay. It had believable, lovable characters that readers were instantly attracted to. It also had a very developed land, with great magic and plenty of battles. Many middle books in series have a tough time capturing that momentum from the first book, and living up to high expectations. Barclay successfully is able to not only skip that middle book syndrome but instead continues an adventure with those all familiar characters, while throwing in an added element of talking dragons!

Noonshade has many of the same great strengths that Dawnthief had: the continuing development of characterization, and the great battle scenes that anyone would want to jump right in and take a part of.

Barclay really spends time in developing characters from head to toe. They aren't just vessels for the plot line or flat people that readers can't relate to. Instead every character has emotions, feelings, and best of all flaws. Sometimes the characters in Barclay's novel make mistakes, and sometimes the characters argue. All very realistic characteristics that can be found in the real world, and sometimes can be overlooked by authors who try to make their characters all knowing and perfect.

While the main character that readers are learning about is that of Hirard Coldheart, or the Unknown Warrior (just to name a few). The secondary "sidekick like' characters are also developed. One of the major main points in Noonshade that I enjoyed was taking the time to learn more about the shape shifter, Thaun. Readers are taken into his mind and see the occasional plot development from his point of view. Not many authors take on the challenge of trying to develop so many different characters, but Barclay does an excellent job of making sure every character at some point in the novel gets a background, history and some characteristics.

Another element of Noonshade that was enjoyable and further developed from the first novel was that of the focus of the magic system through the plot involving the Julatsan College. In Dawnthief the colleges lore and beliefs are briefly explained but very skimmed over. Here readers are presented with an opportunity to see a lot more magic at work, some of it can be really complex. This was something that wasn't explored and it added a little background to the magic system in this series.

Even though there were a lot of great strengths to Noonshade, there were a few elements that I didn't feel lived up to what I experienced in Dawnthief. Most of these are personal quirks I had with the plot and not really any flaw in the writing.

First, is the pacing of the book. While in Dawnthief there is a lot of traveling and finding out new information. In Noonshade, the action is a little more concentrated and less scattered. This might be viewed as a good thing because it gives time to develop the story line, but at times the plot did start to drag. Maybe it was because I had become accustomed to so much fighting and traveling in the first book that, when encountered with less of those elements it just didn't have the same feel.

There also isn't as much sword fighting that readers encountered in Dawnthief. One of the major strengths of Barclay's writing was the way that he could bring readers into the fight scenes. The fact that there weren't as many as I would like to see was just a slight personal preference for myself.

Another aspect of this book that I had a hard time grasping was that of the dragon realm. I'm a huge fan of dragons, talking or non talking, but for some reason I just couldn't get into the whole other dimension. Luckily this wasn't a big part of the story, but it just wasn't as striking or appealing to myself. There was a feeling of being rushed while describing this second world, and that could have lead to my detachment. So much of Barclay's characters and world building is so intricate that it pulls me right in, so when encountered with a world that didn't have the feeling of being developed or thought out like Balaia was, it was a slight disappointment.

In the end, Noonshade lived up to my expectations and more. The battle scenes are realistic and reader grabbing, and the characters just get more and more developed as the novels go along. I feel more closer to the Raven then I did when I finished Dawnthief and anxiously await reading Nightchild and seeing what Barclay has to throw out there for readers.



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