Monday, September 28, 2009

The Raven heats up

The third book of James Barclay's Raven series picks up five years after the end of the second book. Each character's life has followed natural progression lines since last we read of them. Early on, events unfold which spur Denser to seek out the former members of the now inactive Raven. In the finest traditions of comraderie, solidarity and esprit de corps, the members of the Raven incrementally reunite on a southerly passage across the continent before taking to the sea. Upon the ocean, they seek a place of legend and myth - the respository of the few remaining mages practicing the One magic.

Where the first book is the introduction to the characters, this book brings to the reader familiar faces. Where the second book is an over-long exercise in detailing several POVs over the same weeks long period, this book hits with several major events for our intrepid mercenaries to confront, endure and survive.


The Bad: Like the previous two books, the pacing can be rather jolting. Certain areas go over-long and feel padded and laborious. Also, considering the transpiration of events thus far, I am unable to connect, and empathize, with Erienne and Denser. Even with the death of their small child, Lyanna, I was more interested to find out what would happen to Hirad, The Unknown, Thraun and the Kaan.

My ambivalence toward Erienne stems largely from her total lack of reaction to the death of her first husband, who - I might add - was responsible for commissioning her rescue mission by the group Will and Thraun were originally contracted with. Erienne has all kinds of feelings for her slain twins, her new husband - Denser, and her daughter Lyanna. When it comes to her reactions vis-a-vis her first husband - Alun - nothing. Did I imagine this character? It hammers on the believability of the Erienne's character. Denser, from the very first, has been the catalyst for nearly all of the trouble encountered on Balaia, at least by the Raven. With his reach chronically exceeding his grasp, Denser is the kind of team member I could live without. More irksome still, the reader is left with absolutely no resolution to the crises being suffered by my personal favorites, Thraun and the Kaan.

The Good: It's the Raven, fool! I find in the pages of Nightchild an indescribable quality that draws this reader deeper into the story. The lives of Ilkar, Hirad, the Unknown Warrior, Thraun and the Kaan connect solidly. The story has a particularly unsavory antagonist in the form of Selik, titular head of the resurrected Black Wings which is a sanctimonius and pseudo-pious group devoted to the destruction of magic's influence and it's practitioners. This reader was waiting, tensely, for this individual to be throttled but, alas, Selik too has an end that is unresolved in this tale.

Barclay is at his best when writing action sequences or tension loaded plot developments. It's the spaces in between that trip him up. To be fair, these are his earlier works and I continue to remain very interested in tracking the development of his writing throughout the remaining course of the Raven series.

Rate: 8.5/10

Next Up: I'm experiencing a bit of Raven fatigue and have decided to give myself a breather on the remainder of that series. I've taken down from the shelf The Reluctant Swordsman, book one of Dave Duncan's The Seventh Sword series.


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