Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review - Shadowheart

by James Barclay
Gollancz, 2003
copy provided by your friendly neighborhood El Guapissimmo (i.e. me)

ISBN-13: 978-0-575-08280-9

I was concerned with Elfsorrow being a step up from the previous three Raven books. My concern centered on Shadowheart being able to follow in the path of Elfsorrow and being, inevitably, compared to it. I can safely say that I had nothing to worry about. Shadowheart is as good as Elfsorrow, and even goes one better.

Story Summary: The underlying tension between the four colleges of magic finally reaches critical mass and the intrigue goes overt, spilling out into total war. Xetesk, in its bid for continental, if not total, dominion sees its first order of business as being the destruction of Julatsa, a college of magic left all but desolate in the wake of the Wesmen wars. Julatsa, already severely diminished, must survive Xeteskian aggression, as well as raising the buried Heart of Julatsan magic.

Like a moth to flame, such a destabilizing conflict will attract the presence of the Raven. The colleges of Lystern and Dordover debate the custody of the Raven’s practitioner of the One magic, once: 1) the remainder of the Raven have been successfully incarcerated and, 2) Julatsa is destroyed by Xetesk, leaving a battered Xetesk ripe for destruction by the Dordovan-Lysternan alliance. A tired and weakening dragon, responsible for the greatest of all dragon broods, gets no younger while enduring his debilitating exile in Balaia. If all of this isn’t bad enough, beyond the mass grave of Black Wings at Understone, a power in the western portion of the continent is reviving. A power dedicated to a Balaian continent free of the magic, or rule, of the easterners. A power that begins taking an abiding interest in a total war where mages remain committed to killing each other.

In daring to overtly pursue the dominion of Balaian magic, and thereby Balaia itself, Xetesk has effectively gone “all-in.” There will be no sympathy for the college that opened the door for such continental wide destruction. Knowing that they will be given no quarter if turned by an alliance, Xetesk stands ready to perpetrate the unpardonable.

My take: The setting is familiar to readers of the Raven, no surprises here. The same goes for the characters of this story. The story itself follows a pace of terminal velocity. Indeed, at the time of this writing, I have already proceeded into Demonstorm and am approximately 100p from finishing that. I’ve read everything by Barclay now, except for his novellas (one of which I have and will read soon) and Ravensoul. I am confident and certain in maintaining that Elfsorrow-Shadowheart-Demonstorm is Barclay at his best.

The ending here is of a more natural variety. That is to say that there are no cliff-hangers and one could comfortably stop here, if they wanted to walk away from Balaia and believe that the Raven ride off into the sunset, retire to the islands and exhaust their 401k plans, suddenly and miraculously gigantic, on rum and extraordinarily amicable island women (my doctor told me about this, I'm projecting again). Unfortunately, such a reader wouldn’t have the opportunity to discover what havoc Xetesk’s ‘nuclear option’ may yet bring.

Verdict: Highly recommended


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