Cry of the Newborn by James Barclay
Review by Joshua S Hill
With his Raven series, James Barclay made himself a cult hero. With the Ascendants of Estorea, Barclay stepped away from the action adventure realm and settled into a very fantasy style book. More character focus and interestingly enough styled after the Roman Empire, Cry of the Newborn – the first in the series – makes for an interesting introduction to a new realm for Barclay to play in.
But in stepping away from the action adventure focus, Barclay left himself open to critics who would call anything else “boring.” Sad to say, you’ll find a lot of such critics, who only read fantasy books which are Tom Clancy books set a thousand years earlier.
Thankfully, for those of us who are more able to accept character development (as well as political development), this story is a Godsend.
Set in the Estorean Conquord, an empire which has stood for almost a millennia, four children are born in the town of Westfallen. They are the hope of a people who – in a land where magic is outlawed and feared – believe that magic can return, and can help. These people use their magic – the ability to manipulate various forms of nature depending on one’s given skills – to help their town thrive. But if their secret ever got out, they would all be put to the sword by the Chancellor of the Order of the Omniscient.
The Estorean Conquord is ruled by its Advocate, Herine Del Aglios. But Del Aglios must also contend with the Chancellor, Felice Koroyan, a devout follower of the Omniscient and just as political. She is feverish in her deliverance of what she deems as justice to those under her purview.
So it is with all fear and determination that the people of Westfallen must hide the existence of the newborn babies, who they believed to be the Ascendants. Essentially, through stringent mating control, the people of Westfallen birthed four children whose powers were active, rather than passive (ie, control the weather instead of just predicting it).
But while all of this is going on, Estorea continues to expand outwards, bringing Estorean control to all within its reach, as well as the religion of the Omniscient. However they soon run into the Tsard, who not only repel but begin to push back into the Estorea, creating havoc along the way by annexing Atreska.
We follow the exploits of Del Aglios’ son, who is a general in the army, Del Aglios herself, as well as the Exchequer of the Conqourd, Paul Jhered. It is Jhered who eventually sees the benefit of the Ascendants, and strives to protect them from outside harm and/or control. He eventually sees them put to fight against the Tsard, and the story comes to a close with an apparent victory under their hands.
However before the story closes Gorian, one of the four Ascendants, displays the most sickening action of his continuing megalomania, before being exiled by his brothers.
The story displays a beautiful depiction of what happens when people are granted power. Some abuse their power, while others nurture it and attempt to wield it as little as possible. You hurt for the family that is slowly being torn asunder by Gorian’s maniacal beliefs, and watch as the inevitable comes to bear.
The first of two books, Cry of the Newborn is really a brilliant piece of fiction. Not for anyone who is wanting a quick and easy read, Barclay weaves a tale that has you thinking about our places in the world we live in, and what we would do if gifted with power above our kind. Definitely one for any fantasy lovers shelves.
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