Dawnthief by James Barclay
Review by Joshua S Hill
Every now and again you come across an author who manages to write unlike any other. This is not something that will happen often, and I’ve personally only ever come across a handful (Tolkien, Pratchett, Hobb and Erikson). But one author who manages to write such a compelling story that you never want to put the book down is James Barclay.
His first novel is Dawnthief, and it is first in the Chronicles of the Raven trilogy, which itself is the first of two trilogies (followed by Legends of the Raven). They are in essence a sextet, but are broken into their respective trilogies by Barclay.
Dawnthief tells the tale of the Raven, a band of mercenaries in Balaia, who are known and feared throughout the land. But that’s about where you can leave the vague and ambiguous descriptions, as Barclay quickly begins a journey that soon sees two characters killed off just as you were getting used to the idea of them bring around for at least a whole book.
New characters are drawn in, pulled in, and forced in, while others are killed, expelled, or willingly leave. It is nothing short of baffling as you try and wrap your mind around the sheer reality of what is going on.
That’s the difference in Barclay’s writing that many other fantasy authors fail to take heed of. In a world of mercenaries, swords and dragons (yep, there are dragons!), you aren’t actually likely to have a full and long life. You will get stabbed, slashed, cracked over the skull or murdered in your sleep. It’s a reality that many authors just ignore for the sake of having a group of characters who inevitably turn out to be semi-invulnerable.
One of the greatest characters I have ever read pops up in Barclay’s Raven books; Hirad Coldheart. The “barbarian warrior” of the Raven, and its heart, he is immediately likeable and you never stop cheering for him. He drags the Raven through every scrap, whether it is by strength of arms or strength of will. He’s not necessarily the smartest tool in the shed, but he always gets there in the end.
The story contained in Dawnthief is definitely a set up for the next 5 (soon to be 6) books to follow, but is in its own right a brilliant piece of fiction. It doesn’t leave you hanging (much), wrapping pretty much everything up by the end of the book.
Balaia is at risk from an ancient evil, and only the unleashing of a terrible spell can save them all. But the price is high, and by the end of the book everything is turned upside down. You see fantastic character development of the sort that you rarely find, and plead with the author to give you more insight into his leads.
Known as action fantasy Dawnthief lives up to the title with a realistic depiction of everything from full scale battles to one on one swordfights. Barclay delivers in Dawnthief a book you will love the moment you pick it up, and continues to deliver as he goes on.
ilkar from Asia
I've read all of the series. I agree with what you say that it is realistic that 'ou aren’t actually likely to have a full and long life. You will get stabbed, slashed, cracked over the skull or murdered in your sleep' but fantasy is Supposed to be better and more ideal than reality! that's why i read... Best of all the volumes, not as heavy hearted as book 4. I love Ilkar! XDDD
B from India
Totally rocks!!! Though the thing I don't like is that ***SPOILER ALERT*** the main characters like Sirendor and the unknown warrior are killed! :( ***SPOILER ALERT END*** but it's still awesome!!! It's really complicated, but that's why I like it so much. One of the best books I've ever read!!! :)
Vijay Kumar from Malaysia
Ouch, as much as I hate to say it, but I'm disappointed with this book. While I actually had rather high hopes for Dawnthief, I'm halfway through and wondering if I should just give up and move on to another book. The thing is, it isn't the story that gets to you, but how the story is told. I could pick on the plotline, but I think the biggest grievance I have would be the movement of plotline, which is extremely stilted. Worse, the motivation the characters do not naturally grow from the movement of the plot. For most of the book (I haven't finished it, so I can't say this for the entire book), the characters remain 2 dimensional. Also, transition from chapter to chapter is disjointed, and sometimes even jarring, leaving you to wonder if you missed out on some pages earlier on. The book reads like an attempt to recreate something from Gemmel's pen, but falls short on delivering the 'against all odds' feeling.
James from Swindon
It wasn't a bad read, but the world, the magic and the action all seemed rather clunky and unbelievable to me (within the scope of fantasy, obviously). His characters weren't objectionable, but they were a bit static, and I don't think I'll be in a rush to read any more of his work. This sort of thing is done much better by Gemmell, Cook, Abercrombie and Erikson.
Shell from Winchester
Inspirational and compelling - where have all the heroes gone?
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