Demonstorm by James Barclay
Review by Joshua S Hill
When I first started reading Demonstorm, I was under every impression that it was Barclay’s final say in the world of the mercenary band known as The Raven. The ending of the book definitely gives that opinion as well, continuing Barclay’s well worn killing off of his characters. But before the end comes, Barclay manages to pull off one of the greatest escapades I have ever read. It is exciting, thrilling, and – as much as any fantasy book can be – entirely believable.
I have heard it said that Barclay doesn’t necessarily provide insights into the human condition. I would say that that is the furthest from the truth, as we see again and again the indomitable spirit of humanity continually face off against the sheer stupidity of humanity.
And in Demonstorm, we see both of those traits shine through. In attempting to fight off the Wesman, the college of Xetesk dooms Balaia to a horrible fate. Misplaced trust in their doomsday weapon sees a hole torn between Balaia’s dimension and a demon dimension, and mayhem ensues as the soul draining mana eating demons come pouring through into a rich new playground.
But funnily enough, using the rarely used literary device of skipping ahead a few years, Barclay transplants the Raven back down to Calaius where they’ve retired.
Oh yeah, that’s right, the renowned and infamous mercenary band known as the Raven have retired.
Now sure, it might be a convenient literary device to ensure that they aren’t on Balaia when all hell breaks loose, and it also allows them a great entry back into the continent to save it. But good grief it’s fantastic to see Hirad running through the jungle, still being berated by Auum.
Additionally, we get to see more of the “indomitable human spirit” in characters other than the Raven. Baron Blackthorne and his people are a prime example of this, and watching the Raven arrive and then leave Blackthorne is one of my favourite parts of Barclay’s Raven series.
Barclay outdoes himself in Demonstorm, bringing all his writing skills to bear in what could very well have been the perfect ending to the series. However since Ravensoul is about to be released (stay tuned for the review and check out Barclay’s own comments on what is coming in the interview here), we can only hope that all of that hard work is undone.
The book ends with a suicide mission into the demon stronghold; a mission only the Raven would or could undertake. Already they have suffered heavy losses, and more are to come, but Barclay writes so well that while you grieve, you respect and understand the sacrifice made. They aren’t meaningless deaths, but rather deaths with meaning: a pair most often misconstrued in fantasy.
One last thing before I sum up. Returning characters from the dead is an often used trope in fantasy, and one that is – more often than not – abused to all hell and back for no real literary gain. Barclay employs a small form of this trope, but does it subtly and so well that you are cheering rather than groaning.
All in all, Demonstorm is good enough that I would tell you to read all five preceding books just so you could read this one. Thankfully, all five of those books are mind-numbingly brilliant. Make sure that if you get money or vouchers for Christmas, or are looking for something to exchange presents for, that you get your hands on the Chronicles and Legends of the Raven.
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