Elfsorrow by James Barclay
Review by Joshua S Hill
One of the greatest and most often committed faults of English literature, specifically of the fantasy genre, is the emotional attachment to characters by their authors. Though budding and experienced authors alike may start out with all intention to realistically treat their characters as they should, more often than not, by the end of the story, everyone has miraculously survived.
James Barclay suffers no delusions when it comes to his characters. In fact, in my various conversations with the author (one of my favourites, and a genuine gentleman), I have often referred to his apparent disregard for his characters.
But only a fool would really believe that Barclay disregards his characters. In all reality, the opposite is true. By allowing his characters to suffer from realistic ills, he entrusts them with a measure of respect that many authors fail to grant their characters. In this, Barclay’s characters live and die on their morals and intentions.
It may be possible that I am attributing a little too much life to fictional conjurations, but still...
Elfsorrow, Barclay’s fourth book (fourth concerning the Raven but first in the Legends of The Raven trilogy), exemplifies this faith in his characters to the point of tears for the reader.
In Nightchild’s review I mentioned that it was “possibly the best he [Barclay] had ever written.” The “possibly” refers to contention for “best book” with Elfsorrow. Both books, the centre of Barclay’s sextet, reveal the above mentioned respect for his characters, and for his readers. He doesn’t coddle us for a moment, and in so doing strips away the illusion that “everything will be ok.”
And for this, I am eternally grateful.
Until now, the elves inhabiting Barclay’s Raven-verse have been mysterious in their origins, ambitions and lives. Now however we finally get to visit the southern continent from which they came, Calaius. Barclay also provides us with – finally – a race of elves that aren’t from magical New Englandish pine forests. A jungle – complete with deadly snakes and insects, rain, and interminable heat – awaits the reader as we journey south.
Elfsorrow is a brilliant departure from what Barclay had already suggested was the entirety of his work. The threat is different, the terrain is different, and the methods with which to fight are different. You will love some of the villains and hate some of the heroes.
By the end of the book, you will weep. If you don’t, I condemn you to having no soul and no ability to lose yourself within fiction. Additionally, by Elfsorrow, you will need to have read the previous three books. This is not an onerous task, or one that is bound in an authors need for more funds. The simple fact of the matter is that Elfsorrow’s heart and soul, the core to what moves the readers heart, is in a long and healthy relationship with these characters. Without that, the book is diminished. It is not less entertaining, but the emotional impact is lessened – and that is something that I would not wish upon anyone.
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