Shadowheart by James Barclay
Review by Joshua S Hill
One of the underlying threads that have raced through James Barclay’s The Raven series has been the ever building conflict between the four colleges of magic on Balaia. Shadowheart sees the climax of this collision. Not surprisingly, the “dark” college is the one to strike, but thankfully the reader is not necessarily forced into taking the “good guys” side.
For that matter, the sides are not all that clear to begin with, especially when you throw Dordover into the mix, ever a frustrating ally.
Did all that seem a little inside baseball? It probably would have, and that is because it is the second book in the second trilogy dedicated to The Raven. But the same thing happens whenever one is forced to review a series. What would you say about book 5 of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series that you might not have said about the first four?
What I can say about Shadowheart, is that it is a wonderful continuation of a story that I fell deeply in love with. The explosive conflagration that is the College Wars is entertaining reading to say the least. Furthermore, when you add all that has come before – the angry elves, the Wesman, and the hard-pressed Raven and their promise to Sha’kaan – the story receives much needed layers of depth that a simple war story wouldn’t contain.
This book will get marked down compared to the previous two, an always onerous task for a reviewer considering how talented Barclay is and how much I enjoyed this book. But the Shadowheart’s storyline – while still dire – is such on a grander scale, compared to the more personal scale that Nightchild and Elfsorrow focused upon.
This time the stakes are high, for all of Balaia, and The Raven must once again ride to the rescue to save the troublesome continent from itself. But this time the problems are firmly pinned at the doorsteps of the colleges.
One of the greatest aspects of this book however is the continued involvement of some of the elves we were introduced too in Elfsorrow. I was afraid that, with the Raven’s return to Balaia, that would be the end of their involvement. But given the grievances committed by certain colleges to the elven people, debts must be claimed and the TaiGethen and ClawBound mean to collect.
I know this review is a little stilted, but given that it is book five I feel I’ve done rather well. The only hindrance to an ever increasing rating for Shadowheart is its detachment of focus from the personal to the grand. Barclay’s writing doesn’t stray, and his characters are just as believable and deserving of our attention as always. If you like yourself some high-fantasy and haven’t read James Barclay, you are doing yourself a disservice.
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