Shout for the Dead by James Barclay
Review by Joshua S Hill
Following in the wake of its predecessor, Shout for the Dead continues James Barclay’s magnificent step away from his impressive Raven series. No longer are we watching masses of enemies being slaughtered. This time we’re in for a political ride akin to the latter days of the West Wing (I love Barclay, but I’m not giving him political prowess similar to Aaron Sorkin).
The Ascendants left in the Estorea Conquord are slowly – ever so slowly – being integrated into everyday society. They are still viewed with a great dose of fear, though they are also slowly gaining a measure of awe, if not respect as well. They work to heal people, to heal the land, and to help the citizens of the Conquord in whatever way they can.
But they must still face opposition from the likes of Felice Koroyan, who still wants them labelled as heretics and destroyed. Some of the people ally with her, others are simply unsure, and only a few openly support them.
Felice Koroyan makes for herself one of the better villains I have read in fantasy. Often fantasy villains are empires, vast and omniscient and hard to judge as being anything other than “evil.” Koroyan is most definitely a villain, almost right out of the pages of a horror book from the middle of the 20th century. You love to hate her, and what she does has you appalled at almost every turn.
One of the other characters that I liked to watch the most was Ossacer, who with his naive idealistic ways almost manages to destroy the Conquord from the inside out, while still achieving our support every step of the way. You want him to be right. You want to see him proved right, but you know it will never happen. Idealism is like communism; it only works on paper.
The focus of this book however is, unlike the first book, less about the ever expanding Conquord Empire and more about the major clashes that are about to take place. First, between the Conquord and the Tsard nation. Secondly, and more personally, between the Ascendants.
Gorian has not only allied himself with the Tsard, and provided them the means to destroy the Conquord through a new unveiling of his power, Gorian has also kidnapped someone dear to the Ascendants in an attempt to fulfil his fiendish plans.
Subsequently, when the Conquord and Tsard clash, so too will the four Ascendants, and who survives and who dies is a tragic tale of reality fleshed out once again by Barclay’s harsh and talented prose and dialogue.
This book had me in tears by the end, clutching at each page as I hoped for a turnaround, but knew that it was never going to happen. Barclay has a way to make you turn each page in the hope that everything will be ok on the other side. It never is, but he writes in such a way that you think that there is hope (I’ll save my comments about a writing providing us hope for some other time).
You cry for the characters you lose, and you cry for the characters who survive. A Shout for the Dead is very much a beautiful culmination for a story that, according to Barclay, may never see another title published. If that were the case, I would be ok with it, because what I have is oh so very good. Make sure you pick up the two volumes of James Barclay’s Ascendants of Estorea and have them on your shelf, you won’t regret it!
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