James Barclay

James Barclay portrait image to appear alongside the James Barclay biography.

When I first encountered the purple and black book that was Dawnthief, written by James Barclay, a name I had never heard, I was hopeful. It was the beginning of the year and I had chosen six book number ones from six different authors that I was going to start reading. By the end of the year I had read five of the authors, but it was Barclay who claimed the number one spot for that year.

Finishing Dawnthief, the first in Barclay’s Chronicles of The Raven trilogy, was a bittersweet moment. The book had been fantastic, and I fell immediately in love. Sad though, that I had to restrain myself from going out and purchasing the rest of his books immediately; see, I still had five other book number ones to get through.

As it was, I only made it to the third book one before I had to stop and go find the rest of Barclay’s tales of The Raven.

And though I could try and sell it to you myself, I think I’ll let the author himself do it, as he does it much better than I ever could:

Q. For those out there who haven’t read the Raven books, how would you want to “sell them”?

A. The Raven series of books brings you heroes who are all too human (or elven…) in their characters. They argue, they make mistakes and they can most certainly die. They are, though, true heroes. Selfless, courageous and utterly loyal to each other and the world they try to save.

The books are fantasy action thrillers, ripping along to breathless conclusions. The novels are a continuous series but each book is complete in itself, no necessity to read a sequel to find out what the hell happens next (unless you want to know how the consequences of one unravel in the next). If you want entertainment, adventure and characters you grow to love as they travel their journeys, get on and buy them.

If you want some kind of ultra-descriptive, literary examination of man and morals in a fantasy setting, you’d best go elsewhere.

All six of the Raven books currently published can be found reviewed here at Fantasy Book Review. But before we look at what Barclay has to say about Ravensoul, the upcoming seventh book dedicated to the Raven, I want to focus on Mr. Barclay for a moment.

Married to Clare, and father to Oscar, and owning a Hungarian Vizsla (a dog) named Mollie, James Barclay resides in Teddington, Middlesex.

He says that he started writing at 11 “and never stopped,” and thank heavens for that. The Raven came first, seeing its first notes and drafts put to paper while he was still at school (the Ascendants of Estorea, his other series, saw its first notes jotted down at college in 1983).

I’ve spoken to James several times, as both his interviewer (once for Geeks of Doom and now for FBR), and as a fan. I remember him thanking me for buffing his ego “up to a nice healthy shine” before later suggesting that J.R.R. Tolkien missed out in not naming Gandalf Gary (we had been discussing fantasy naming). He is genuinely one of the nicest authors I have had the pleasure of communicating with, and a gentleman.

One of the accusations that I have light-heartedly thrown James’ way is regarding what I once termed his “distressing penchant for never letting a character live for too long.” But James backs himself admirably when I suggest that he kills them off gratuitously.

Well, it isn’t gratuitous, that would be wrong. The fact is that The Raven live in a dangerous world. Their chosen profession as mercenaries, fighting with sword and magic, brings them into extreme danger day after day. Saving the world is not a business without risk. It just seemed to me (and it still does) that to have all my heroes survive every battle is just not credible. Eventually, inevitably, they will die or be seriously injured. They are heroes but they are not invincible super heroes. Simple, really.

Barclay also shares a commonality with another of FBR’s favoured authors: Steven Erikson. Both Barclay and Erikson can thank dice based role-playing games for the genesis of their stories. But where Erikson’s stories are based entirely on his characters, Barclay describes his role playing days as “the genesis of the Raven.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone either that the two are good friends, Erikson thanking Barclay in the acknowledgements for Gardens of the Moon.

But our latest communication has focused on the latest addition to the Raven legacy, Ravensoull, released in the UK on the 20th of November, 2008.

Q. Ravensoul is being labeled on Amazon as the fourth book of the “Legends of the Raven” series. Is this true?

A. Not strictly speaking. It’s not part of the Legends series though it does come after them chronologically speaking. It’s a stand-alone finale and its action takes place ten years after the final battles of Demonstorm. It’s a book I hadn’t thought to write when Demonstorm was done but one that grew in the intervening years and was not to be denied.

The next few questions are a little bit spoilerful and inside baseballish, as they shed light on what is coming up in the seventh and, supposedly, final instalment. When I read these answers I was hopping around in my chair, as they really have me excited to read the book. If you’ve read the books, you’ll know why, but if you haven’t, here’s a quick summary: Barons Gresse and Blackthorne are back, as well as Auum and Rebraal; it looks as if Septern is back; and though I did want to see Talan again, the way in which he’ll be bringing back the characters should be fascinating. 

Read on...

Q. Who’s the story going to be focusing on, given the events of Demonstorm?

A. Aside from the new enemy (who make the demons look like amateurs carrying small vegetable peelers) Ravensoul focuses on The Raven (those alive and those returned to life), old favourites like Barons Gresse and Blackthorne; elves, particularly Auum and Rebraal; the old guard of Xeteskian magic and one long-dead magical genius. That’s pretty much it.

Q. From the blurb on Amazon, it seems as if you will be using the “beyond the grave” plotline you set up in Demonstorm? Did the plotline spawn the story or did the story spawn the plotline?

A. Neither, actually. As it grew, the idea for Ravensoul was always one that concerned the idea that love transcends the boundaries of life and death, how true heroes will return to stand against any evil and how greed and the lust for power can blind people from the reality of approaching extinction, from the magnitude of the threat. I didn’t consider the piece with Ilkar in Demonstorm when I was putting Ravensoul together. It was useful I’d trailed the idea but it wasn’t a deliberate act since I had no idea I was going to write Ravensoul at the time.

Q. The blurb says “It is left to the Raven, both dead and alive…” Will we be seeing all the Raven, including the hapless two who disappeared back at the beginning of Dawnthief?

A. Nearly all of them but see below… We certainly see Sirendor and Ras back in the fray. Hapless indeed! Neither died by their own stupidity, after all… unlucky they certainly were. The question is, does their luck change second time around? Read and find out.

Q. Finally, do we get to see Talan again?

A. No. Sorry. I thought about it but in the end, felt it would muddy the story since I’d have to fill in his back story. I wanted to keep the novel tight and I wanted those new to The Raven to be able to read it with the minimum of confusion. Talan wouldn’t help with that so he’s not there.

James Barclay is definitely one of fantasy’s cult masters, and with a little bit of help from us (his reviewers) and you (his readers), his name will one day be synonymous with brilliant high-fantasy. Stay tuned for reviews to his The Ascendants of Estorea books, as well as the Raven novella Light Stealer.

James Barclay books reviewed

Bibliography

Elves Trilogy

  • Once Walked With Gods (2010)
    The elves have fled to Calius, seeking to escape the overwhelming power of the demonic Garonin. A desperate last stand in their own dimension saved the race, at the cost of 100,000 elves lost to the Garonin. The elf who led that fight, Takaar, is blamed for the losses and has gone into hiding. Now the weakened elf race is tearing itself apart in civil war, human mercenaries have arrived in Calius and are ripping the continent apart. Only one elf can unite the elves. And only one elf believes in him. A young warrior named Auum sets out to bring back the shamed hero and save the elven race.
  • Rise of the TaiGethen (2012)
    Calaius is occupied by an implacable, relentless enemy. The great elven cities are little more than prison camps. Elven slaves are forced to destroy their beloved rainforest to harvest timber for their masters. The enemy has no mercy, no honour and little skill in battle. The enemy is Man. Those few elves who remain free are fragmented, in squabbling factions, and they must unite before they can take a stand against Man. Many believe that the battle is already lost, but Auum is not one of them. He knows Men's numbers are great but their tactics are weak; he knows Men think the Elves are already beaten; he is convinced that his people must fight now, or see their race destroyed. Takaar disagrees. He believes Elven salvation lies in unlocking their magic, not in fighting pitched battles against Man. He is determined to save his people too, but his tactics are entirely different ...and if some Elves must die now to ensure Calaius will be free of Man in the future, it's a sacrifice he is willing to make. The Elves must choose their sides. Whatever they decide, victory will win their freedom... and failure will mean extermination.
  • Beyond the Mists of Katura (2013)
    Thousands of years ago the elves were enslaved by the Wytch Lords. Murdered in their thousands, worked to death in slave gangs and divided against themselves, the wounds inflicted by man run deep – and elves have very long memories. Two of them – Auum and Takaar – led the rise against their enslavers, and united their people against men in order to free their nation. Now Calaius is at peace… but that doesn’t mean their nation is safe. Men need their help. The Wytch Lords have rallied, men’s magic has grown more powerful, and their politics have become altogether more dangerous. Especially now: one of the mages has created a spell, called Dawnthief, which has the potential to destroy all living things on the planet. All four magical colleges are fighting to seize it and, in the background, the Wytch Lords have schemes of their own. Schemes which involve crushing the elven nation for good. Whoever seizes the spell, it places the elves in tremendous danger. But can Auum and Takaar overcome their differences and work together to save Calaius? And even if they can, is it not already too late…?

The Ascendants of Estoria

  • Cry of the Newborn (2005)
    The Estorean Conquord has stood for 850 years. Its Advocate, Herine Del Aglios, knows that she presides over the greatest civilisation in history. But she wants more. And in Estorea's recently conquered territories dissent is brewing. Forced to fight old friends and neighbours in the cause of the ever-growing Conquord, they face brutal choices and savage demands for money and men to be fed into Estorea's wars - demands made by Paul Jhered, head of the Gatherers and the iron hand of the Advocate, With Jhered by her side, Herine believes that nothing can go wrong. Until a disastrous and bloody reversal in the war to overrun the Kingdom of Tsard puts Estorea's armies on the back foot and has Tsardon troops flooding into the Conquord. As the empire trembles, far from the war four unique children are discovering their powers. They are the first true Ascendants, in touch with the elements, able to shape the world. An empire descending into war is about to discover the wonder and terror of magic…
  • Shout for the Dead (2007)
    In THE CRY OF THE NEWBORN we were introduced to four teenagers, each of whom had nature at their command. They became the pawns in the struggle of the Estorean empire to survive. Through them their world discovered magic and we were drawn into a superb new epic fantasy that, for the first time, told the story of what happens when magic arrives in a previously non-magical world. Now ten years have passed and Estorea is consumed by war and the four ascendents have chosen different sides in the conflict. As the armies muster and the final conflict draws close the ascendents are only now coming to their full power and soon summoned armies of the dead will march against the living.

The Legends of the Raven

  • Elfsorrow (2002)
    The Raven travel to a new continent in search of mages to help the ruined college of Julatsa rebuild… and find themselves in the midst of an ancient curse - a curse that has unleashed a plague that threatens to wipe out the elven race. Barclay excels with another tale that pitches The Raven against the clock and unseen foes. Full of desperate fights and secret betrayals the story also fills in more of Balaia's history and delves deeper into the ancient emnities between the colleges.
  • Shadowheart (2003)
    James Barclay has rapidly established himself as one of the leading lights of the genre with his two linked trilogies starring fantasy's most popular new heroes in many years: The Raven. The first trilogy was the Chronicles of The Raven and introduced the heroes and the world of Balaia. The second trilogy, The Legends of The Raven, began with Elfsorrow which served as an introduction for new readers. Now, with his fifth book, he tests The Raven to the point of destruction and unleashes a savage war across his world as the magical colleges of Balaia tear the land apart in their struggle for supremacy. Barclay has never been scared of killing off favourite characters, and this has given his books their unique edge. Now he threatens to destroy everything they have known. Can The Raven even survive, let alone triumph?
  • Demonstorm (2004)
    THIS IS THE END... The dragons have gone home, the elves are safe. The Raven have kept their promises. But fate has not finished with them. As the war between the colleges rages on an old enemy senses that his chance to revenge a bitter defeat has come. Tessaya, Lord of the Paleon Tribes has waited patiently for his moment and now, with Balaia in flames, he makes his move and unleashes the Wesmen hordes. In Xetesk, his forces scattered, Dystran, Lord of the Mount faces certain defeat by the Wesmen unless he unleashes the horrfying power of dimensional magics. And Dystran has not come this far to be beaten at the last by a rabble of ignorant tribesmen. And so the veil between dimensions is torn . . . And beyond, a predatory evil stirs. Demons catch the scent of countless souls in Balaia. Can even the Raven prevail when the world is coming to an end?

The Chronicles of the Raven

  • Dawnthief (1999)
    The Raven have fought together for years, six men carving out a living as swords for hire in the war that has torn Balaia apart, loyal only to themselves and their code. But when they agree to escort a Xesteskian mage on a secret mission they are pulled into a world of politics and ancients secrets. For the first time The Raven cannot trust even their own strength and prowess, for the first time their code is in doubt. How is it that they are fighting for one of the most evil colleges of magic known? Searching for the secret location of Dawnthief; a spell that could end the world? Aiming not to destroy it but to cast it...
  • Noonshade (2000)
    The Raven must fight to help the dragons of the Brood Kan defend the dimensional rip opened in the skies of Balaia by the casting of Dawnthief. And then they must somehow close the rip. And all the time the Wesmen are rampaging through Balaia, laying waste to its cities and besieging the mages of Julatsa in Dordova.
  • Nightchild (2001)
    The third volume of James Barclay's bestselling Chronicles of The Raven sees Raven set against Raven as Balaia faces up to the threat of the One magic unified in one person: the five-year-old daughter of Erienne and Denser of The Raven.Barclay has made a trademark of blistering pace, superbly described action and characters who, with their flaws, humour and dedication to each other, are swiftly becoming cult heroes with fantasy fans.

Additional Raven-related titles

  • Light Stealer (2003)
  • Ravensoul (2008)
    What would you do if a stranger came to your door claiming to be your best friend. A best friend who you saw die ten years before? The Unknown Warrior has spent the last ten years mourning the dead of the legendary mecernary band The Raven. Reluctant ruler of Balaia he has also presided over the gradual recovery of the land after the devastation of the Demonstorm.The one other surviving member of The Raven, Denser has spent the years rebuilding Xetesk to be the dominant college of magic.But something is very wrong. There are rumours of the dead coming back to life. And the Elves are fleeing their homeland. Something unutterably awful is happening. Something that has spread across all the dimensions. Something that threatens the very essence of the world, that has terrified the spirits of the dead. Brought them back to Balaia.And amongst them The Raven. Desperate, and facing a fight that cannot be won.

Other titles

  • Vault of Deeds (2008)