A Crown Imperilled by Raymond E Feist
Review by Brian Herstig
Now THIS is more like it.
28 books into a 29 book series and the old mojo is back. If you’ve been reading the stories of the sons (usually) of Midkemia as long as I have (going back to the original Magician in early to mid 1980′s) you know exactly what the “Magician” series has meant and what it has gone through. When Magician first appeared on the stage fantasy and its place in the NYT book list was nascent. Terry Brooks had taken the publishing world by storm a few years earlier with The Sword of Shanarra. The second book in that series came out in the US the same year Magician came out in the UK. It had been a very long time since any fantasy was seen in respectable and critical literary circles, much less a mass marketed and received book in the genre. Would Brooks’s tale be the start and end of a trend or something more? It was books like Magician (brought to the US and published in 2 parts – Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master – in 1986) that cemented fantasy’s place as a legitimate literary genre again and beget everything you know today – from Game of Thrones to the Lord of the Rings movie success.
But something happened along the way, at least to Midkemia and Kelewan. The well constructed, intricate world, which was as much down to earth political machinations and warfare as it was sorcery and demon lore, got stale. Yes – the characters continued to be interesting and engaging. And the world building continued – expanded even. The plots were mostly engaging. But there was something missing. Series of books focused on building out back stories and explaining the worlds and motivations of former enemies. Fascinating stuff. But it all seemed to be lacking direction, cohesion – a PLAN. Where once these were “must read” books the day they were published, they became a book I put on my list to get around to.
No more. Feist has decided, a few years ago, to close out this series and the penultimate book in the series has brought back everything that those early books promised. In the latest installment he manages to name check almost every major character that has come before. He has integrated the numerous races (various elves, demons, god-like beings) he has introduced over the intervening years. He has spread the action over a much more vast expanse of space, which we are familiar and comfortable with. And all of the little clues he has been doling out for the past 30 years are coming together. Most important, for the first time in a long time, it all seems to be heading somewhere.
There are old motivations to consider, forced and family alliances that feel like old friends and childhood mistakes, friends and foes (dead and alive) who make appearances. Old grudges and hard choices made in the past rear up and present themselves. And the “grand plan begins to make itself known. To be honest, some people may be frustrated or annoyed by the tail end of the book, which changes the perspective of the entire series and may feel like it comes from out of left field. For me, it was handled well enough and has been hinted at for long enough that I can stomach it and am willing to see where it leads. It may be a little deus ex machina – too early to tell – but that, itself, is a trope in fantasy.
The plot itself is simple – something is happening in the world of Midkemia which doesn’t seem to make any sense. The 3 great kingdoms of the continent are on the verge of war with each other for no real reason.The spy networks of all 3 countries have been dismantled – simultaneously. And demons are popping up. Something is behind it with a plan. Pug and his Conclave investigate. Old friends return. Hints of the growing menace deepen. The armies of men come together – first on the battlefield then in a peace summit. “Side” characters continue to carry much of the action here, as they do in most of Feist’s books. It makes sense, after all this series started as a story of an orphaned farm boy who finds himself in a world beyond his simple imagining. To the end, they focus on those individuals who are often at the front lines and are extraordinary in their own way – those small choice that often determine the outcome of a war or conflict – the nameless, faceless common men. It is true that, in Feist’s world, these people are often of or connected to royalty or power, but usually just beyond it or excluded from it.
If you’ve got a special place in your heart for Feist’s work or have been keeping up with it at least semi-regularly over the last 20+ years, this book will be a pleasing return to form. With the intricate back story and web of relationships it isn’t one to pick up as a novice. For those of us who have always had a soft spot for Pug and the world he inherited it is a welcome return and beginning of a fitting set off for one of the great fantasy series of our time. One can only hope the last chapter of the series closes out with the energy and promise of this book.
Khole from Australia
I have an awful feeling this is going to end up 'Laura Palmer's killer' or 'The final episode of Lost'. It feels like Feist is digging himself out of a hole, an already very very deep hole. I truly hope I am wrong as I have absolutely loved following the explosion of characters, worlds, gods and myth that has issued from the mind of this fantastic writer. Please please please - no deus ex machina!
Mark from USA
I found that a lot of errors were made in the book. Characters swapped, proper words used along with spelling errors. I find that the same names are used over and over. It gets very difficult to remember if its the original character or great great grandson or someone that was named after the original character but from a different family. There was no mention of what happened to the Tsurani that came over and only a mention of Tomas. I found the book very difficult to read and I have been an avid fan since the 80's when I opened up the Riftwar series.
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