This review deserves some context. It requires you to realise that for the past few months Tor.com has been releasing excerpts from the soon-to-be-released ‘Words of Radiance’ by Brandon Sanderson, the sequel to his massively popular ‘The Way of Kings’. I have received my copy already, and have had the opportunity to read many chapters in advance of its arrival.
And, for the most part, I haven’t, because I have been reading ‘Elves: Beyond the Mists of Katura’ by James Barclay.
Furthermore, I am now deeply conflicted as to whether to pick up Words of Radiance, or whether I should go back and start re-reading James Barclay’s first books, ‘The Chronicles of the Raven’ – which, for more context, were some of the first fantasy books I ever read, and are therefore greatly responsible for my deep and abiding love for the genre.
Beyond the Mists of Katura is the third and final book in Barclay’s ‘Elves’ trilogy, which takes place millennia before Barclay’s ‘Raven’ books and focuses entirely on the race of elves who play such a major part in those books.
I believe that all of Barclay’s books have been published with a David Gemmell pull quote of some sort on the front. The message is obvious and accurate – James Barclay is Gemmell’s successor in storytelling, most obviously depicted in his ability to write utterly captivating action scenes one moment, before leaving you in tears a few moments later.
Mists of Katura, though not the height of Barclay’s writing talent, again returns us to the bloody and harsh world of Balaia and the four colleges. The storyline is the one referred to countless times throughout the Raven series, the fight for dominion of the spell Dawnthief. Instead of vague references, however, we now get to see all the players in this fight between the Wythlords and their Wesmen, and the four colleges – and it seems that the elves have been caught squarely between the two sides.
As with all of Barclay’s writing, we get a full range of perspectives to view this story from. There is no fear of jumping point of view if a better version of events can be told somewhere else, and this allows us to get to know a wide variety of characters with differing views on the events taking place. From Auum’s blind hatred of magic to Takaar’s obsessive and insane dedication to it; from Stein’s growing love for the elves to Ystormun’s blistering and insane loathing.
Characters that were once only references, or – in the case of Auum and Denuel, mysterious legends – are fully fleshed out in this book, fighting against an evil that is really quite distressing. The loss is heart wrenching, and when we take the point of view of those suffering that loss, the emotions are very real. I was in tears for the better part of the last few chapters.
The Elves series is a brilliant return to Barclay’s most popular world, and a thrilling ride from first to last page. Mists of Katura finishes off perfectly the sorrow and strength of the elves, and sets us up to return to rereading the Raven series. I’m sorry Brandon Sanderson, but for now, you might just have to wait a few weeks.
Joshua S Hill, 8/10
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...?
Firstly, I must point out that I am new to this series, so I do not know what happened in the previous books. Thanks to Star Wars director George Lucas, I have never had a problem in joining a saga a few episodes in.
Barclay’s story is told from a multi-perspective narrative, and despite the initially tricky challenge of getting used to characters and their names, I soon picked things up. That is testament to Barclay’s skill as a writer of fantasy fiction. The culture, politics, tactics and personalities of all involved, totally engaged. This is a very well constructed world, inhabited by believable people.
Where this novel really shines, is in its action sequences. The desperation of battle is captured well, and so are its consequences. I thoroughly enjoyed an early sea battle, and the action and incident did not let up for hardly one moment.
With plenty of infighting, factions, debates and strong personalities involved, reader interest is assured. These elves are not the cool, distant, androgynous types of the cinema, but rough, tough, fiercely passionate experts of all forms of combat.
The responsibility of leadership and tough decision making is embodied in the rather dour Auum. Contrast this with the troubled brilliance and destructiveness of Takaar and you have a heady combination.
Friendship and camaraderie are also explored through warriors Auum and Ulysan. Again, dialogue and actions convince, also remember, elves live for hundreds of years, so feelings run very deep.
With its breakneck action and emotional punch, I am sure Elves: Beyond the Mists of Katura will delight existing fans. As an initiate to the series, I can say that I enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining read.
Daniel Cann, 8.5/10
Elves: Beyond the Mists of Katura by James Barclay
Published 2013 by Gollancz
Susan from South Africa
I just could not put it down. Cried my heart out at the end. Cannot wait for the next book .... ?
9.2/10 from 2 reviews