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James Barclay biography and books reviewed

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 reviews

Dawnthief by James Barclay

Every now and again you come across an author who manages to write unlike any other. This is not something that will happen often, and I’ve personally only ever come across a handful (Tolkien, Pratchett, Hobb and Erikson). But one author who manages to write such a compelling story that you never want to put the book down is James Barclay.

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Noonshade by James Barclay

In a true example of why James Barclay is one of the best modern day fantasy writers, Noonshade continues on his Chronicles of the Raven series, and sees the story continue and his talents grow. Barclay sets this book literally half an hour after Dawnthief is finished, and never misses a beat. I came to these books late, and was able to read all six one after the other, and I have no idea how people managed without that luxury. Barclay is an author you just do not want to ever put down.

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Nightchild by James Barclay

One thing that is always tinged with a measure of trepidation is the treatment of children in a fantasy world. A measure of reality must always be held in one hand while you attempt to watch over them. For as much as you would love to see them always come through unharmed, happy, and well, it is just not how it would have played back in the middle ages and before.

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Once Walked With Gods by James Barclay

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.

"I loved this book. I loved the characters and the journeys that they took and are to take, and I love the hints of what will come; things that we'll know of in passing and get to see in full and other things which are totally new. Barclay has managed to return to the world of Calaius and not leave us disappointed. Barclay is back and he might very well be better than ever." Fantasy Book Review

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Rise of the TaiGethen by James Barclay

Rise of the TaiGethen is a perfect example of why Barclay is one of the best in the business. Without the historical nuance that Erikson writes, Barclay delivers a book that is nevertheless heart wrenching, expertly crafted and immensely enjoyable to read over and over and over again. The Elves trilogy is most definitely worth your time; go pick it up now!

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Beyond the Mists of Katura by James Barclay

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...

"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."

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Elfsorrow by James Barclay

One of the greatest and most often committed faults of English literature, specifically of the fantasy genre, is the emotional attachment to characters by their authors. Though budding and experienced authors alike may start out with all intention to realistically treat their characters as they should, more often than not, by the end of the story, everyone has miraculously survived.

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Shadowheart by James Barclay

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.

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Demonstorm by James Barclay

When I first started reading Demonstorm, I was under every impression that it was Barclay’s final say in the world of the mercenary band known as The Raven. The ending of the book definitely gives that opinion as well, continuing Barclay’s well worn killing off of his characters. But before the end comes, Barclay manages to pull off one of the greatest escapades I have ever read. It is exciting, thrilling, and – as much as any fantasy book can be – entirely believable.

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Ravensoul by James Barclay

The Unknown Warrior has spent last ten years mourning his dead - those of the legendary mercenary band, The Raven, who fell in battle. As the reluctant ruler of Balaia, he has also presided over the gradual recovery of his land after the devastation wreaked by the Demonstorm. The other survivor from The Raven, Denser, has spent those years rebuilding Xetesk to be the dominant college of magic. But something is wrong. The Elves are fleeing their homeland, as rumours of the dead coming back to life ... of something that has so terrified the spirits of the dead that they are returning to Balaia. And amongst them are The Raven's fallen. The legendary band are together again - just in time to face a battle that cannot be won...

"When James Barclay told me that he was working on a seventh Raven book, I was ecstatic. Life had another marker for me to plan towards, just like the days when I had Lord of the Rings movies and DVD’s to divide my year into irregular thirds. But I knew that it was going to be a farewell book; a completion to one of the most action packed, well written and rollicking adventure fantasy series there had ever been."

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Cry of the Newborn by James Barclay

With his Raven series, James Barclay made himself a cult hero. With the Ascendants of Estorea, Barclay stepped away from the action adventure realm and settled into a very fantasy style book. More character focus and interestingly enough styled after the Roman Empire, Cry of the Newborn – the first in the series – makes for an interesting introduction to a new realm for Barclay to play in.

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Shout for the Dead by James Barclay

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).

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