Weeds for the bride
I will admit I was not a huge fan of Magician, so I was not overly eager to return to Midkemia which is why it has taken me so long to read Silverthorn. Nevertheless, since I have had some very solid recommendations for later books in the series, I thought I should get back to wading through the earlier ones, after all, presumably matters were going to improve.
A year after the rift to Kelewan closed and the Tsurani war ended, Prince Arutha brother to King Lyam returns to the city of Krondor anticipating his wedding to princess Anita. During a burglary, Arutha’s friend the boy thief Jimmy the Hand foils an attempt on the prince’s life. As Laurie the minstrel and Arutha’s sister Carline negotiate their own relationship, Jimmy guides Arutha through a meeting with The Mockers, Krondor’s guild of thieves, in order to find out who and what might want the prince dead. This leads them to a confrontation with not only The Nighthawks, the guild of death, but also the Moredhil; dark cousins to the elves and a sinister power which can reanimate corpses. After a second attack leaves the princess Anita in a sleep near death, Arutha sets out with Laurie, Jimmy and his brother the huntsman Martin to try and find a plant which can cure Anita, the mysterious Silverthorn, little knowing that the dark elves are only the tools of a far older and darker power from outside the world.
Throughout the first third of the book, I will admit I did not think much had improved since Magician. Characters like Arutha and his brothers were described mainly due to their appearance and ability, (really I got sick of reading about tall muscular warriors moving with a hunter’s grace), and their personalities were drawn in incredibly broad brush strokes that were never born out in their actions or words. I was a little confused how often we were told Arutha was “brooding” when he seemed universally affable and not too different from his brothers.
With the few female characters the situation seemed even worse, with Carline alternatively sniping or throwing herself fervently at Laurie, and Anita having the same amount of personality and significance to the plot whether she was conscious or not, after all she was quite capable of being beautiful and passive and serving as Arutha’s love object either way.
Feist’s heavy handed, and somewhat cruel sense of humour also returned, with the reader clearly supposed to find the plight of the victim of Jimmy’s burglary amusing, despite the fact that all we are told is that he was a “merchant” with a “fat wife, and Carline literally having to brow beat Laurie into marrying her while Laurie dragged his feet for no reason, a sequence which made both characters less than likable.
All of this combined with a slowly moving plot concerning the machinations of the thieves guild and the nature of the assassination trade made Silverthorn initially seem quite the slog.
Then however, things started to pick up.
This began with the introduction of the book’s antagonists.
In Magician, we saw comparatively little of Midkemia’s nastier creatures, goblins and wraiths were given somewhat cursory descriptions, although as per the descriptions of dragons or Pug’s training in magic we know Feist can indeed write engagingly, even poetically.
Here however, he seemed to push the boat out more often, with grotesque walking corpses complete with gore, sinister threats from dark powers, and some unique and loathsome monsters who take a deal of defeating, I particularly liked the air elementals who resembled the winged monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, accept much bigger, bright blue and equipped with razor sharp claws!
Likewise, while in Magician I never really got the sense of who or what exactly the Moredhil were, here we got far more idea of their culture and history, as well as a particular Moredhil villain with a quite unique brand of unpleasantness.
It was nice to finally see a little more of Midkemia than the occasional city under siege, goblin haunted wood or elven forest, and explore some more diverse aspects of the world, including a sect of priests in a mountain archive bent on nothing but acquiring knowledge. There were also indications that the pseudo medieval Kingdom of the Isles with its flat range of nobles and seemingly interchangeable kings and beautiful princesses (there is even a discussion of princesses being more beautiful than other women), was not the only part of Midkemia, and that there are some more interesting and unique cultures out there to explore.
Stylistically, matters were unfortunately a little clunky with occasionally poorly structured sentences that over used their subjects or oddly unpolished turns of description. For the most part, the style was cold and a trifle analytic, however when describing particularly nasty creatures, or detailing the rather cliched portraits of characters Feist seemed to dip into a more epic, sometimes florid mode reminiscent of earlier more mythic writing traditions, complete with a slightly stilted, archaic pattern of dialogue. Then again, even if he did throw around the superlatives when dealing with villains, heroes and noble combat, I would still much rather a writer who over-eggs the pudding occasionally than one who does not egg zert themselves at all, and at least sometimes when writing dramatically Feist managed to get the mixture right.
With a smaller group of characters and a more modest journey structure the plot was also more focused, which meant even if a chapter was dragging slightly, there was always the possibility of meeting something else interesting around the next corner, especially with the dark elves forever putting new obstacles in the hero’s path.
Another reason the book picked up in its latter half, was the reintroduction of Pug and his newly founded magic academy. Perhaps because at this point Pug’s story has long since transcended that of the boy who wanted to be a wizard, with Pug, his family and his students we almost abruptly got a higher standard of characterisation. Katala’s concern for her husband felt wonderfully real, as did the portrait of Pug’s six year old son William and his friendship with a young firedrake. Pug’s banter with his teacher Kulgan also (for the first time), was warm and friendly rather than cold and nasty.
Not only Pug himself, but with others at the academy Feist managed to create engaging characters, including the seven year old mentalist Galena and her mentor the blind seer Rogen; though how exactly a person blind from birth explains visual information from his “visions” is something of a puzzle. Feist however definitely earned points from me for creating an old blind man who was as notable for his position of surrogate father to a traumatised child as he was for simply being a mystical blind seer, although his appearance in the book was rather brief.
The academy section even featured a quite surprising commentary by Pug that women were just as capable of learning magic as men, even if common superstition held them as “witches”, something born out by the fact we do see a magically able, if easily defeated and yes still beautiful priestess earlier in the book, and an attitude starkly at odds with most of the rest of the cast or even the author’s own descriptions; I will admit the previously mentioned discussion of the particular prettiness of princesses did make me wince.
Pug’s part of the plot also saw him come to terms with some of his more questionable actions during Magician. Though I was a trifle confused at a very quick about turn by some of Pug’s enemies, still the fact that his actions were questioned was rather welcome, especially when those actions had less than desirable consequences for himself and for others. Over all, I will say Pug’s return to the book was definitely something I enjoyed.
It wasn’t just Pug’s story however which showed a distinct improvement in Feist’s writing. Though most of the time, Jimmy the Hand was just an awesome thief with amazing reflexes there were a few occasions when he acted more as a confused fifteen year old boy rather than another unerringly skilled warrior. Indeed, I was a little sorry that the section in which he was recruited to the palace squires stopped so abruptly, even if it did include Jimmy delivering a pre-emptive punch to a supposed bully (though to my mind this made Jimmy more a thug than a thief). Still, that aside, seeing Jimmy’s impish ambition to be duke combined with his having to get used to wear court clothes and check in with the palace guard before climbing around the walls and roofs was a nice change of competency, since it’s always more interesting to see a person have to deal with something outside their comfort zone than be endlessly competent within it, as unfortunately was the case with far too many of the rather uninteresting men who hit things who make up most of the cast.
Though ending with a rather over-the-top battle, at least the book’s ending had energy, including a wonderfully brutal and genuinely tense single combat between a highland warrior and the Moredhil leader, though unfortunately Feist’s over enthusiasm did slightly get the better of him when it came to a rather exorbitant number of leaping attacks against cavalry, or some slight numeric details with cutting down twenty Moredhil (especially after Martin the archer took out a dozen of them first off). Then again, the final revelations of the dark force behind the Moredhil, and the mysterious place Pug’s story winds up definitely promise a continuation of the saga and leave with questions I’d like to see answered in the next book, as well as several characters I want to revisit.
Back in the 1980s, fantasy was considered to be a poor cousin of science fiction, and so the fringe of an already fringe market. I suspect for this reason, fantasy books did not have quite the attention in editing which they would later receive, which likely explains both the uneven writing here, and some of the occasionally clunky sentences and somewhat contradictory battles.
All that being said, Silverthorn was over all an improvement on Magician. Generally speaking the moments Feist succeeded most were those moments when he let his creativity as an author have free reign, writing about characters instead of archetypes, inventing unique fantasy creatures and cultures rather than plumbing the Dungeons and Dragons manual, and above all, relinquishing his rather callous attempts at humour and slightly over dramatized dialogue to give his characters room to behave like human beings. Whilst I still cannot absolutely recommend Silverthorn, I can see how, if Feist’s writing continues to improve, he might well be creating something good, or even exceptional in the future, so it’ll probably not be quite as long before I tackle the third Riftwar novel.
This is the second volume in Raymond E. Feist’s trilogy The Riftwar Saga. Silverthorn begins a year after the events of Magician and Prince Arutha’s reign has been peaceful. Jimmy the Hand, a young thief, uncovers a plot to assassinate him and the young King now faces new challenges.
The first attempt on the King’s life is unsuccessful but another attempts ends with his bride, Anita, being struck by a poisoned arrow on their wedding day. The cure lies with the plant Silverthorn and this can only be found within Dark Elf capital of Sar Sargoth.
Arutha, with the aid of Jimmy the Hand must find the antidote and discover the truth behind the power that can raise the dead.
Silverthorn, being the sequel to Raymond E. Feist’s majestic Magician, had an extremely tough act to follow. It doesn’t manage it but the magnitude of the task is similar in stature to asking Professor Tolkien to write a sequel to the Lord of the Rings that was more impressive. This is not easily achieved.
The book takes quite a long time to get started but is worth the wait. Silverthorn centres on Arutha, the young King of Rillanon and Jimmy the Hand from the Guild of Mockers. There are excellent twists and turns throughout the story and the action is more intense than in Magician. This leads to a completely different “feel” than to that of its predecessor and perhaps this may be why few would regard this as an “epic”.
Silverthorn, as already mentioned, is a sequel but can be classed a stand-alone novel in it’s own right. There are familiar characters in the form of Pug, Tomas, Laurie, Carline and Marcos the Black but you need not have read Magician to follow the storyline here. The book begins with a discussion between Laurie and Carline as to the best time to get married!
This addition to the Riftwar Saga is an enjoyable read without, understandably, reaching the heights of its predecessor. The characters are many, varied and full of life and you will happily join them on the road to the Dark Elf capital but you will not be left breathless as you were with the original. All in all, a worthwhile read without pushing out any boundaries.
2 positive reader review(s) for Silverthorn
Tyler from US
I found Silverthorn to be an enjoyable, if unspectacular read. If thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the Riftwar series, Magician, but found this second book lacked the characterization and the quest-driven narrative led to a rather predictable, slow narrative. My main complaint would be that the book had a gameplay feel to it, and so was rather thin on the elements that make up a great story.
Ryan from Newcastle
It's been over 10 years but I have finally got around to reading this again. This time around I understand the context of the book a lot better which allowed me to enjoy it a lot more. This is very much a book that is doing all the preparation work for A Darkness at Sethanon, while having a "Sleeping Beauty" story layered over the top. And I'm more than OK with that, because Feist has brought all of his characters into this book and made it work almost seamlessly.
Cameron from North Carolina
Simply put, it's a great book, and worth the price.
8.1/10 from 4 reviews