Tuesday, February 21, 2012

DawnThief by James Barclay

It's like reading a video game.  It's a good video game; a fantasy RPG where a close knit band of warriors comes together to save the world.  DawnThief is also as cliched as the previous sentence. 

The Raven is a mercenary group that is known for always getting the job done; no matter the odds.  They damn near guarantee their work from castle defense to bizarre infiltration and escort task.  They are comprised of a 'mage',  several 'warriors,' and a few 'barbarians.'  For ten years they have been rocking out on what felt like their farewell tour, but before they can disband, live peaceful lives and count their money there is one more job to do: Save the World.  With that, I'll try to go easy on the melodrama.  

The first things that struck me about The Raven is the book's first fifty or so pages begins with an astounding amount of them dying: as in perma-death a la Fire Emblem.*  They don't even get the typical heroic fantasy heroe's death where the characters' passing becomes and 'event' taking up multiple pages and really investing the reader in their struggle.  Barclay just straight up kills his main characters, like, all the time, shrugs his shoulders and moves on.  It's actually kinda refreshing.  Considering how many of The Raven he kills in the book's beginning this could have become very repetitious quickly had he gone another way.  
*Their is one who broke the perma-death rule in spectacular fashion but I don't do spoilers.  

So the remainder of the party must find some new, qualified recruits, prepare for the impossible and set out to assemble the three catalyst that will enable them to cast DawnThief a spell so powerful that it will tame the Wytch Lord's power and save the world.  They also must work hand in hand with their eniemies and learn to fully trust their new allies.  

The dialogue is painful.  All of the backstory is explained in dialogue for the reader's benefit to other characters who should already know what is being said.  The setting is familiar perhaps even bland: all the heroes are one dimensional save Denser, and the bad guys are bad for reasons that are never explained, they are merely bad and called 'Wesman.'  Kinda like 'Easterlings,' or 'Southrons...'  Worst of all is the threat to the world concerning a conflict that only encompasses one of an unidentified number of continents.  DawnThief is so strong that it could literally snuff out the sun, but at one point in time a character mentioned just running away to the lands south of them to find safety.  The power struggle was never made clear on the big scale and overall it wasn't convincing that the world was at stake.  Oh, yeah there is also a dragon and two elves.  They are arbitrary at best; tacked on with no meaning at all at worst.    

So now you're asking, "How did you finish this book?  What kept you reading?"  The bad parts were bad, but the good parts were strong.  There are multiple beat-downs that only epic fantasy and video game cut scenes can adequately capture.  The politics on the one continent we do see were begging to the fleshed out.  The powers, and rules that governed Barclay's magic were convincing.  The plot as a whole, and this is a plot driven book, felt right; all the pieces are there and they work well together.  There is some bad sex, a wholly unbelievable female character, and like every other fantasy novel I've read it could have been one hundred pages shorter; but who has time to play a forty to sixty hour RPG?  

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