Book review – “Dawnthief” by James Barclay (The Chronicles of the Raven vol. 1)April 5, 2008
Right, haven’t had enough time to write on this blog so I decided to start with something non-controversial, like a book review 🙂
Dawnthief, by James Barclay is the first book on the “Chronicles of the Raven” trilogy. The story revolves around a group of mercenaries, The Raven, who suddenly find themselves in a world-saving quest much different from the usual jobs for money they normally take. This might somehow be reminiscent of Glen Cook‘s “The Black Company“, but unfortunately I haven’t yet managed to grab it on this side of the pond.
The setting for the story itself is pretty much a normal fantasy setting with swords, magic, elves, dragons, etc. There is some dimensional travel as well, but it isn’t taken into much detail in this book.
Balaia, the continent where the story develops, is a big rectangular island, with a chain of mountains separating the bad guys (Wesmen) on the West from the good guys on the East. Not the most inspiring of maps.
In terms of magic, there are 4 colleges of magic in Balaia and despite occasional dissent, they are mostly, in this book, in diplomatic terms with each other. The spells the members of each college casts seem to be the same, even though some of the colleges are more prone to cast certain spells – for example ForceCones seem to be used mostly, but not only, by Julatsan mages, and HellFires by Xeteskians. These spells are cast through creation of mana shapes, members of each college having to manipulate their shapes made of a different mana flow visible in a different color – an interesting concept.
The strong point of the books are definitely the characters. The members of The Raven aren’t perfect goodie-two-shoes like Aragorn (Lord of the Rings) or Drizzt (Icewind Dale), nor they’re anti-heroes like Thomas Covenant (Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever) or Inquisitor Glokta (The First Law). They’re humans and mercenaries, so they have their strengths and weaknesses and disagreements like any other human – or elf. Some of the characters that are not part of The Raven, like Styliann, also display an interesting personality and behaviour. Akin to George R. R. Martin‘s “A Song of Ice and Fire“, not all main characters make it to the end of the book, which makes a difference from the fantasy book cliches.
Overall, and mainly because the characters of The Raven are so interesting, I strongly recommend this book. I will soon review the 2nd book of this series which will surely reinforce my point 🙂