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 🙂



  1. I was really disappointed with this one. I am a big fan of The Black Company Books, so a military fantasy with emphasis on the interactions with fellow team mates seemed very appealing to me. Also I read a recommendation from David Gemmell(a favorite of mine) for this book. The writing itself is okay, but filled with new author mis-steps. I’m sure over time Barclay has gotten better with his style. He does have a lot of interesting ideas, some new, many are not. I’m sorry to say that I will not be continuing on with this series. The characters did not grab me, and the writing was not good enough to make me want to invest more time and money.

  2. Yeah I guess I have to read The Black Company and “compare” them. There isn’t much detail in terms of The Raven team work (except for battle formation), but I do think their strong points are their personalities as individuals.

    By the way the books do get better, as a well-oiled team quickly becomes an improvised one – The Raven changes its members quite a few times (due to losses) and dissent between members becomes more frequent.

  3. […] book continues exactly where Dawnthief left off: after defeating the evil from the first book, the heroes inadvertently open a dimension […]

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