Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Book Review: "Dawnthief: Chronicles of the Raven" by James Barclay

The Raven are a group of mercenaries who live by the motto "Kill But Never Murder." But age is catching up with them and they begin to consider retirement after a member of the group is killed in their latest mission. However, their retirement is brought up short when a member of the group comes face to face with a dragon and learns that their world overlaps alternate dimensions and a terrible weapon, known as the Dawnthief, exists that could destroy all of their worlds. Several stories alternate with that of The Raven, from that of an abducted mage and the group of warriors who follow her trail, to a mage-spy who travels deep into enemy territory to see if an ancient evil known as the Wytch Lords has escaped their imprisonment. Dawnthief is one of those books that has a lot going on; some of it is really good, and some of it is really bad. "Dawnthief" succeeds in its imagination. Barclay takes old-school fantasy with dragons, elves and magic and merges the genre with alternate dimensions and a well developed political structure. It's a book that grabs your attention early on with the promise of turning into something really unique. And it's this potential that makes the missteps in the book that much more frustrating. Where "Dawnthief" fails is in character development and a clear lack of commitment on the author's part to fully develop characters who will later be killed off. It doesn't take long for the doomed characters to become obvious because they completely lack personality. One member of The Raven isn't even given a physical description, much less a personality, so it's not only predictable that he's going to die, it's expected and it has no impact on the reader at all. And what characterizations there are, mostly concerning The Raven, are not consistent. the Raven are supposed to be a sort of best-of-the-best fighting force, but nothing in their exploits demonstrates this. Granted, they are supposed to be past their prime, but we're told, not shown, that The Raven are special and it never seems convincing. "Dawnthief" is one of those books I would have loved to get my hands on prior to publishing and tweaking. There is a lot to work with and Barclay seems to have an understanding of what makes good fantasy, but the consistency and character development are so lacking that what could be a great book ends up settling for mediocrity.

5 comments:

jmkirk said...

I've read this whole series and enjoyed it. They get better as Barclay becomes more confident in his writing.
I haven't started his next series yet but I've got the first one in my TBR pile! : )

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds pretty interesting in conception. I like the cover.

SQT said...

jmkirk-- I have the two sequels in the first series, so I'll get to see if it pulls together better as they go along. For me, the first one didn't quite get there.

Charles-- Good concept. Just needs polish.

Steve Malley said...

Hmmm, just going to go make sure my own red-shirts get a bit of fleshing out.... :)

SQT said...

Steve-- you get it! I so thought of putting the Star Trek red shirt analogy in the review. Now I wish I had.