Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sometimes, it's Good to be Wrong

I don't often pick up sequels when I don't connect with the first book in a series. Heck, I never pick up sequels unless I'm pretty impressed with the first volume. But being a reviewer means that sometimes I'll commit to reviewing books that I may or may not like-- it's a rough life. Not too long ago I reviewed Dawnthief by James Barclay and I was a little rough on it; which for me, means that I used the word "mediocre." But it was an honest assessment based on several factors, the most egregious was weak character development. And under normal circumstances that would be the end of the story. But this time, thanks to a previous commitment, I read the next two books in The Chronicles of the Raven series by Barclay-- and boy, did Barclay step up his game. I'm not sure I have ever been more wrong about the potential of a series. Without getting long winded--I'll throw up the reviews I did for Barclay's subsequent books below this commentary-- let me just say that I'm really glad I committed to reading the whole first trilogy by Barclay. Normally I'd let the reviews speak for themselves, but I'm limited to 200 words when I do reviews for The Sacramento Book Review and that leaves me little opportunity to do more than offer a brief summary and recommendation. What it doesn't really allow me to do is say how impressed I am at the growth of the author. Barclay grew in virtually every aspect as a writer. The characters achieved more depth, the world-building added more layers and everything from the politics to the sense of humor gained realism. There are still bits I could critique, (from a one-note villain to some positive-review-spamming *just sayin'* on the Amazon page) , but I feel I really need to comment on the very real improvement that was achieved from the first book to the second-- on to the third. I don't see this often enough and I would be remiss if I didn't offer a hat-tip to the author. "Noonshade" by James Barclay Noonshade, the second volume in the Chronicles of the Raven, picks up after the spell of the Dawnthief has been cast. Used to save the world, the Dawnthief has left a rip in the sky to the dragon dimension and as it grows bigger, so does the threat to Balaia. The Raven, a small band of mercenaries, now have been charged with finding a way to close the portal before enemy dragons come pouring through. But first, they must get past the invading Wesmen who are bent on destroying the colleges of magic. Showing great improvement in this sequel, author James Barclay uses multiple perspectives to tell his story. From the dragon allies fighting a battle in their own dimension to the mages trying to save the home of their magical lore, the story builds layer upon layer and reveals significant growth in Barclay's use of characterization. What had seemed to be an abundance of ideas that were loosely tied together now comes across as a well plotted fantasy full of originality. Fans of the first book will be pleased as this sequel and eagerly looking to pick up the next volume. "Nightchild" by James Barclay Five years have passed since the mercenary band known as The Raven retired, but a threat to a child born to two members of the group has brought them together again. Lyanna, daughter of Denser and Erienne, is the child of prophesy and her unfocused power is tearing the world apart. Fleeing the mage college that had awakened the child's powers too early, Erienne seeks help from the only surviving mages who can train Lyanna. Denser seeks out the remaining members of The Raven to find Erienne and Lyanna and protect them from the mage hunters who seek to kill the child before her power can be fully realized. Nightchild is the third book in the "Chronicles of the Raven" and is easily James Barclay's best book so far. Mixing terrifically atmospheric action with excellent characters, Barclay continues to show steady growth as an author and assurance with building a credible story. "Nightchild" is a bittersweet book that reminds us that love can be costly, but it is still a satisfying read and well worth the time.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've done that myself, and seen writers step up their game. Good to hear that though.

Aarti said...

That's great! I'm glad the other books got better for you. I dislike when it's the opposite- a great writer than then goes down.