Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Dawnthief by James Barclay

Review of Dawnthief by James Barclay

This is book one of Chronicles of The Raven, and it has a distinctive two-tone cover, purple and black, with the edges of the pages coloured purple. The Raven is a mercenary band whose members are the main characters of the book; Dawnthief is an incredibly powerful spell that they must recover the components to and employ.

Dawnthief, the novel, is what you would call heroic fantasy. It also seems very inspired by roleplaying. I got the strong impression (not least from a brief foreword which credits a list of people for giving birth to The Raven) that it is a novelisation of a campaign. It has the small band of heroes, the epic quest plot, character deaths, swords and sorcery, elves …

It’s also very solidly written – not brilliantly, but good enough to keep me engaged throughout. The story is filled with fights and anguish, desperation and hope, as the protagonists fend off failure, and the end of their world as they know it. It won’t go down as great fantasy, but it’s a decent read, it moves at just the right pace and does what it sets out to do.

The characters and their problems didn’t really move me much, but I certainly didn’t dislike them either. The main character, Hirad (he’s just about the main character – the viewpoint is often a little vague and moves from person to person in the same scene), is a barbarian. So says the text. Apart the occasional ‘the barbarian’ there’s really not much barbarism about him.

There’s a romance between a driven male mage and sorceress who’s husband and children have just been killed. She falls for him when he agrees to impregnate her and sire more magical children. This doesn’t work well – in literary terms, I mean. Their sex scene is full of rainbow-coloured mana.

I’m not keen on some of the terminology – elves, mana – that are too stock, and surely wouldn’t be difficult to think of more original replacements for. The threat to Balaia (the continent where the action takes place) is a resurrection of an evil from hundreds of years ago. Something about this doesn’t add up – if it is so terrible now, how was it defeated back then? (This is explained, but I’ve forgotten.) And the western half of Balaia is full of bloodthirsty tribes just waiting for the evil to return so they can flood into the east in a tide of destruction. It seemed very much a plot device rather than a coherent piece of world-building.

Although the simplicity of the writing and plot was beginning to grate a tiny bit by the end, I’d be happy to read more in the series – on the whole it’s easygoing and it holds the interest, and reminds me of one of my favourite pastimes.

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