About the Author:
Born in 1965, James Barclay was raised in Felixstowe, Suffolk, UK. He had a BA (Hons) in Communication Studies from Sheffield City Polytechnic and now lives in London.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4 out of 5
The first book of the Chronicles of the Raven. The Raven are a veteran mercenary unit who, at first, I found a bit generic and hard to warm to. However, you quickly develop a sympathy for them when it becomes clear that Barclay is quite comfortable with killing them off fairly brutally. The fact that their mortality is highlighted like this, when so many other fantasy teams are all but invunerable, allows you to develop a greater appreciation of their bond with one another and the code by which they live.
Once you've warmed to the Raven themselves Barclay gives you a whole host of other characters to consider, the most interesting being the wise by obstinate mages of the four colleges. I liked the concept of the four schools of magic who've been fiercely separated on grounds of doctrine for centuries but who are forced to unite by the threat of the Wytch Lords. Now, the Wytch Lords themselves are definitely generic (powerful Dark Lords thought dead for centuries but who're now recovering their power and massing their armies), but aside from being a threat hanging over the plot, they are a fairly minor element of the book.
Once I got into the story I was completely hooked and enjoyed it very much. It could be called another LotR clone, I guess, but epic fantasy is all about bands of heroes on quests, desperate battles and sieges and the threat of overwhelming evil. Basically, Barclay adds enough freshness of his own to the old formula to make it worthwhile.
4 out of 5
The second book of the Chronicles of the Raven picks up where the last one left off. Almost immediately we learn that the casting of the Dawnthief spell in the first book has unleashed an even greater threat upon the world of Balaia; an impending invasion by dragons.
My eye sockets ached a little from rolling my eyes when it's revealed that to save the world the Raven have to travel back all the way they came in 'Dawnthief' and then cast another super-powerful spell. Because it'd been a while between reading the two books it also took me a while to rediscover my affection for the Raven themselves. However, once I'd warmed to the characters once more and I'd dealt with the contrived plot, I really enjoyed the book. As before Barclay's talent as a writer shines through the cliches and he creates a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy adventure.
Oddly enough, it is the plotlines which don't follow the Raven which stand out in quality, with the military efforts of General Darrick and the excellently-plotted siege of Julatsa which prove the book's best elements. I have to say, however, that everything here involving the dragons either bored me or just plain annoyed me, so it's not all good news.
4 out of 5