James Barclay – Dawnthief

Dawnthief coverHow have I missed this author until recently? I’m only just reading Dawnthief by James Barclay for the first time after a recommendation and then finding the book on my own bookshelf.

I may have started it many years ago and been distracted, or not sufficiently hooked at the start. It is a tricky beginning, at first it feels a little like a text from a role-playing computer game with its barbarians, elves etc. Then I really began to engage with the characters and enjoy the story. Barclay is great at splitting the action, building the tension and suspense.

Fairly early in I was shocked [spoiler ahead] when main characters started to die. The band of mercenaries called the Raven are central (this is part one of the Chronicles of the Raven), they are not numerous, and then half of them die, just after we met them and with lots of pages to go. Brutal like George RR Martin (but without his serious complexity). Even young children we had been introduced to had to go. Oh and later one incongruous sex scene…  All this may be slightly off-putting for some, but the story had hooked me and I needed to know what happened – one sign of a good book to me.

The magic is perhaps conventional, different schools of mages with their named spells etc, but it is cleverly balanced and controlled, enriching rather than dominating the action. Did I mention dimensional rifts and dragons? A light touch with these, promising more in subsequent books presumably.

The dialogue is also realistic, some good banter making the characters come across as down-to earth and likeable (mostly).

To summarise, the characters sucked me in, the action and tension kept me coming back and I became immersed in the world, its people and its troubles. Recommended to anyone who enjoys medieval fantasy, and anyone who thinks they don’t  – but wants to broaden their reading…


Game of Thrones Sets the Standard

Interesting to see this article in the Guardian recently by Anne T Donahue, commenting about the recent trend on TV for shocking plot twists, generally involving the deaths of main characters. (Some spoiler here).

Some extremely popular shows are mentioned but there seems to be no doubt that the standard has been set by Game of Thrones, particularly (but not only) with the amazing Red Wedding scene.

“Television’s long, drawn-out narratives used to offer a false sense of comfort against the big beats of two-hour movies. Now, shocking twists are necessary ways of driving the action.”

That’s a comment about TV in 2014 compared with an example from Game of Thronesa book published in 1996. Well OK it’s about the current and excellent TV adaptation, but that is of course based on George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. If you have read them you will know that this is just one element of what makes them great, the shock twists are but a part of a much broader realism and complexity.

In all the books I have ever read, the Red Wedding scene has not been surpassed – it would be hard to do so!