Book Review: Shadow of a Dark Queen by Raymond E. Feist

1017106Title: Shadow of a Dark Queen
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Year of publication: 1994
Rating: 4,5 stars

Something dark is moving in distant nations, and ancient powers ready themselves for a final confrontation. A Dark Queen has raised a standard in remote lands and is gathering armies of unmatched might.

Into this battleground of good and evil come a band of ‘desperate men’ who will embark on a quest that is at best dangerous and at worst suicidal. Among them is Nakor the Isalani, a gambler who knows more magic than most magicians, yet who claims magic doesn’t exist. He alone knows the true nature of the Dark Queen whose shadow threatens to engulf their world.

Also travelling with the group is the mysterious Miranda upon whom all must wager their lives. She appears to be an ally but knows much more than she is willing to tell. Does she have a hidden agenda of her own? And will she prove to be an ally or an even more deadly foe when the final confrontation is at hand?

In this new and equally enthralling series, fantasy-bestselling-author Feist returns to the enchanted world of Midkemia. But rather than reintroduce us to the characters we’ve come to love, or reinvite us to the beautiful city of Krondor, he starts his story practically at the other side of the Kingdom of the Isles, namely the small town of Ravensburg. There we find an enigmatic blacksmith’s apprentice called Erik von Darkmoor who is to face his most pressing problem: how to endure his mother’s annual public confrontation with his father, the Baron, and her insistence that the Baron recognize Erik as his legitimate heir. But like he doesn’t suffer enough by this yearly unnerving event, lfe becomes considerably more complex when Erik and his best friend Roo avenge the rape of a friend by killing Erik’s half-brother, the Baron’s chosen heir. An unexpected storyline with strong, well-developed characters. Seems like Feist is back, and he’s here to impress his readers even more.

Newly claimed fugitives, Erik and Roo manage to escape to the city of Krondor, only to get captured and sentenced to death by no other than Nicholas, Arutha’s youngest son and now regent for his throne. Because of some unlikely circumstances and a plan to save the Kingdoms that is nothing less than suicidal, Erik and Roo are spared at the last minute and impressed into an elite fighting corps composed of equally desperate men. Their mission is to move against the conquering army of the Emerald Queen, an army of mercenaries led by the Pantathians, reptilian creatures with magical powers. Erik’s company of 60 men is to infiltrate the Emerald Queen’s seemingly invincible army, ascertain any weaknesses, and report back to the King of the Western Lands. You know, the sort of mission you do every day. The company is aided in their task by the intervention of magicians – none other than the amazing, funny Nakor, the leadership of elves – Calis, son of Tomas, half-Valheru, half-human, half-elf (well that’s one half too much, but you get my point), the ingenuity of various members of the company, and a fair amount of luck. But they will need it.

Based on storyline alone, Shadow of a Dark Queen is easily the most original and innovative story by Feist. Not only does he turn the ‘farmer-boy-turns-into-hero’ perspective all the way around, but he does this with a style and grace that totally makes you forget the storyline is actually based on one of the oldest and most annoying fantasy-clichés. By hard work, going through hell and crawling out of it again, farmer boy Erik proves his qualities as a swordsman and fighter for the Kingdom. But if it wasn’t for the support of his team mates, and some of the extraordinary members on their little expedition, their mission wouldn’t have stood a chance. The greatest strength of this novel is that it shows how you can turn a plot-cliché around and turn it into a believable, original story with great characters who display both strengths and weaknesses as individuals, but turn out to be so much more when battling as a team. It shows the things you can accomplish with the help of others, and how common goals can turn great people into even greater people.

In this novel, Feist reconnects with something he seems to have lost ever since A Darkness at Sethanon: a touch of magic that turns his stories from great into absolutely magnificent. A Shadow of a Dark Queen has his best storyline so far, with some of the most amazing characters ever born from Feist’s imagination, is well-written and an absolute pleasure to read.

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