Book Review: Prince of the Blood by Raymond E. Feist

13878Title: Prince of the Blood
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Year of publication: 1989
Rating: 3,5 stars

Set twenty years after the events so brilliantly told in his Riftwar Saga, Prince of the Blood follows the intrigues and adventures that erupt when a group of powerful nobles attempt to overthrow the Empress of Kesh, ending her bloodline and bitterly dividing the court. In the centre of the conflict are two princes of Krondor, Boric and Erlund. When Boric is captured and learns of the plot to kill them both, he escapes and makes a desperate journey back to the court to warn of the traitors’ plans – which, if they were to succeed, would start a war that would tear the Empire apart.

With Prince of the Blood, Feist takes a rather firm step away from epic warfare, elves, wizards and the like, and instead tells a tale of treachery, plots to destroy an empire and the clash of cultures. It’s something new for Feist, and a rather large step away from the fantasy genre, so it’s only the question if he can pull it of. The answer is yes, despite some character flaws and minor plot issues.

The main protagonists in this less-fantasy-like story than the other novels in the Riftwar Series, are Borric and Erland, sons of our dearly beloved Arutha conDoin. Although well-educated and skilled swordsmen, they spend most of their time gambling, chasing after girls and starting unnecessary quarrels. Not exactly what one would expect from princes of the Kingdom. There is nothing charming or even amusing about their conduct either, and to be honest they are not likeabe people; in fact, how anyone could get along with them is still a mystery to me. Needless to say neither of the twins actually conquered my heart, and by the end of chapter two I was sort of hoping they would just die, and that would be the end of it. Spoiled, immature and lacking any leadership qualities – or any qualities whatsoever – I was convinced there was no hope for them left. That is, until they were sent to the Empire of Kesh and soon found themselves in actual peril. A wake-up call much needed, in my opinion.

Another thing that annoyed me endessly was the generic personality of Borric and Erland. Being twins doesn’t exactly mean that you’re 100% alike, although these two definately are. And at the same moment Borric starts his journey of personal growth, encouraged by less than enjoyable circumstances – for example, his descent into slavery, and the numerous assassins chasing him – Erland decides it’s time to grow up a little too, although the circumstances he finds himself in are much more enjoyable, and less likely to actually cause character development. It was quite obvious throughout the story that the supporting characters, especially Baron James (our oldest and most dearest friend Jimmy the Hand) and Baron Locklear had much more interesting personalities, and Borric and Erland still have a lot to learn if they ever want to be King of Rillanon and Prince of Krondor.

Apart from those two hideous figures, the story in itself was quite enjoyable. Drifting away from the original concept of the war between Midkemia and Kelewan, Feist now focuses on the more internal conflicts between the Kingdoms and the Empire of Kesh, which may very well lead to a clash between cultures that could cause an inevitable, but rather devastating war. The large differences between Kesh and the Kingdoms reminded me a lot of the difference between West and East in our modern-day society. However, Feist portrays this culture clash well, and the story of treachery surrounding the Empire of Kesh is well-developed, interesting and original, ibecause it is something else than a great, epic war for once.

Even though his protagonists aren’t my favourite people in the world, and the story relies largely on the supportive characters, this novel does offer everything you can expect from Feist: an exciting adventure, original plotline, schemes and treachery, journeys of self-discovery, and the reappaerence of some of our old friends of the other novels in the Riftwar Series. Definately not my favourite Feist novel, but still a lot better than half of the fantasy books out there. In short, Prince of the Blood is a story about coming-of-age, about young men growing up to be heroes, and everything that could possibly go wrong while trying to achieve that.

Book Review: A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E. Feist

13813Title: A Darkness at Sethanon
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Year of publication: 1986
Rating: 4,5 stars

A Darkness at Sethanon is the stunning climax to Raymond E. Feist’s brilliant epic fantasy trilogy, the Riftwar Saga. Here be dragons and sorcery, swordplay, quests, pursuits, intrigues, stratagems, journeys to the darkest realms of the dead and titanic battles between the forces of good and darkest evil. Here is the final dramatic confrontation between Arutha and Murmandamus – and the perilous quest of Pug the magician and Tomas the warrior for Macros the Black. A Darkness at Sethanon is heroic fantasy of the highest excitement and on the grandest scale, a magnificent conclusion to one of the great fantasy sagas of our time.

Wheras Silverthorn, this novel’s predecessor, fails to grasp both the magnificence and originality of the first novel in these series, Magician, A Darkness at Sethanon does manage to meet the expectations. It is a trully wonderful adventure, and not only does it rise up to the challenge, it goes beyond that. Powerful characters, a land on the verge of war, creatures that only appear in your darkest nightmares and the faith of the world resting on the shoulders of a few heroes. It sounds like the classic fantasy formula, but Raymond E. Feist twists it around and turns it into something new, fresh an exciting.

Warning: The content below may contain spoilers for Magician and Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist!

Arutha conDoin, Prince of Krondor, is once again called upon to travel with his unlikely band of followers, who include a couple of bards; a Duke who is also his brother; a thief; a squire and a tribesman, as they learn that the evil demon Murmandamus has been amassing a gigantic army in the North lands. They must try to stop this from happening ofcourse, and upon doing so, they need the help of old allies – which asks for the reappareance of the protagonists of the first book in the series, Tomas and Pug – and new friends, whom they find in the unlikely form of former enemy Guy de Bas-Tyra.

It does take a bit for the book to get back to the level established by Magician, but when it finally does, it is in a most grand fashion, with the defence of fortress-town Armengar making for a frantic and exciting affair in which 7,000 or so town soldiers attempt to keep tens of thousands of Murmandamus’s invaders at bay. The battle for Armengar is one of the best-told, most thrilling battles in fantasy literature, and even those among us who are not exactly jumping up and down in their seats when they imagine an alliance of heroes clashing with a horde of demons, I am certain will still enjoy the way Feist writes this heroic battle, with a focus on human emotions, sacrifices and all those things that turn ordinary people into heroes.

Once again, after his remarkable appereance in Silverthorn, Jimmy the Hand comes back to steal the show. As witty, sarcastic and clever as ever, he thwarts plots to kill Arutha, secudes many and more teenage girls, and provides more wisdom than an entire king’s council. Arutha conDoin, by nature quiet, thoughtful and serious, shows more leadership qualities than you would give him credit for, and Amus Task, the retired pirate with a a rather enjoyable sense of humor, turns out to be valuable sidekick in the war against Murmandamus. Feist’s characters grow into their roles, a growth which is shown especially in this book, as they each stand up to take the part they were supposed to play. Not only does he offer outstanding characters, but Feist also produces believable, well thought through character development, and a plotline with more suspense and originality than any other fantasy novel in the last decade. With A Darkness at Sethanon, Raymond E. Feist proves he is trully a master of the genre.

The story has, except for the great characters which I already mentioned, a fast-paced, thrilling plot that will keep you glued to your seat. As he gathers all the cast members for the final showdown, and ends with an epic fight even Tolkien would be jealous of, Feist delivers the last part of one of the best fantasy series ever, with style and grandeur. It can’t possibly get any better than this.

Book Review: The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow

218573Title: The Last Witchfinder
Author: James Morrow
Genre: Historical fiction
Year of Publication: 2006
Pages: 497p.
Rating: 4,5 stars

In the spring of 1688, Walter Stearne, Witchfinder General for Mercia and East Anglia, roams the countryside in search of heretics, delivering the English nation from Satan’s hordes. His daughter Jennet is left behind in the care of her Aunt Isobel, who schools her in the New Philosophy, expounded by Isaac Newton. But Isobel’s style of scientific enquiry soon attracts the attention of the witchfinders. Desperate to save her aunt, Jennet travels to Cambridge and seeks the aid of Newton himself. Joining the expedition is Dr. Barnaby Cavendish and his ‘Museum of Wondrous Prodigies’, including the Bird-Child of Bath, the Lyme Bay Fish Boy and the Sussex Rat Baby. The mission of this strange fellowship comes to naught, but in Isobel’s dying moments, Jennet determines to devote her life to overturning the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. Our heroine’s quest entails many picaresque adventures, including a brush with the famous Salem Witch Trials; captivity by Algonquin Indians; erotic nights wtih Benjamin Franklin; a shipwreck in the Caribbean Sea; a perilous enconter with pirates and a great final showdown between old superstition and new science. The Last Witchfinder is narrated by another book, namely Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, which is engaged in an eternal struggle with the most notorious of the Renaissance witch-hunting manuals – a battle fought with squadrons of paper-eating moths and regiments of booklice.

I stumbled upon this novel last year at a book fair, and since it came at the cheap price of 3 euros, I decided to buy it right away. I didn’t exactly think the book would be great, since I was unfamiliar with both the writer and the title of the novel. However, The Last Witchfinder was a pleasant surprise. The book I bought was in English and I believe the book hasn’t been translated into Dutch, so if you want to read it, you’ll have to stick to the English version.

The Last Witchfinder reads fluently and even though English isn’t my native language, I could understand the story without much hassle. Since the story is told by another book, the Principia written by Sir Isaac Newton, the viewpoint is highly original. The way a book looks on human kind is quite interesting, to say the least. The story plays during the 17th and 18th century, when Renaissance slowly drops into Enlightment. We see this clash between eras in every part of the book, from the changing environment to the personality of the characters. Duncan Stearne, the brother of our heroine, is stuck in Renaissance with its romanesque and superstitious beliefs about witchcraft and satanism, whereas Jennet herself is the exact opposite. She has a very rational and practical personality, sometimes on the verge of being emotionless. Highly devoted to the new sciences and a typical bookworm, feeding off on the famous works of not only Newton, but also John Locke, Charles Montesquieu, Voltaire, etc. the heroine strikes me as a very clever and educated woman. Her personality is interesting, to say the least.

Although through university, I have already learnt a lot about the great authors of the Enlightment, they never really came to life for me until I was reading The Last Witchfinder. James Morrow has a writing style that makes the greatest minds in history, ranging from Kepler to Benjamin Franklin, appear very alive and very human. It’s almost as if you are thrown back into the 18th century and you feel like joining the great battle between superstition and the new science. Although highly amusing and informational (James Morrow includes at least fifty titles of other, some famous and others less famous, works in his novel) the story also strikes me as very tragic. It’s the ending of an era, a war between the old and familiar and the new and unknown, a war that leaves a long trail of victims behind.

The Last Witchfinder is a bit of a mix of everything but mostly it’s a beautiful piece of fiction that I am proud to have in my library. I also believe it’s a novel you will keep on appreciating, even if you read it for a second or a third time.

Book Review: Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist

149302Title: Silverthorn
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Year of publication: 1985
Rating: 4 stars

Silverthorn is the astonishing sequel to Magician – and an even more stirring tale of the imagination. Once again the magical worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan come alive, peopled with princes, kings, squires – and warriors.
In Silverthorn a new evil power that raises the dead and makes corpses do battle with the living threatens the new king of Midkemia. And a life-or-death quest is undertaken for an antidote to a poison that fells a beautiful princess on her wedding day. Silverthorn is a stirring tale of magic, chivalry and romance. It is a worthy successor to Magician – and an exciting prelude to the final volume in the Riftwar Saga, Darkness at Sethanon.

Although not as magnificent as Magician, neither in volume nor in plotline or character development, Silverthorn does stand its own in fantasy literature, maybe not when considered on its own, but definately when reviewed as part of the Riftwar Saga. By switching his perspective from the previous main characters Thomas and Pug, to former supportive characters Arutha, Laurie and Jimmy the Hand; Feist made an excellent choice that benefits the story massively. Gone are our over-powered leaders (although they do appear occassionally for brief appearance, and Pug even has en entire side-story going on) and welcome our normal, human characters!

WARNING! The following may include spoilers for those who have not read Magician by Raymond E. Feist.

With Magician finishing with end of the Riftwar between the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan, it appeared that finally peace would arise. However, as Silverthorn picks up the tale shortly afterwards, we find that the rifts may have introduced a far greater threat to Midkemia, as a new evil begins gathering Moredhel (dark elves), goblins and vigilantes under his banner – this entity, known as Murmandamus, has the ability to resurrect his dead followers and use destructive magic unlike anything even the most powerful of magicians had ever witnessed. The plotline is way darker than Magician (walking corpses always tend to shed some angsty darkness) and the switch of main cast proves to be beneficial, especially when as a reader you suddenly realise you’ve stopped seeing Arutha as a silent, somewhat cold man, but finally view him as the leader he truely is. On his nearly hopeless quest to find the Silverthorn, Arutha displays all sorts of emotions we can expect from a normal man that carries such a burden: anger, loss of faith, but also an extreme amount of determination and courage, qualities that promptly made him go five spots up on my list of favourite Feist characters.

But the reason this book is impressive, is not because of Arutha or his quest, nor because of the rise of the evil Murmandamus and the walking corpses. There is one single thing that makes this book unlike any other fantasy novel: Jimmy the Hand. Not once, in any other book I have ever read before or after, have I come across a character as intriguing as Jimmy the Hand. The enigmatic fifteen year-old thief is interesting not only because of his remarkable stealth, observational powers and street savviness, but also because he is blessed with some of the wittiest and amusing dialogue you’ll ever come across in a fantasy novel. Just as you think he’s taking a backseat, he’ll drop a remarkable anecdote about his past to remind you that there’s more to him than meets the eye. He’s effortlessly likable, and there’s a great deal of depth to his persona, meaning whether it’s action, intrigue or back-story you’re reading about, chances are if Jimmy’s involved, it will be good. From all the books written by Feist that I have read so far (all up until the Demon Wars Saga), Jimmy the Hand is my favourite character. The only pity in this novel is that as a reader, you sadly realise one day Jimmy might grow up and become a more relaxed, responsible person, which would be terrible.

Overall, Silverthorn is quite an enjoyable novel. It lacks the epicness of Magician, but it does have its own vibe, an amazing set of characters with their own flaws and strength, an original, fast-paced plot and of course, Jimmy the Hand, thief extraordinaire and just about the best character ever written down on paper.

Book Review: Magician by Raymond E. Feist

43916Title: Magician
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Year of publication: 1982 – edited version published in 1992
Rating: 5 stars

At Crydee, a frontier outpost in the tranquil Kingdom of the Isles, an orphan boy, Pug, is apprenticed to a master magician – and the destinies of two worlds are changed forever. Suddenly the peace of the Kingdom is destroyed as mysterious alien invaders swarm through the land. Pug is swept up into conflict but for him and his warrior friend, Tomas, an Odyssey into the unknown has only just begun. Pug’s destiny is to lead him through a rift in the fabric of space and time to the mastery of the unimaginable powers of a strange new magic …

Note: This is a review of the novel Magician, combining both prereleased novels Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master.

There is not much that can be said about Magician. It is, in all fairness, a masterpiece, a work of high-standing literature that casts a new light on fantasy novels in general. If there was ever a worthy successor of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, than it is without a doubt Feist’s Riftwar Series. Magician was the very first adult fantasy novel I ever bought, approximately eight years ago, and I was hooked right away. No matter how many times I reread this amazing adventure, it can still keep me glued to my seat. The characters have bright, sparkling personalities; the plot is imaginative, fresh and innovating; the battles are epic both in proportions (so we have the normal country fights country stuff, but this book has planet fights planet!) as in outcome. For anyone who wants to start reading fantasy novels, this book is your best bet. If you don’t love the genre after this, you will never love it.

Feist provides us with a large cast of characters, each with their own personality treats and issues. Pug, one of the two main characters, starts of by being a real “nobody” until he earns a spot as apprentice for the local magician, Kulgan, and even then he’s not much of a somebody yet. The other main character, Tomas, who happens to be Pug’s best friend, is nothing more than a swordsman apprentice either. The growth of these characters, from young boys with girl troubles who occasionally get into a fight, to young adults with the future of the world on their shoulders, is amazing. But not only are the main characters well-developed, you can really see how much an author loves his novels, when he also has nicely developed supporting characters, in this case, the beautiful but egocentric and stubborn princess Carlina, the silent but intelligent and trustworthy prince Arutha, the mysterious but friendly and courageous hunter Martin, and many, many more. When you find yourself suddenly not only liking Pug and Tomas, but actually feeling for all these supporting characters too, you know Feist has got you hooked and coming back from more.

Although the plot has enough twists and turns to keep you occupied for a while, it comes clear throughout the novel that Feist is setting up the stage for something more. He is continuously introducing his readers to new places, ranging from the marvellous Elven city, to the greatness that is the empire of Kelewan, places that return occasisionally in the other novels in these series, as is he introducing new characters, who will often return later on too. Once you no longer see Magician as a stand-alone novel, but as a part in a larger series, you can truelly appreciate it for the masterpiece it is. When reading it though, keep in mind that Magician was originally written more than twenty years ago, and some things that may seem unoriginal now (like, for instance, Feist uses the generic fantasy races dwarves, elves, gnomes, etc.) were actually quite innovative in the day. And even if it has already been done about a hundred times by now, take it from me: there is something about Feist’s dwarves and elves that makes them very appealing, and makes you come back for more.

The only small critique I have on what is still one of my favourite fantasy novels up to date, is the lack of female characters. We have princess Carlina, and a brief appearance of princess Anita later on the novel, but that’s it. It’s like Midkemia’s population exists out of 90% males and only 10% females. That, or a more logical interpretation is that Feist simply does not like to write about women, or develop fitting personalities for them, or that he just finds it easier writing about male characters. Whatever the reason may be, it does get a bit annoying, not especially in this book, but more so in the later parts of the series. Also, the few women characters that Feist does include, tend to have largely the same personality, which is even more annoying. That aside, Magician is still one of the best fantasy novels ever written, and if you haven’t read this novel, you simply cannot call yourself a true fantasy fan. Personally, it wasn’t Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that hooked me to the genre, but it was Feist’s well-crafted, imaginative, enthralling novel Magician.

Book Review: Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr

498214Title: Daggerspell
Author: Katherine Kerr
Genre: Fantasy, Celtic Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery
Year of publication: 1993
Rating: 4,5 stars

Even as a young girl, Jill was a favorite of the magical, mysterious Wildfolk, who appeared to her from their invisible realm. Little did she know her extraordinary friends represented but a glimpse of a forgotten past and a fateful future. Four hundred years-and many lifetimes-ago, one selfish young lord caused the death of two innocent lovers. Then and there he vowed never to rest until he’d rightened that wrong-and laid the foundation for the lives of Jill and all those whom she would hold dear: her father, the mercenary soldier Cullyn; the exiled berserker Rhodry Maelwaedd; and the ancient and powerful herbman Nevyn, all bound in a struggle against darkness. . . and a quest to fulfill the destinies determined centuries ago. Here in this newly revised edition comes the incredible novel that began one of the best-loved fantasy series in recent years–a tale of bold adventure and timeless love, perilous battle and pure magic. For long-standing fans of Deverry and those who have yet to experience this exciting series, Daggerspell is a rare and special treat.

First of all, Daggerspell is part of a series, namely The Deverry Series. I am going to review each book from this series individually, but the reviews will most likely be posted in a row – since I will reread them all at once, during the course of the next couple of weeks.

I think I first read Daggerspell about four years ago, and I liked it. It wasn’t the best book I had ever read, nor the most outstanding storyline ever developed, but it was quite enjoyable nevertheless. Rereading it now, when I’m older and more experienced in reading fantasy novels, my thoughts about this book haven’t changed yet. I love the dynamics between all the characters, especially between Jill, Rhodry and Cullyn, and I love the old-but-sweet-grandfather-like personality of Nevyn. The thing I love the most about Katharine Kerr’s characters is the way they seem so human. They make mistakes, they have feelings they shouldn’t feel, they have good and bad qualities, sometimes they are the most enjoyable people ever, at other times you feel like hating them. That’s the actual beauty of the Deverry series. It’s based on humans, not on heroes. It could be about Jill and Rhodry, or it could be about you and me. They have no great destinies that make them into who they are (at least, not in this novel, and not just yet :P) but just by being who they are, they change the destiny of others. I have read many fantasy novels in my life, and not many authors grasp this humanity as well as Katherine Kerr does, and for that alone, the Deverry series is well worth reading.

There is one major aspect common to all books in the Deverry series: flashbacks to the past. In some novels these flashbacks are better planned and more thrilling than in others, and in my opinion the flashbacks in Daggerspell are the most needed, as they reveal essential clues to the story (whereas in the follow-ups, they sometimes only seem to be there as page-fillers or for the sake of having at least one flashback). Reincarnation, past lives and their influence on your current life, are all very important in the Deverry realm. The language lists at the beginning and ending of the novels is also fun, as it teaches you to speak and write bits and pieces of the language of Deverry. It makes the novel seem more ‘realistic’, like it’s not entirely set in a fantasy universe (although those formulas seem to work too, considering the great novels written by Feist, Hobb and Tolkien), plus the fact the world of Deverry is based on Celtic traditions and beliefs, which makes the novel into a weird mixture of fantasy and historical fiction (aka Celtic Fantasy, or Sword and Sorcery if you prefer :P).

My favourite character in this novel, without a doubt, is Cullyn. How he changed from the person he was in his past lifes, to the person he is in present day (present day in the novel, the year 1068 or something), is simply amazing. From all the characters, he is the one with the longest journey behind him, the longest struggle to get past, and for that, he is all the more admirable. Next up is Jill, with her hatred towards women’s clothing, her stubborn personality and her love for battles. Then Rhodry, with his damned sense of honor and loyalty, which occasionally caused me to have a headache, and get insanely annoyed. But I liked him nevertheless.

There are some more adult themes in this novel, which I must warn you about, such as incest, mildly descriptive love scenes (really mildly though, nothing you don’t see on television :P), violence and some profanity. Nevertheless, I am convinced anyone age 16 and up, with a mild maturity level, can read these novels without much hassle.