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Chronicles of the Raven
by James Barclay

cruise
classifications: Fantasy / Heroic / Action

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I saw this series in the bookshop while waiting for a delayed train. The description and precis sounded promising, and the cover art was very cool. A few chapters in, however, I began to regret my decision to buy the whole trilogy at once. It wasn't particularly humerous, as the front cover had claimed, it favours the school of fantasy where pretty much everybody ends up dead, and the magic seemed ripped straight from D&D, with spells like ShadowWings, HellFire and FlameOrbs (capitalised just like that in the prose). All the usual cliches were present - dark brooding mages with evil familiars, magically-inclined evles at home in nature and wielding bows, and mysterious but powerful warriors (he's even called The Unknown Warrior!).

I've now finished the thrid book, and can't wait to get my hands on the next series which continues the story on.

Yes, there is a contradiction there.

It takes time, but the depth of thought Barclay has put into these stories does slowly become apparent. Every aspect of this world is incredibly detailed and well-reasoned, from the descriptions of mana-shapes required for spell-casting, to why The Unknown Warriors is so mysterious about his past. The world and the people in it really do grow as the novels progress, Barclay gradually opening the stories up into some incredible vistas and landscapes.

The Raven of the series' title are a world famous group of mercenaries - but despite this, they have quite the turnover of members through the first book, and the lineup by the end of the third is again different - though a core do remain. Barclay also chooses an interesting time period in the life of The Raven to narrate - just as they decide they are getting too old and should retire. Their repeated failed attempts to do so add an interesting twist to the usual saving-the-world storyline.

Despite my initial impressions, this is an excellent fantasy series - full of action and drama, but manages to have a brain too, rather than degenerating into a mindless hack-and-slash cliche. Deep, thrilling and engrossing.

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