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Exile's Return
Raymond E. Feist
HarperCollins Voyager, 356 pages

Exile's Return
Raymond E. Feist
Raymond E. Feist has produced some remarkable novels. Most fall into his Riftwar Saga, consisting of Magician: Apprentice, Magician: Master, Silverthorn, and A Darkness at Sethanon, along with his Midkemia series consisting of Prince of the Blood and The King's Buccaneer, plus The Serpentwar Saga, consisting of Shadow of a Dark Queen, Rise of a Merchant Prince, Rage of a Demon King, and Shards of a Broken Crown. He developed the basis for the award-winning game, Betrayal at Krondor.

Raymond E. Feist Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Prince of the Blood
SF Site Review: Murder in LaMut
SF Site Review: Krondor: Tear of the Gods
SF Site Review: Krondor: The Assassins
SF Site Review: Krondor the Betrayal
SF Site Review: Serpentwar Saga
SF Site Review: Serpentwar Saga
SF Site Review: Rage of a Demon King
SF Site Review: Shards of a Broken Crown
SF Site Review: Shards of a Broken Crown

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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'Across the courtyard thousands of armoured figures marched, with drums pounding and horns blowing a dissonant flourish.

"Those are Talnoys?" Kaspar asked.

"Yes," said Kalkin. "They are slaves to the Karana, and slaughter at his whim. They have conquered nations and worlds, and each is occupied by the soul of a murdered Dasati."

Book three in the Conclave of Shadows sequence opens right where the previous novel left off, with Kaspar, the deposed Duke of Olasko, in big trouble. Dumped on the other side of the world, in the Novindus desert, Kaspar sees a group of nomadic tribesmen riding toward him. Luckily, he's a central character in a Raymond E. Feist novel, so despite being armed only with chains he shows them he's no pushover, but is still captured. Escaping, Kaspar struggles and sweats his way to civilisation. While attempting to reach the major port of Novindus, he meets a small group of traders, also on their way back to Midkemia. Their venture has been broken by bad luck, and only four of the original thirty remain. We learn that things began to go bad when they acquired a strange, sealed suit of black armour. Thought to be a relic of the Dragon Lords, their intention is to sell it to the magicians at Stardock.

However, things are not quite the way they seem, and the armour influences their minds. Whenever they attempt to steer away from the path it wants them to take, the result is a messy death. As readers of the previous two novels in this series will know, Kaspar was a murderous noble, who never thought twice about using torture and genocide to further his ambitions. Although, in his defence, the worst of his actions came when he was under the malign influence of the evil magician, Leso Varen. Reduced to living on his wits, in a completely foreign land, Kaspar sees life from angles he didn't know existed, and predictably, begins to alter character. When the truth about the cursed armour is revealed, he literally has no choice but to take responsibility.

Holding focus on a character who has clearly defined direction does Exile's Return a power of good. Kaspar, as the villain forced by circumstance into a different role, is repackaged convincingly enough. Those he meets on his journey who are not old favourites from previous Feist novels do not fare so well. Mostly cardboard cut-outs, they fail to reach the heights of characterisation. But the author's ace in the hole is really solid idea. Something big and bad enough to shake the foundations of his world. Whenever anything associated with this has centre stage, the pages turn faster. I found myself wondering if Feist knew where he was going all along, or if the concept that has elevated this series only occurred to him halfway through. Whatever the creative process, the end result sees the author returning to the theme that first gave him major success; the threat of a new Rift War. Only this time, the potential enemy make the Tsurani of Kelewan look like a bunch of Girl Guides.

Exile's Return is a fast, easy and enjoyable read. The plot rarely surprises, though it does have the purpose and clarity that sometimes seemed lacking earlier in the arc. There is linear progression, with little meandering down sub-plot cul-de-sacs, or time spent waist-deep in exposition. When the big hits come, they strike hard, and even though most readers who are familiar with Midkemia will work out where things are going ahead of time, it's still tremendous fun. Especially for those who understand how big a deal it is when Pug and Tomas of Elvandar are confronted by something that scared even the Dragon Lords. This series has fizzed and spluttered, but always included just enough promise to keep me coming back. What I'd hoped was that the Raymond E. Feist who wrote Magician would emerge from the Doldrums, and I was delighted to find that he had. The best is hopefully yet to come, as there are another three titles planned for this series. In summary, if fantasy novels are food for the mind, Exile's Return is the equivalent of a bag of traditional British fish and chips; it may not be the finest fare, but it is crisp, mouth-watering, and impossible to resist.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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