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At the Gates of Darkness: The Demonwar Saga, Book 2
Raymond E. Feist
HarperCollins Eos, 302 pages

At the Gates of Darkness
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: Rides A Dread Legion
SF Site Review: Wrath of a Mad God
SF Site Review: Into A Dark Realm
SF Site Review: Flight of the Nighthawks
SF Site Review: King of Foxes
SF Site Review: Talon of the Silver Hawk
SF Site Review: Exile's Return
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

"The demons attacked.

Gulamendis drew back his hand, his brow furrowed in concentration as he watched his brother from the corner of his eye. Laromendis had conjured a battle demon illusion that was all talons and teeth, muscles like iron drawn over by skin resembling the hardest dragon scale."

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As long-time readers of Raymond E. Feist's works will know, his original Riftwar Trilogy contained a middle book. Silverthorn, which was considerably smaller than either the first or last books in the sequence, and acted as a bridging device. It wasn't quite an epic in its own right, and had the feeling it could easily have been tacked on to the end of the first book or the beginning of the third. If only space had permitted. At the Gates of Darkness does a similar job, and made me aware of just how many fantasy books I have read. What I mean by that is, to readers who are perhaps less jaded, this book may come across as a fast-paced action novel, filled with daring-do and magic aplenty. To others, me included, it will lack that vital spark of originality, or anything approaching freshness. In some ways this is understandable, as Feist has effectively been writing variations on the same theme for decades now. But it's still selling, so there is little incentive to diverge from the formula. Indeed, Rides a Dread Legion, the first book in The Demonwar Saga, got off to such a promising start, that I was encouraged to anticipate something more than I found in the follow-up.

In the past I've criticized Feist for failing to make use of elements that his readers expect and enjoy, principally the magic-using characters. In this book, however, such characters are more than ascendant, they're almost ubiquitous. Magic, and its use, in simply everywhere. As a result, the glitter rapidly fades, and, what should be fantastic, borders on mundane. I found it hard to care for any of the protagonists, and the writing, while easy, flowing and workman-like, often seemed as if the author had been creating on autopilot. Like the Ronseal of fantasy, major players do exactly what all but the newest of readers might expect, and the outcomes of those actions never seem in doubt. In other words, there is a distinct lack of any real dramatic tension, and the subtle art of misdirection appears to have slipped out of Feist's repertoire. The old guard are tired, and the newcomers are not up to taking their place. There was also what I perceived to be a credibility gap, with regard to the character Jim Dasher, who is also James Dasher Jamison, and the Upright Man of Krondor. This means that one person is supposedly an adventuring covert operative for the Conclave of Shadows, a noble of the Kingdom of the Isles, and the leader of Krondor's underworld. Where does he find the time! With reference to Feist's newer characters, Demon Master Amirantha, Knight-Adamant Sandreena, and the two Taredhel elves, Laromendis and Gulamendis, all make some interesting progress. But again, it's nothing that could be described as groundbreaking, either in terms of plot or characterization. As for the other Star Elves, who arrived in large numbers during the first book, there is barely a mention of them in this title, which I felt was an awkward omission. If, as must surely be the case, they are an important plot element, then some development would have been appropriate.

Despite the set piece battles and magical confrontations, At the Gates of Darkness does the job its author probably intended, filling the gap between beginning and end, or so I thought. Until I realised that this book is intended to finish the sequence. Then I was appalled at how sloppy and unprofessional it was. Feist's editors really need a kick up the backside, allowing him to turn in what is effectively an unfinished work, and having the nerve to foist it upon loyal readers. More importantly, why does the author himself apparently care so little about a product that carries his name. Perhaps Feist needs to remember that there are other writers out there, with hunger, passion and integrity. People who treat their audience with more respect.

Copyright © 2010 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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