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Shadowheart: Legends of the Raven 2
James Barclay
Pyr, 394 pages

Shadowheart: Legends of the Raven 2
James Barclay
James Barclay was born in 1965. He was brought up in Felixstowe, Suffolk, and attended college in Sheffield before training to be an actor. He was an extra in the film, Onegin, but his screen appearance ended up on the cutting room floor. He works in London as an advertising and promotions manager for an investment house.

James Barclay Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Once Walked with Gods
SF Site Review: Nightchild
SF Site Interview: James Barclay
SF Site Interview: James Barclay
SF Site Review: Noonshade
SF Site Excerpt: Noonshade

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sandra Scholes

James Barclay has created an amazing fantasy novel, the second in a series; the first being Elfsorrow: Legends of the Raven 1, with a cast of warriors who showed their bravery in and out of battle that proved them as heroes. The character development in the previous novel made scope for more here as it found its inspiration from it, and it is also due to the characters being in conflict with each other part of the way.

Shadowheart: Legends of the Raven 2 sees The Raven having to survive a war that rages over their land as the mages of Balaia wage war on them in order to take their world for them by force. Ry Darrick has come back to his homeland to answer the charges laid against him for his past mistakes; treason, desertion and cowardice; accusations that are not normally associated with the warrior. And though he is put on trial, the main reason he is there is to clear his name. Darrick has the strength of character that sets him apart from others, and suspicion shouldn't be on him for long. As far as desertion is concerned, he admits that was the case, but for more honourable reasons than the members of the court thinks. What they believe though, could be different, as all of the evidence could prove worse for him to come, yet his friends will be alongside him during it all to give him comfort.

It is worth mentioning the characters that might be of interest to the reader, The Unknown, Hirad, Erienne, Derreck, Denser and Thraun as they are crucial in this book.

Dystran of the Xetesk knows he has only one chance in this case if it is to be a success, though even he and his men have to admit The Raven's warriors can offer them a good fight. James Barclay has managed in this volume to put all his effort into the drama, creating a tense and involved piece, and passion in to his characters, a striking example of this is seen in this excerpt:
   "You must. Ally your elves with us and you'll be killed. Don't waste the opportunity, please, I beg of you."
   There was no movement. "If you respect me, you'll go. We will prevail. We're The Raven. Please, pick up your masks and go."
Darrick is one of those characters who has a great deal of passion and who has also got an allegiance to his men and women, warriors and mages who risk all for the stability of their clan.

It is easy to see in many of the parts of this novel what the characters have to go through on their perilous journey; one of them a breakout attempt which alerts them to the Xeteskian guardsman who want to slaughter them on sight. For a band of heroes, they don't look too good but they make their best attempt to fight despite the odds being stacked against them. Barclay shows how powerful his characters are, even when death might approach them:
   Hirad pointed to the research room and followed the TaiGethen with his gaze. He strode up to Denser, grabbed his arm and pointed up the stairs.
   "Evunn," he said by way of explanation.
   "What?" Denser looked up sharply from smoothing Erienne's hair, irritated at the interruption.
   "Please?" Auum frowned and sighed. He called for Rebraal and snapped out a stream of elvish. Something in his voice pricked Hirad's attention, Rebraal was already heading for the stairs.
   "It's Eruun," He's been hit by a spell."
   "He's not the only one," said Hirad grimly.
   "No, but he's alive. Auum says his mind is gone."
   "Oh no," muttered Denser. He hurried out of the research room. "Bastards, that's cruel."
   "What is it?" Hirad found it all bemusing. It was all he could do to remain standing. His legs were shaking. He leaned against a wall.
   "MindMelt," said Denser. "Got to be."
   Auum followed him out, Hirad touched his arm and indicated the charred remains of the elves by the door. "I'm sorry," he said."

Denser is a risk-taker, and has a sense of honour and responsibility for the band of men they have, he also has a moral reason for not killing prisoners they have captured. Others disagree with his moral outlook, but it is up to the reader to consider whether he is right to feel the way he does.

The Unknown is a dangerous type -- you never know when he might turn on his friends or allies as he has established himself as the outsider who doesn't think as the others in The Raven do; this also makes him the anti-hero of the band who originally had a code of honour that prevented him from senselessly killing others; but he manages to later murder in cold blood those he sees as a threat. The reader will have to distinguish between his reasons for killing as being delusional and paranoid or justified.

Thraun is the one weapon in The Raven's arsenal that can always be relied upon in a tight situation. His speed and strength can overpower and overwhelm an opponent due to him being a shape changer, so when he sees a friend in peril, he calls on this skill of his whenever he has his immense build-up of energy to help out. His magic causes powerful excerpts of narrative such as this one:

   "The prey screamed beneath him [Thraun] but he would show no mercy. He dashed a claw through its back and plunged his teeth into its neck, the hot blood pouring into his mouth. Leaving the prey to die he turned on the other three, seeing them back away. With one bound, he was on the next, paws thumping into his chest and knocking him flat. A single claw tore out his throat and he moved again, fangs locking into the calf of the third. And while he yelled for help, the last fell dead beside him, a wound dividing its stomach, another across its face. The one he held fell too cries stilled. Thraun let the leg go and swung around. Two stood over him. Not prey. He backed away to the one he had to save, hunched to pounce should any threaten him. He howled."

He has a great deal of power within him, but judging by the excerpt above he has to wrestle with his changed form to keep his killer instinct in check; though it seems he is very lucky to be able to control these primal urges at all. Thraun has a special relationship with his men, and that includes Erienne; he helps her get better after her ordeal with the enemy; and is an honourable enough man who wouldn't let his men fall while he could help. Thraun is an enigma as far as main characters go. He is a good man, but only as long as he can control the animal inside him. The horses are wary of his presence, as he is in effect part human, part animal and even his own men feel the same. This is the pain he has to bear being different, yet he is deeply loyal and knows the friends he has are true ones.

Evil dogs The Raven's every step of the way due to their amazing tracking abilities, leaving The Raven having to be extra careful where they go, and a great deal of it is intriguing and descriptive. If readers liked the Dragonlance series of novels by Weis and Hickman, then they will find this just as immersive with the small band of characters, their foibles, troubles, enemies and allies.

Shadowheart: Legends of the Raven 2 is a fantasy novel full of sword and sorcery, with plenty of cut and thrust, which leaves nothing to the imagination as far as battles are concerned -- everything is on display, the wars, the endless fighting, bloodthirsty battles and gory end scenes. James Barclay has the knack of bringing the reader right into the heart of the fray.

Copyright © 2011 Sandra Scholes

Sandra Scholes has found herself enjoying another art book by Boris Vallejo and might turn away from it when she has to review more books. Her work has recently appeared in Active Anime, Quailbell Magazine and The Chronicle.

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