Review of DAWNTHIEF by James Barclay

I’m feeling very neutral about DAWNTHIEF, the first book of the CHRONICLES OF THE RAVEN. The book has some obvious storytelling flaws that bother me, and at the beginning, Barclay is so wrapped up in the action that it’s hard to differentiate between the characters. And when some characters die early on and all the surviving characters are in mourning, there was a disconnect for me, since I never knew anything about the character past his name.

DAWNTHIEF is about an elite company of mercenaries who are not only excellent fighters, but are known for their honesty and discipline. While working a fairly routine job, they get caught up in a quest to gather the necessary objects for a spell that will destroy the Wytch Lords, who have broken free from their magical prison and are building an army in the West.

Early on, I struggled to get through the book. Barclay opens with a mother who is kidnapped along with her sons (which was actually a well-written scene), followed by a siege, followed by a chase into a dark temple, followed by a confrontation with a dragon. All of which was action-packed, but all that action cost Barclay in the development of his characters. At that point, the characters were nothing more than cardboard cutouts — barbarian warrior, swordsman, mage, etc.

After about 150 pages, several members of the group have died, which is certainly realistic but doesn’t mesh well with the idea that none of the Raven had been killed in battle in years. And once they start dropping like flies, I really begin to question the idea that these guys had previously been all but invincible.

But as the book goes on, the characters start growing more defined and the brotherhood amongst the Raven — a key theme throughout the book — grows more pronounced. Hirad the barbarian is established as the heart of the group and is a humorous character who’s easy to root for. Denser the Dark College mage is interesting, and the group adds some new members who prove interesting, even if the cast of characters is like something you would find in a Dungeons & Dragons game — your standard barbarian, wizard, thief, swordsman, etc.

The magical system is pretty routine, but the different Colleges of Magic add some politics to the mix, and Barclay’s introduction of Protectors proved an interesting plot twist that added something new to the world.

All in all, it certainly wasn’t a bad book, but I’m not exceptionally motivated to read the other two books in the trilogy.

TOP FIVE BOOKS I’VE READ IN 2012:

1. AMONG THIEVES by Douglas Hulick

2. THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach

3. SANDMAN: FABLES & REFLECTIONS by Neil Gaiman

4. THE MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

5. KULTUS by Richard Ford

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