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James Barclay

Victor Gollancz / Orion

UK Trade Paperback First

ISBN 0-575-07215-6

432 Pages; £9.99

Date Reviewed: 05-10-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Fantasy, Horror

04-29-02, 05-02-02, 01-27-03, 03-26-03, 08-30-03

In 'Dawnthief' and 'Noonshade', James Barclay managed to pack about an OSFT (One Standard Fantasy Trilogy) of action into two novels. In 'Nightchild' he doesn't let the pace lag. Yes, Barclay is still offering up action-packed fantasy, full of sword fights and desperate flights. But he's also willing to let his characters die in the tough landscape he's created. 'Nightchild' offers up the juiciest moral dilemma yet for his fighting group, The Raven. It also includes some of the most memorable battles and fights I've read since I first read Michael Moorcock's Elric novels.

As the novel begins the Raven have settled and split across the land. They're retired. They run bars, or are bounty hunters. But two of the group have produced a child. Since they're both powerful mages, the result is something that can lead to the annihilation of all of the colleges of magic. Powerful politics and personal responsibility land squarely in their camp. Barclay's quite at home in his fantasy world. Intent on killing off a significant number of his characters, he has to be able to draw them thoroughly enough that we care and quickly enough that we don't get bored. It's a tight line, but he manages to do so with transparent ease.

'Nightchild' focuses quite a bit on the politics of the colleges of magic. Fortunately, this isn't boring old men sitting about in small rooms discussing arcane laws. This is souls being hurled into eternal perdition in front of your horrified eyes, at the rate of two per hour. Barclay's politics are red in tooth and sword. But they're not so complicated as to derail the story. They lend a bit o authority to the action, so the novel is much more than one fight scene after another.

On the other hand, subsequent fight scenes do power this book, though they're not always the most effective parts. Barclay's dragons are particularly interesting, and they rather get the short shrift in this novel. On the other hand, he does throw a more detailed light on the Elven college. And the Protectors have grown as well, into something very clever with lots of potential for further development. Overall, Barclay's weirder moments -- with his intelligent monsters and his very foreign relations -- tend to be a bit more entertaining than his purely human ones.

'Nightchild' shows that Barclay can improve from novel to novel. The pace is still blistering, but he's transparently getting deeper under the skins of his characters. Aging his characters is a clever move. It's almost as if Barclay were inspired as much by Clint Eastwood westerns as he is by the rest of the fantasy canon. There's a weariness that he plays to just the right extent. When these men and women are fighting, you precisely why they're willing to heft their weapons once again. It's never an easy choice, either. Barclay's next Balaia next novel, 'Elfsorrow' is due out this summer. I'll be reserving my copy for a bit of fun in the sun.