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James Barclay

Victor Gollancz / Orion

UK Trade Paperback First

ISBN 0-575-06895-7

484 Pages; £9.99

Date Reviewed: 05-03-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel



Fantasy, Horror

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

'Noonshade' is the sequel to -- and the second half of the story started in 'Dawnthief'. If you haven't read 'Dawnthief', then you'll want to do so directly before reading this review or this book. That said, in 'Noonshade', James Barclay takes off in pursuit of the more interesting characters in his previous novel -- and they aren't human. Or if they are, then they aren't alive.

Taking up where 'Dawnthief' left off, 'Noonshade' finds The Raven having defeated the Wytch Lords, but caused a greater problem. That problem is the Noonshade of the title, a rift between dimensions that threatens to open wide enough so that the hordes of dragons on the other side might be able to swarm across Balaia, reducing it to a parched cinder in the process. They are forced into an alliance with Sha-Kaan, the ancient (even for his race) leader of the brood of dragons that currently guards the doorway between dimensions.

As in the first book, the pace is frantic, and action is nearly constant and the quality of the writing is high. Barclay's characters (given that they do conform to Standard Celtic Fantasy archetypes) are all given enough shading and motivations to bring them into the third dimension as well as the dragon dimension. And that's where they have to go.

This is good news for this reader, at least. Barclay spends a fair amount of time and capital drawing the characters of the dragons and setting up their politics and environment. The dragons become as distinct as the humans. In particular, Barclay sets up an unwanted relationship between Sha-Kaan and Hirad Coldheart, our berserker barbarian. It's an interesting twist -- the typical 'buddy cop' template applied to a human and a dragon. They don't like each other but they gain a grudging respect. It could be dicey, but it turns out to be one of the more appealing parts of this novel.

Also appealing is the increased focus on Erienne, the sole woman amongst The Raven, and the Unknown and his protectors. Erienne provides a welcome relief from the more testosterone-oriented bits of swordplay, which are never less than thrilling. (No skipping past the fight scenes in this novel.) And the Protectors, undead warriors (not what you think!) whose souls are locked in a tank and sent out to fight in reclaimed bodies turn out to be a pretty interesting device. Barclay gets a lot of distance out of this vaguely Sfnal concept.

'Noonshade' does at least close the story opened in 'Dawnthief', and does so with style. You won't be hanging off a cliff at the end of this novel. On the other hand, Barclay casts enough nets so that readers who enjoyed the first two will certainly want to find the third. Here's my warning: having found the third, I'm already waiting for the fourth, and for his PS Publishing novella.