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Talon of the Silver Hawk: Conclave of Shadows: Book 1

by Raymond E Feist

(US: Eos, $24.95, 380 pages, hardcover, 2003. UK: Voyager, £17.99, 387 pages, hardback, September 2002; Voyager, £11.99, 390 pages, trade paperback, April 2003..)

Review by Stuart Jaffe

I'm starting to think that as readers we should all beware of fantasy novels that have a detailed map in the opening pages. cover scan (US edition)Okay, okay. Perhaps that's too much of a blanket statement. Yet the presence of these little artistic bits often raises a red flag and should, at the least, warn us to approach with caution. Raymond Feist's Talon of the Silver Hawk has a two-page spread that marks so many cities, regions and bodies of water I think I'd have a good chance of driving from one town to the next. Unfortunately, the story itself left me with a flat tyre.

Here's the lowdown. Once upon a time, an army that may have belonged to the Duke of Olasko slaughtered a small nation, destroying one town after another. When they finished, they went home to drink and whore not realizing that one young boy had survived -- Kieli. What do cover scan (UK edition)you know? Kieli is none too happy about the experience and he thinks blind vengeance is a good path to take. A few wandering travelers who also happen to be well connected take the young boy under their wing and hone him into a weapon for their own purposes. Turns out they want to get Olasko, too. The plot thickens with some mysterious purposes that have been saved for later books (Talon of the Silver Hawk is billed as Conclave of Shadows: Book One), but none of it matters. This book is the first in a series and, thus, mostly concerned with setting things up.

On the positive side, Feist excels at describing moments of fast-paced action. Battles between the many or the few flow with impressive skill, always maintaining tension and excitement. And this book is filled with plenty of action.

If nothing else, this is a fast read. Perhaps that is a good thing, because, whenever the pace slows, we are all too aware of the negative side -- there isn't much else to the book. Oh, I don't mean that nothing happens. Just nothing that interesting. And even that is too broad a statement (which is in itself a rather broad statement). There are characters with some conflicts and there are moments of interest, but it is all treated with kid gloves as if it were a screenplay for a summer popcorn film. Everything happens with little inner struggle or acknowledgement of consequences. It's all rather ... flat.

That's not to say the book lacks excitement. It's just that I felt I gained nothing from the experience. Even the entertainment value did not last. Now I've read plenty of fantasy novels (more than might be considered healthy), and many infinity plus readers have heard my constant gripes about these books. Unfortunately, this novel backs those gripes up. Too much of the same old same old (and that darned map). Thankfully, the novel did not go beyond 380 pages, which these days is regarded as short. Ah, for the happier times when you thought a fantasy novel was satisfyingly thick if it reached 256 pages...

This was my first exposure to Raymond E. Feist, though I had been hearing of him for some time. I wanted to like the book, to see that the masses might be right about his "New York Times Bestselling" status. Yet, here we are again, finding the books are selling great only because they follow the simplest and most expected paths. No challenge, no provocation, no interest. Perhaps the rest of this series will improve and make the first book better in the larger context, but I don't plan to find out. One trip was enough.

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