Raymond E. Feist, Talon of the Silver Hawk (Eos Books, 2003)

"A great deal of Talon's life was now centred around waiting. He was waiting to discover what he was being trained to do, for now he was certain that Robert and the others had a purpose for him."

Having been well entertained by Feist novels in the past, I was anticipating great things from this new work, the first in a brand new Midkemia sequence. So it was with great surprise that I found myself somewhat bored, and disappointed by the lack of anything recognisably Feistian. Had the body-snatchers done away with Raymond? Talon, the central character, had survived a massacre and was growing up, s-l-o-w-l-y, while being considered as potentially special by representatives of the Conclave of Shadows. As if there was any doubt. The problem was that the story read like Feist was trying to write in another authorís style, and the name that sprang to mind was Guy Gavriel Kay. Feist has a gift for the grandiose, and when on form is capable of the spectacular fantasy which has brought him international success. Kay has the ability to take the minutia and subtleties of life, then weave them into something fascinating. But Feist is Feist and Kay is Kay and never the twain shall meet. It was a good hundred pages before anything happened which seemed to me as if it came from the keyboard of the bloke who wrote Magician. Even then, it took a personal appearance by some old favourites, and a generous if sudden thickening of the plot, to ramp up my interest level.

Tal's frustration came to the surface. 'For years I have done as I was told. I owe you my life, several times, but at some point you have to trust me. I don't know if itís because of you' — he pointed at the other four men in the room in turn — 'or because of something Iíve done, playing this role youíve created.'

In Part Two, things change. Suddenly, the story includes Death-Dancers, high magic versus low politics, assassination attempts, rumpy-pumpy, and the sensation of an entire civilisation on the brink of turmoil. The Feist I knew was back, and instead of long, drawn out explanations of the mundane, there was intrigue and rapid development. The central character had assumed a whole new identity, and the story was an adventure novel. But, as suggested by the extract above, Talwin Hawkins, as he had become, still had no real idea why, or for what ultimate purpose, his life had been shaped. Nor does the reader, as Feist chooses to keep us in the dark as much as possible. As a plot device, I think it was intended to be Machiavellian, but it made me feel as if my imagination had been plunged into murky water. Whether it was a shark pen, or just another trout farm, I couldn't see far enough to tell.

In previous story arcs such as the celebrated Rift War trilogy, and the more recent Serpent War saga, there were plenty of interesting characters, lots of page turning action, more twists than a bag full of snakes and a clear idea as to what was going on. Even when the characters were out of the know, the reader — and author — always had an overview from which it was possible to make sense of the world. Plus, there was the chance that someone central might pop his clogs before the end. Not so with Talon of the Silver Hawk, which starts off trying to be something it is not, and ends up with a plot development which I found embarrassingly glib. Almost the entire novel had been about establishing the credibility of the central character, only to have him make a decision which, according to that characterís own training, is dangerously foolish. Worse, heís nudged into this lunacy by characters who should have a much smarter plan, just as they did in previous novels. No doubt a legion of Feist readers will buy this book, and enjoy it immensely. But for me this was fantasy by numbers, and some of them were out of order. Raymond E. Feist has written some fabulous novels, and Iím sure he will do so again, but Talon of the Silver Hawk isnít one of them.

[Nathan Brazil]