James Barclay

Orion

ISBN: 978-0-575-08199-4

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

Ravensoul is one of those novels which clearly has a lot to offer a particular audience; unfortunately, I am not part of that audience. The main reason for my lack of appreciation lies in the fact that it is (apparently) the seventh book in a series, and I haven’t read any of the earlier novels. However, it seems a novel which would be appreciated by those who have read the earlier books in the series.

For one thing, Ravensoul relies heavily on the personalities of the characters, including the relationships they have built up over time. It’s hard to get full benefit from the novel if you haven’t been a party to those relationships before. The Raven is – or was – a band of mercenary warriors. As this novel opens, the band has been all but destroyed by events in earlier novels, with most members now dead. Sol has survived, and is now both an inn-keeper and a reluctant king. Denser, the other survivor, has been working his way up the magical hierarchy to a position of power.

Now both are confronted by strangers claiming to be friends and fellow warriors returned from the dead. These strangers are patently dead themselves, and yet they are still walking around, talking, and know things that only the dead Ravens could know. Both Sol and Denser quickly accept that these are indeed their dead friends’ souls, inhabiting other more recently dead bodies in order to get a message to Sol and Denser. Once they’ve come to terms with that, Sol and Denser turn their attention to the message – and what an awful message of doom it is.

Much of the interaction in the novel relies on relationships rather than events. It appears that Barclay is good at developing credible and emotionally convincing relationships; some of the later scenes in this novel were touching although I had only just met the characters and did not have the benefit of six previous books of information and character-building. Each character was an individual, and many of them generated considerable empathy. In addition, the relationships appeared quite genuine and the interactions were utterly convincing.

The other strength of the novel is well written action and battle scenes. Again, these didn’t strike a strong chord with me, but will work well for others. These particular fights are generally described down at the level of sword to sword; they’re well choreographed and convincing and likely to appeal to readers with an interest in military fiction that takes such a close approach to the fighting. Personally, I prefer a greater focus on the big picture, so although I recognise the quality of this detail, I didn’t greatly enjoy it.

There is a plot which makes sense and is well structured; however, I get the sense that Barclay was more interested in tying up the series and leaving his characters in a place that would give readers a strong feeling of closure than in a new plot. Nevertheless, this was original and interesting and provided something for this new reader to engage with.

Ravensoul seems a novel likely to be welcomed by readers who have been following the series. The characterisations are strong, and the plot provides a resolution which ties a series up well, and is likely to give readers a strong sense of satisfaction. It is less likely to appeal to readers who are new to the series – but then, it isn’t really written for them. Even so, readers who like close-up fighting scenes will still find this a particularly good example of that kind of action. Barclay writes such scenes well. However, this is predominantly a novel for those who have followed the series to this point.