Saturday, November 10, 2012

Shadow of a Dark Queen, Raymond E Feist

"Ancient powers are readying themselves for a devastating confrontation, and a dark queen has raised a standard, gathering armies of unmatched might. A band of desperate men are forced into this battleground of good and evil, their only hope for survival is to face this ancient power and discover its true nature. 

Their quest is at best dangerous and at worst suicidal. 

Among them are some unlikely heroes: Erik, a bastard heir denied his birthright; his friend Roo, an irrepressible scoundrel with a penchant for thievery; and the mysterious Miranda, upon whom all must wager their lives. She appears to be an ally but also possesses a hidden agenda and may prove to be a more deadly foe when the final confrontation is at hand… Shadow of a Dark Queen is the first book in the Serpentwar Saga."

This was a re-read for me, and one that's been a long time coming. I used to ADORE Feist back when I was at Uni, and Magician is quite possibly my favourite fantasy novel of all time. The problem with Shadow of a Dark Queen, is that it isn't Magician! It takes place some sixty years after the events of his most well known masterpiece, and we meet up with some old favourites, most notably Nakor. Without him, this would have been a really flat read, and with him, it was flat but with some sparks of fun which made it bearable. Bearable is a bit harsh in fairness, but as with any author who's produced something absolutely outstanding, anything less than the same later on is always going to be a disappointment.

Obviously this one does a lot of hard work. It has that 'series opener' feeling really heavily all over it, as it painstakingly lays the groundwork for an epic battle to come. It felt a little drawn out and dull at times, and the weight of the military detail was a bit too much for me if I'm honest. Many parts felt like filler, to ensure enough pages for the full three books rather than to move the plot along and entertain.

As a long time Feist fan I stuck with it as I want to re-read the whole series. The joys with Feist, for me, are in catching up with some legendary characters and getting back into his beautifully imagined world. It's worth mentioning that if this had been the first Feist novel I'd ever picked up, we would never have become friends I don't think!

Coming back to this one so long after I first read it, it feels very much of its age. It's traditional fantasy through and through, and it's about as Old School as you can get. Farm boy/coming of age, rapes a-plenty, horrible beasties, Oracles and dimensional rifts. For anyone who's cut their fantasy teeth on the new wave, this is going to be a different world. Feist is miles apart from the likes of Lawrence and Lynch. That's not to say that he's not completely awesome in his own right, which he is, just that when you grow up with an author you tend to have a completely different view of them to those who first come across them much later on. Even just re-reading this one, I'm seeing a whole mass of faults I never noticed as a young 'un with my rose coloured specs firmly in place.

It's a solid and well written novel from one of the giants of the genre. There are some beautiful touches. And Roo is still one of my favourite fantasy characters today. But this shouldn't ever be your first Feist read. To get the best from this you need to have read Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon at the very least. IMHO of course. Once you have those under your belt, you can appreciate the best of Shadow of a Dark Queen all the more easily.

(It's probably worth mentioning that Shadow of a Dark Queen is just £1.99 on at the moment)


  1. Magician is one of my earliest fantasy loves as well; I even have the special 20th anniversary hardback edition Voyager did at the time. It's signed and everything. I loved the Serpent War saga, as I loved Roo and the kind of Dirty Dozen set up of Erik's company. That's one of my favourite tropes! I still think The Empire trilogy he did with Janny Wurts is one of the best I've ever read.

  2. Roo is wonderful :)
    And yes, absolutely agree re the Empire Trilogy.
    I need to read some Wurts alone, I keep trying but never seem to get going.