01/09/2005. Contributed by Sana Master
pub: Gollancz. 438 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-575-07332-2.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
'Demonstorm' is the latest offering from the king of impossible odds, James Barclay. It concludes the second trilogy about Barclay's mercenary group, the Raven. In this novel, the group are older, some might say wiser and retired. Whilst they are settling themselves into mundane normality, the trouble prone magical college of Xetesk has once again drawn the attention of the tribal Wesmen. Under severe attack and panicking, the mages misuse the power of dimensional magic and tear a hole in the fabric of the universe. Through this hole pour a host of demons who thrive on the magical ether that cocoons Balaia. The demons have drained the ether in their own universe and see this as the ideal location to cut their losses and settle, more powerful than previously. Their touch is anathema to humans, draining them of their life and souls. The power of the demons is such that they threaten not only the physical world, but also the dimension of the afterlife. As the world is besieged, there is only one group who might possibly prevail, the Raven.
Now, to be honest, the brief description I have provided above could probably be used for at least two of Barclay's previous novels. Barclay tends to repeat his storylines with maybe a little variation in location and action. Reaching the sixth book dedicated to the Raven, you know by now that in each one there will be impossible odds, for example, it will be the Raven six against maybe a hundred or two soldiers or demons. The Raven of course will prevail with the help of maybe a fist or two of elves. Furthermore, a strong character from the original Raven will die, maybe two of them will, because of course that displays the fallacy of the Raven and by doing so, their humanity. Someone will also concoct an impossible mission such as going into the demon realm, the only place from where they will be able to close the rift. A mission that they will carry out and probably accomplish successfully.
Predictable every time. Despite this, Barclay's writing is curiously compelling. I knew what was going to happen in the novel, I found the predictability ridiculous, yet I could not put the book down. Barclay's main strength, I think, lies in his ability to draw a thrilling fight. His characters are quite flat, but his ability to set up a high tension crisis situation and manipulate his characters within it is remarkable and this is what draws the reader in. Barclay is an unforgiving god, one that places his favourite subjects in unimaginably horrific situations and expects them to get out of it. In the course of this testing, he is quite willing to kill off as many favourite characters as need be. This ruthlessness shocks the reader, but it also provokes an immediate emotional response creating a bond between the reader and the protagonists. Ultimately, this ability is what makes up for the predictability and sheer ridiculousness of Barclay's prose and provides fans of fantasy with an action packed novel.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA