01/04/2009. Contributed by RJ Barker
pub: Gollancz. 628 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-575-07622-4. pub: Gollancz. 628 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-57507-982-3.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.jamesbarclay.com
A decade after the events of 'Cry Of The Newborn' and the Conquord teeters on a precipice. The invading Tsard plot their return to Conquord lands and the religious powers plan to claw back the power they have lost with the rise of the magic wielding Ascendants. Politicians wrestle with the changes being wrought and find themselves fighting from within and without.
The Ascendents themselves: Arducious, Mirron and Ossacar are still coming to terms with their abilities and Mirron is also bringing up her young son, the product of her rape by Garion, the fourth, darker Ascendant.
Garion himself has found refuge with the war-hungry Tsard and continued to practice necromancy. With his new-found powers, he kidnaps his son and marches on Conquord lands with an army composed of Tsardon warriors and the implacable dead.
Trudge, trudge, trudge.
Epic Fantasy requires epic distances to play out over and it's these distances that are my problem with 'Shout For The Dead.'
As in 'Cry Of The Newborn,' the characters are well-drawn and even the adversarial characters have a sympathetic side that makes them seem very real. The machinations of the self-serving religieuse are often fascinating studies in obsession and an inability to see past a favoured worldview. As the Conquord disintegrates from within and without, there's an almost palpable feeling of panic and claustrophobia. I almost wanted to shout at them, 'You fools, The Ascendant are your only hope!' I doubt they would listen.
There's also a clear and pleasing logic to the way things work, the magical powers limit themselves to some degree. Just as often, it's human foibles that provide the limits.
Mr. Barclay isn't squeamish neither. You'll just be getting to like a character and he will kill him which adds another layer of reality to the goings on. You're genuinely unsure of who will or won't make it to the end.
Garion, is particularly well painted maniacal, power and revenge obsessed and still you can see the glimmers of a boy who wanted to be liked and respected. He just went about it the wrong way and you can feel his frustration as people fail to understand. At the same time, you are repelled by his obvious self-knowledge and ruthless methods. No sacrifice is too great for Garion to compel others to make, even his own son.
Garion is also the problem. He has a long way to go with his army. From the lands of the Tsardon to the Capital of the Conquord and I felt every mile. Never less than lovingly written, the endless march of the dead becomes wearing. The first time the shock and awe and sheer unstoppable power of the dead is shown it's wonderful. The second, still good but they just keep going and going and going, constantly re-establishing their superiority but not really adding to the plot.
There are high points, a wonderful mad dash around a naval station being the one that really sticks in my mind but it increasingly starts to seem like filler. It feels as if Mr. Barclay had to meet a wordcount and would have been more comfortable writing a shorter book.
If you haven't read 'Cry Of The Newborn', you would have no trouble picking up the plot threads and reading through 'Shout For The Dead'. However, I'm not sure you would seek out the first book on the strength of this one, which is a pity. 'Cry Of The Newborn' is a great book. 'Shout For The Dead' less so.
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