Monday, May 18, 2009

Rides a Dread Legion, by Raymond E. Feist

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rides a Dread Legion
Raymond E. Feist
EOS: 2009

Here we are with a new Riftwar novel from Raymond Feist, Rides a Dread Legion, Volume 1 of the Demonwar Saga. Set ten years after Wrath of a Mad God, Rides a Dread Legion introduces a new old threat to Midkemia, a threat that once again could destroy all life on the planet.

Rides a Dread Legion begins by introducing Arimantha, a warlock who defrauds towns by raising demons only to banish them for payment. Except, this time something goes wrong and Arimantha sees other hands at work. I wrote elsewhere about the opening pages to this novel and how bad they were. I won’t repeat them here, so click the link and prepare to be appalled.

The opening three chapters introduce new characters to the world – Amirantha in Chapter One. Sandreena, a Holy Knight on a mission of her own (to give the quick and dirty version) in Chapter Two. The most important introduction is that of the Taredhel in Chapter Three. The Taredhel are yet another race of Elves – only this time the Taredhel are Elves From Another World. Yep. Space Elves!! The Taredhel are fleeing the destruction of their once-worlds-spanning empire from endless hordes of Demons. Their last place of refuge: Midkemia, a world they only just discovered was their near-mythical “Home”, the world of their origin. Unlike other elves, the Taredhel has a serious superiority complex and a need to rule and they plan to subjugate Midkemia even as they try to fight off the demons.

It all ties together, really. Some parts of the novel are even touching, though I think a younger Raymond Feist would have handled the ending to the novel with a bit more grace and skill – taking a moment that could have been one of the most powerful of the series so far, and nailing all of our hearts to the wall. Except, he doesn’t. I would make a comparison to a semi-similar moment (though under different circumstances), but to do so would spoil what happens in this book. The ending to Rides a Dread Legion does set up the second (and concluding) volume to the Demonwar Saga duology, and provides an emotional shock to fans of the series, but even that is a shadow of what could have been.

That’s really where the overall disappointment comes from – this novel, and series as a whole, is a shadow of what could have been, of what was. Where Feist would once draw readers in and make them feel part of the story, the result of 2009 is to bluntly explain every thought and action as if the readers were children unable to understand storytelling.

Storytelling this isn’t. It’s recitation.

Like many a reader of my generation, Raymond Feist looms large in my childhood discovery and love of fantasy. I owe much of my love of the genre to Magician and the subsequent novels set on Midkemia and Kelewan. That first trip through the Hall of Worlds and Honest John’s in A Darkness at Sethanon remains a treasured memory. I can’t figure out if Feist changed, or I did.

If Rides a Dread Legion was written by anybody other than Raymond Feist, and if this was not part of the Riftwar series, I’d have quit this novel LONG before the finish. The fact that there is any resonance whatsoever is entirely dependent on having read everything that came before and having a fifteen year relationship with Pug and Tomas. If this wasn’t Riftwar, and if this was not one of the last five volumes planned for Pug and Midkemia, I’d be long gone.

But it is Riftwar, and longtime fans of the series will want to read this. Not because it’s a good book. It isn’t. Fans of the series will want to read it just to see what happens to Pug and how Feist plans to wrap it all up.

Let’s be honest here. The series isn’t what it once was and there is a sense to the prose that Feist is just coasting. I hope that I’m wrong, because I have this inherent belief that most writers truly try to do the best they can with every novel and pour as much of their talent and craft into it as possible. The thing is – Feist has done better. Much better. He has written stories with so much more heart and character than this one. He has created characters which are truly memorable. Once upon a time.

That was then.


Darryl said...

You have literally taken the words from right out of my mouth.

Does this guy even care anymore? It reads like a student essay written the night before due date.

Can he even see the difference between Magician and this book?

As an aspiring writer, I imagine that a writer will put so much effort into the first book because you need to have a cracker to succeed, but after the Riftwar and Kelewan series, Feist has been absolutely lukewarm at best. And yes, we just read it to find out what's gonna happen to ol Pug!

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