FSFH Book Review

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Abnett, Dan
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Dickens, Charles
Dietz, William C.
Dixon, Chuck
Donaldson, Stephen
Eddings, David
Edginton, Ian
Elrod, P. N.
Erikson, Steven
Feist, Raymond E.
Foster, Alan Dean
Fraction, Matt
Furman, Simon
Gaiman, Neil
Gemmell, David A.
Gerber, Michael
Gibbons, Dave
Golden, Christopher
Goodkind, Terry
Goodwin, Archie
Graham, Mitchell
Grant, Alan
Green, Jonathan
Green, Laurence
Guggenheim, Marc
Hagberg, David
Hambly, Barbara
Hamilton, Laurell K.
Hand, Elizabeth
Harras, Bob
Harrison, Mick
Heinlein, Robert A.
Herbert, Frank
Herbert, James
Hine, David
Hobb, Robin
Howard, Robert E.
Jacques, Brian
James, Charlie Hamilton
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Jeter, K. W.
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King, William
Knaak, Richard A.
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Lewis, C. S.
Lieberman, A. J.
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Luceno, James
Lumley, Brian
Macan, Darko
Manning, Russ
Martin, George R. R.
Marz, Ron
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McCaffrey, Anne
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Michelinie, David
Millar, Mark
Miller, John Jackson
Miller, Karen
Milligan, Peter
Moench, Doug
Moesta, Rebecca
Moore, Alan
Nicholls, Stan
Nicieza, Fabian
Nylund, Eric
O'Neil, Dennis
Ostrander, John
Paolini, Christopher
Perry, S. D.
Perry, Steve
Pratchett, Terry
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Quinn, David
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Reed, A. W.
Reed, Brian
Rice, Anne
Richardson, Nancy
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Rowe, Matthew
Rowling, J. K.
Rubio, Kevin
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn
Salvatore, R.A.
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Shultz, Mark
Simone, Gail
Simonson, Louise
Simonson, Walter
Smith, L. Neil
Spurrier, Simon
Stackpole, Michael A.
Stevenson, Robert Louis
Stewart, Sean
Stoker, Bram
Stover, Matthew
Straczynski, J. Michael
Stradley, Randy
Strnad, Jan
Sutcliff, Rosemary
Tolkien, J.R.R.
Traviss, Karen
Truman, Tim
Turtledove, Harry
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van Belkom, Edo
Veitch, Tom
Wagner, John
Watson, Jude
Whitman, John
Williams, Sean
Williams, Tad
Williams, Walter Jon
Windham, Ryder
Wolverton, Dave
Woodring, Jim
Wurts, Janny
Yeovil, Jack
Zahn, Timothy
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Still to come
Reviewing Literature
The Books of Raymond E. Feist

Raymond Elias Feist was born and raised in California.  With some friends he created the world of Midkemia for use in role-playing games.  Eventually he turned the vivid and fantastical Midkemia into the basis for one of the finest epic fantasies ever written, the Riftwar series.  He has since collaborated with several well-known authors, such as Janny Wurts, William R. Forstchen, Joel Rosenberg and Steve Stirling, in telling stories from the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan.
Average Review Score: 4.1 out of 5 (18 books)

In my opinion, 'Magician' is second only to Tolkien's work in terms of scale, ambition and sheer entertainment.  The story begins with two young boys living in Crydee castle whose lives are disrupted by the beginning of a war with mysterious men from another world, the Tsurani.  As the story progresses, the number of characters expands to include Princes Arutha and Lyam, the woodsman Martin Longbow, a wizard named Kulgan and Feist's most beloved creation, the street thief Jimmy the Hand.  There is also a supporting cast of elves, dwarves and Tsurani.  The beginning of the war against the Tsurani, the Riftwar, is one of this book's strongest elements with it starting as vague hints and indirect evidence until finally it evolves into a fierce battle for the survival of the Kingdom.  The other great thing about 'Magician' is the way in which it takes standard fantasy fare (boy becomes hero, elves, dwarves, nutcase Kings) and then adds a second fantastical world, Kelewan, which is just as well developed as the familiar Midkemia, with culture, mythology and it's own bizarre creatures.  What I liked about this duality is the way in which Midkemia and Kelewan are very much parallel worlds and that the Tsurani are invading out of political necessity rather than being the hoardes of some Dark Lord.  This point culminates in the fact that the war ends with a treaty (that's not entirely the end, but I won't give too much away), instead of the glorious triumph of good over evil.  Something else that I really enjoyed was the mythology of the terrible and powerful Valheru, a race of beings that actually destroyed the gods.  Although I love this book, I do have two gripes about it, the first being that, in places, it is almost carbon-copy LotR, going so far as to include the apparent loss of one of the heroes in an abandoned dwarf mine after an encounter with a great evil creature, only to have the character reappear very much alive.  My second, and much less important, gripe is the fact that the man who becomes the most powerful wizard on either of the two worlds is named Pug.  He briefly assumes the name Milamber on Kelewan, but for some reason that escapes me, Feist has him changing his name back to Pug.  I'd say this book is unmissable to any fan of epic fantasy and a worthwhile read to just about anyone else.
5 out of 5
Many people have criticised the second book in the Riftwar series as being inferior to it's predecessor.  To those people I would say, yes, I agree, but then there are very few fantasy books which aren't inferior to 'Magician'.  I got the impression that, with 'Silverthorn', Feist tried to avoid writing a book to compete with the first of the series and instead chose a different, less epic, format.  Here we are presented with a well-written and exciting fairytale in which a young Prince and an assortment of friends and allies must venture into dark and dangerous lands in order to save a beautiful Princess.  It is not so much a sequel to 'Magician' as it is a development of the characters from that book, as they attempt to live in the world reshaped by the Riftwar.  But is not only that, it is also a prelude to the final part of the trilogy and works well in that capacity.  We have mysterious assassins who are controlled by a dark and unknown power, we have the increase of hostilities with the old enemy, the Dark Elves and we see Pug (I can't get over that stupid name!) as he reopens the Rift in order to seek answers on Kelewan, revisiting old characters from the other side of the Riftwar.  I found this book to be perfectly enjoyable, albeit not overly ambitious.
5 out of 5
A Darkness At Sethanon
A perfect end to the Riftwar trilogy, this book involves the vague threats of 'Silverthorn' being resolved into a terrible danger to the existance of the Kingdom.  Meanwhile Pug and Tomas must join their considerable powers in order to find Macros the Black and confront an evil from the Rift that threatens both Midkemia and Kelewan.  This latter element is one of my favourite as we get to compare the friendship of of the greatest magician alive and the last of the dragonlords to their friendship in 'Magician', when they were just Pug and Tomas of Crydee Keep.  Here Feist's second string of characters, led by Arutha and Jimmy the Hand, also come into there own as they stand between the armies of the northern wastes and the ancient city of Sethanon.  Their storyline also encompasses one of the best fantasy sieges ever written, Armengar.  My favourite part of the siege is Guy's response to the capture of the city; blow it up!  People who didn't like 'Silverthorn' for it's distance from the template of 'Magician' will be pleased by the fact that this book, of all Feist's other books, is the true heir to that stunning first part of the Riftwar series.
5 out of 5
Krondor: The Betrayal
Having loved most of Feist's other books, I was truly disgusted by this rubbish novel.  It is the novel of an RPG computer game and this is all too apparent.  Feist seems unaware that direct game-to-novel conversions don't work because games are, by their nature, linear.  Here the main character Owen goes through the same actions over and over again; he goes to a place, he fights some enemies, he discovers a clue, he confronts a 'boss' character, he gets a magical artifact, he goes to another place, he fights more enemies etcetera, etcetera.  Not even the inclusion of Riftwar heroes Locklear and Jimmy the Hand sways the story, as they go through exactly the same motions that Owen does.  This book has only two redeeming features, the first being simply that it adds further dimension to the saga of Midkemia (and that ain't nearly enough to make the book worthwhile).  The second is the dark elf Gorath, who adds a bit of depth and realistic motivation to the dark elves who are otherwise portrayed as the quintessential 'bad guys'.  I really wouldn't bother with this book if I were you and I suggest you just read 'Krondor: The Assassins' of the Krondor trilogy.
2 out of 5
Krondor: The Assassins
This novel's first good feature is that it doesn't require you having read the first book of the series ('Krondor: The Betrayal') to get into it.  Therefore I can perhaps save you some grief here and now and say don't bother with the first book (or the third for that matter), just read this on it's own.  Of the Krondor trilogy, this is the only one that isn't a computer game adaption and the quality is infinitely better because of it.  We get a well written, properly paced novel of depth and intelligence.  We also get reassurance that the man who brought us the Riftwar trilogy hasn't gone round the bend!  The story here revolves around Jimmy the Hand and Squire William (that's Pug's son) as they investigate a resurgence of the Nighthawk assassins.  The final parts of the book, involving a desert fortress full of assassins and a particularly nasty demon, will have you on the edge of your seat as you read.  Now, this book isn't perfect and isn't nearly on a par with Feist's other books, but it is a good enough read to be worthwhile.
4 out of 5
Krondor: Tear Of The Gods
Oh dear.  This book (like the awful 'Krondor: The Betrayal') is the conversion of a computer game into a novel and (like the awful 'Krondor: The Betrayal') it doesn't work at all.  This book suffers all the same problems as it's predecessor, being linear, repetetive and utterly predictable.  Another terrible thing about it is the introduction of vampires into Midkemia's lively world.  At first I thought this was a great idea (being a fan of both fantasy and vampire novels), but is so poorly realised that you can almost see the words 'Bonus points awarded for completing unrelated side quest' flashing on a computer screen.  The only reason that this book isn't as bad as, or worse than, 'Krondor: The Betrayal' is the fact that this one at least had the strong foundation of 'Krondor: The Assassins' supporting it's shaky structure.
2 out of 5
Prince Of The Blood
Set twenty years after the Riftwar, this book features Borric and Erland, the twin sons of Prince Arutha.  For the first time we get to discover some details about the Empire of Great Kesh, so often mentioned in the other books of the series, as the two Princes make for the Keshian Empress' jubilee celebrations.  This book also continues the stories of some of the other characters of the Riftwar, including Pug, Jimmy and Locklear.  Jimmy has the most development here as we see him enter a stage of his life that comes as a genuine surprise.  However, it was Pug's brief appearance that I liked most, as we get a chance to understand how the duty of being who he is wears on him, I challenge you not to feel for him when he decides to withdraw from the world so that he does not have to watch his children grow old and die.  My favourite element of the book is the new character Nakor, whose power and wisdom is fuelled by a desire to have fun rather than a sense of duty.  There are downsides to this book, the first being that Borric and Erland are completely unremarkable characters.  The second fault is that when one of the main characters snuff it, his lifelong friends feel a bit sad and then just shrug it off.  I think I took his death harder than they did!  Ultimately, this book is just an interesting adventure story but lacks the epic scope, brilliant subtlety and deep philosophising of 'Magician'.
4 out of 5
The King's Buccaneer
A sequel to 'Prince of the Blood' and also a prelude to the Serpent War saga, this book is outstanding.  Focusing on Arutha's youngest child, Nicholas, it takes us on an adventure from the carefree world of youth into the depths of darkness and treachery, much as 'Magician' did before it.  Where 'Prince of the Blood' was simply a story set in the world of the Riftwar, this book is truly the continuation of the story of 'A Darkness at Sethanon', with Nicholas and his friends being drawn into the sinister plots of the Pantathian serpent priests.  There are some great verbal explorations of the nature of magic here too, as Pug, the magician Anthony and (my favourite character) Nakor interact with one another and try to grasp each other's perspectives.  There's plenty of action for the adventurous types among you, ranging from swashbuckling on the high seas (as suggested by the title) to ambushes on the mysterious continent of Novindus.  I did, however, feel that the way in which everyone ended up with their perfect romantic partner was a tad suspect.  The only other major fault I could find was that my copy of the book has Novindus misspelled on the map as 'Novinous'.  Dipsticks.
5 out of 5
Shadow Of A Dark Queen
The first book of the Serpentwar Saga.  Feist begins this book in the familiar way, with two young men living ordinary mundane lives.  However, rather than being swept up by a sudden attack or whatever, Feist takes a different tack with Roo and Erik, having them commit murder and become fugitives.  I was pleased by the way in which Feist later has his characters admit that the murder was as much an act of hatred as defence of their friend, a confession that many fantasy authors would avoid in regard to their 'heroes'.  The quest soon begins as a Roo and Erik join a company of (surprisingly likable) convicted murderers who are sent on a special mission by the new Prince of Kronor (Nicholas all grown up).  The action and adventure on Novindus is well written and the author uses his usual trick of having mundane things ground the fantasy in reality (in this case it's caring for horses).  Sadly, like 'Prince Of The Blood', this book lacks the grandeur and mystery that made the better books of the series truly great.  Also the passage of time is hard to get to grips with. I had a lot of trouble connecting the forty-something Nicholas here to the fiery youth of the previous book and the same goes for Arutha (who dies here in his sixties!).  As always, Nakor and Pug are very welcome characters and the latter gets a potential new love interest, which I'm looking for to see develop in the following books.
4 out of 5
Rise Of A Merchant Prince
The second book of the Serpentwar Saga.  The story begins as the few survivors of the mission to Novindus return to Krondor.  Roo Avery takes centre stage for this book as he sets out to make his fortune as a merchant (hence the title).  Rather than being a 'Magician'-style epic or an adventure story like the previous book, 'Rise of a Merchant Prince' is far more akin to the Empire trilogy, co-written with Janny Wurts.  This book deals with political and commercial plotting as Roo and his business allies attempt to thwart the efforts of their enemies to ruin them.  Although it lacks the action of some of the other books, I really enjoyed this one and Roo's honest humanity (he has a unsatisfying marriage and finds comfort in the arms of a manipulative woman, he allows anger to fuel his decisions as often as not) makes his character all the more believable.  In small doses, Feist also continues the larger story of the Serpentwar, with Nakor trying unite the magicians of Stardock behind the Kingdom and the demons from the beginning of the last book making a reappearance.  This leads me onto the one slightly unsatisfactory element of the book; the return to Novindus.  Although it was interesting to see Erik's new standing within the Crimson Eagles being put to the test, I really don't think the return to Novindus was at all necessary.  Feist could've covered what happens here in 'Shadow of a Dark Queen' if he'd tried.  The return just basically repeats most of the concepts of the previous mission (and the one before that, mentioned in 'Shadow...'s backstory).  All in all a good read, but not necesarily one for the action junkies.
5 out of 5
Rage Of A Demon King
The third book of the Serpentwar Saga and, in a word, brilliant!  In two words, bloody brilliant!  Feist manages to recapture the spirit of 'Magician' with this excellent book.  Half of the story is another of the author's wonderfully written war sequences in which familiar characters become heroes as they are forced to battle overwhelming odds for the sake of the Kingdom.  Erik in particular has a satisfying role to play as he rises through the ranks to become pivotal to the defence against the hoardes of Novindus.  The other half of the story deals with larger and more theological issues.  Midkemia's most powerful beings, including Pug, Tomas, Miranda, Macros and Nakor, gather to find and counter the true threat behind the attack on the Kingdom.  Here we see the book's only failing, whereby we learn that when we thought the Pantathians were the cause of the troubles we were wrong and when we thought the demons were behind the Pantathians we were wrong and, in fact, every conclusion previously drawn in the Riftwar/Serpentwar books is wrong.  Whilst clever, these discussions become repetetive and ultimately pretty pointless, as, after all that, the magicians decide to counter the immediate threat anyway.  However, that issue aside, this book has everything a fantasy lover could want; magic, intrigue, romance, heroism and LOTS of action.
5 out of 5
Shards Of A Broken Crown
The final book of the Serpentwar Saga sees the forces of the Kingdom of the Isles attempting to reclaim the lands lost to the Demon King's offensive.  All the usual classic Feist elements are in place, politics, military action and a magical mystery, making for another good book.  However, there are a few flaws, albeit minor ones.  The first is the remarkable series of improbably easy victories that allows Feist to quickly tie up most of the issue of how the Western Realm is to be reclaimed, which seemed a bit of a cop-out to me.  Then there's the issue of the Keshian spy.  We know he's a spy when we first encounter him and even the characters in the book realise he must be a spy, but for reasons that I couldn't discern, they still allow him free run of Krondor.  Worse is that Feist actually uses the cliched old 'this tastes a bit funny, it must be off' line, only to have Jimmy discover (shock, horror) he's been poisoned by the suspicious character.  My final qualm is the fact that, just when you thought it was a straight fight between Fadawah and the Kingdom; no, there's another dark power at play which Pug, Nakor, Tomas and Miranda have to dramatically step in to stop at the last minute.  Don't get me wrong, I love those characters (particularly Pug and Nakor), but their roles have become sadly repetetive.  There was one element of this book that is one of my favourite parts of the series and that is Dash's dealings with the Mockers, recalling the glory days of Jimmy the Hand.  This is by no means a bad book, in fact, it's very good, but I can't help but feel that Feist could've wrapped the story up in 'Rage Of A Demon King'.
4 out of 5
Talon Of The Silver Hawk
The first book of the Conclave of Shadows series.  Thirty years after the Serpentwar, Talon of the Silverhawk finds himself orphaned by a brutal raid on his tribal village.  He then becomes a pawn of the mysterious Conclave of Shadows as he seeks to discharge his life-debt to them and his blood-debt to those who killed his family.  Sadly, this book is fairly shallow and lacks the epic scope of much of Feist's other work.  The whole loner-seeking-revenge story is a fairly well-worn cliche and Feist doesn't add anything new to the concept.  Also, Tal's learning abilities are extremely hard to believe.  The majority of the book involves him mastering some new learning or other, meaning that by then end (maybe four or five years after he was a simple barbarian) he's learned more than a normal human could in a lifetime.  It's just too hard to believe that he can master cooking, swordsmanship, six languages, painting and a host of other things so rapidly.  In the action sequences in this book at no point is there any doubt as to whether Tal will win, he just goes from victory to victory, making the book, as I say, shallow.  Don't get me wrong, this book isn't a chore to read, but it lacks most of what has previously made Feist great.  Perhaps the pay-off will be in the subsequent volumes.
3 out of 5
'He waited.'
King Of Foxes
The second Conclave Of Shadows novel.  Talon of the Silver Hawk, aka Talwin Hawkins, contrives to enter the service of his sworn enemy, Duke Kaspar of Olasko.  When Kaspar betrays Tal, sending the young man to the bleakest most secure prison in the land, Tal starts the endgame for his vengeance.  I was pleased to discover that Feist manages to write an imprisonment storyline that I didn't find mindnumbing.  In fact, the escape sequence is a genuinely moving moment, making probably the best bit in the book.  The quality of the story overall is an improvement over 'Talon Of The Silver Hawk', but there is still something of a feeling of shallowness to it.  It reads more like a 'boys' own' adventure than the sweeping fantasy epics Feist is better known for.
4 out of 5
'A bird soared over the city.'
Exile's Return
The conclusion of the Conclave Of Shadows trilogy.  Well, I say 'conclusion' but more accurately it's just the last book of the trilogy, seeing as how the story isn't concluded at all.  By the end of this book you'll realise that the three books of this series are intended to set the scene for Feist's next series (supposedly the last of the Midkemia/Kelewan series'), the Darkwar Saga.  The story here follows Kaspar of Olasko in his exile in Novindus, where he learns some important life lessons and finds himself burdened with a dark artifact from another world.  Feist remains an excellent writer and this book is very easy to read and appreciate.  However, once again there's a feeling of shallowness to the plot, particularly in relation to Kaspar's linear and somewhat contrived quest to rid himself of the Talnoy.  There is a counterbalance to the book's faults in the scenes involving further discussion of the nature of the Gods.  Some might find these a boring break in the action, but I love Feist's tangents to explore these concepts.  Another good thing is the new enemy introduced; the cruel Dasati and their (all but) invincible warriors, the Talnoy.  The way this new threat is established will leave you in no doubt that the Darkwar Saga will feature a struggle every bit as compelling as those in the Riftwar and the Serpentwar.
4 out of 5
'The riders came at him.'
Flight Of The Nighthawks
The first book of the Darkwar Saga, supposedly the last series to be set on Midkemia.  I'll say first off that this book is a definite improvement over the Conclave Of Shadows trilogy, even if it doesn't match up to 'Magician' or 'The King's Buccaneer'.  Gone are the hurried sections of 'character spends time here and learns something' as well as the Boys' Own adventure feel of the previous three novels.  Here Feist returns to the style of writing and type of story that made him one of my favourite fantasy authors of all time.  The Conclave of Shadows learns that the dreaded Nighthawks have resurfaced in Kesh, undoubtably in the service of the psychotic necromancer Leso Varen, so it sends it's agents to tackle the problem.  One thing I really enjoyed in this book was the way Tal, Kaspar and Caleb each have to combine their skills and experiences (shown in the Conclave of Shadows books) in order to work through the muddy and brutal politics of Kesh.  Another good thing is the way in which Feist introduces a group of new characters in a way that he has proven works best for him; showing them as disaffected youths who suddenly find themselves set on a path into the dangerous unknown (like Pug and Tomas or Erik and Roo).  I was disappointed that I worked out who Varen was possessing long before the book revealed it, but I don't know if that's because the ending was predictable of whether, having spent time as an evil magician trying to take over the world, I could simply put myself in Varen's shoes!  Overall, not one of the author's greatest works, but it shows enough of what we love to make it worthwhile as well as showing the promise of the Darkwar Saga as a whole.
4 out of 5
'The storm had broken.'
Into A Dark Realm
The second Darkwar novel.  I don't usually hold with bridge novels, but this book is an exception to that rule.  It has no strong beginning and resolves none of it's story threads, but for once the journey portrayed is enough to make the book worth reading.  There are four main story threads which take us further into the beginnings of the Darkwar.  The worst of these storylines is Miranda's search for Leso Varen, for two reasons.  The first is that Feist doesn't show us much of Kelewan and I would have been more than pleased to revisit the world of the Empire trilogy.  The second reason is simply that you can tell who Varen is from the beginning, so there's no mystery.  A more traditional Feist thread involed Jommy, Tad and Zane enrolling in a Roldemish university and subsequently beginning their instruction as officers in Roldem's army.  Despite this being a little familiar in general, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of impending war it created.  The two other storylines give us a crash course in the brutal culture of the Dasati.  In one we meet the upcoming Dasati lord Valko and his discovery of a power beyond the Dark God of the Dasati.  The other features Pug, Nakor, Magnus and Ralan Bek beginning their journey through the Hall of Worlds and into the second plane of reality.  I really enjoyed learning the truth of the power of the Talnoy, but wasn't so keen on the return (yet again) of Macros the Black.  As I say, I found this an enjoyable book and I hope Feist will deliver on the promise shown here.
4 out of 5
'A woman screamed in outrage.'
Wrath Of A Mad God
The conclusion of the Darkwar Saga.  Pug, Nakor and Magnus continue their explorations of the Dasati realm, hoping to find the truth behind the plans of the Dark God of the Dasati.  Meanwhile, Miranda tries to prepare the Tsurani for the impending invasion of their world and, back on Midkemia, the agents of the Conclave of Shadows work to support their leaders.  I'll get the flaws out of the way first, shall I?  There's a storyline in which Kaspar of Olasko's forces find a previously unknown enclave of elves on a remote island.  This, in itself, is not a problem, but the storyline never really goes anywhere and we don't really learn anything new.  In fact the silly way in which first the elves, then the Quor and then Sven-ga'ri (all progressively more holy and righteous) are introduced is actually a bit annoying.  Which leads me onto the book's second biggest flaw, which is Feist's bizarre need to escalate certain story elements for no apparent reason.  Much like the progression mentioned above, the author also constantly revises what's actually the threat facing our heroes.  First it's Leso Varen, then the Dasati, then the Dark God and then the Dread.  It's like he's never quite satisfied with how dire each threat is and decides to invent a new, bigger one.  The final flaw in the book is the revelation of who's been behind all the events of all the book's up to now, which seemed a somewhat lame attempt to tie the entire series together.  Now, onto the good!  Feist, as ever, is an expert at drawing you into his worlds and, more specifically, his characters and that's as evident here as it ever was.  My favourite element of this book was the return of the Tsurani, with their intricate politics and steadfast honour.  In fact the way in which the author portrays the Tsurani army in it's desperate last stand against the Dasati goes much of the way to counteracting the book's downsides.  I was also impressed and moved by the sense of tragedy that Feist manages to convey regarding the fate of Kelewan and it's inhabitants.  So, not his best work, but worth reading for the Tsurani/Dasati conflict.
4 out of 5
'Miranda screamed.'

If you liked Feist:
Well (as you will read time and time again on this website), there's always Tolkien's work.  Also, I think fans of Feist would enjoy David Eddings' Belgariad books or perhaps the Song of Ice and Fire books of George R. R. Martin.

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