A DISTANT VOICE ECHOES IN HIS MIND: RISE UP AND BE A TALON FOR YOUR PEOPLE…
This start of a new trilogy is a promising, but ponderous revenge tale, with plenty of room for improvement in the sequels.
Talon Of The Silver Hawk
(Conclave Of Shadows Trilogy, Book 1)
Raymond E. Feist
Genre: High Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Date: 4th August 2003 (First Published 2002)
It is a daunting proposition coming to a book set in a fictional universe that has been established in several previous novels that you’ve not yet read. That was the situation I found myself in when I began reading Talon Of The Silver Hawk, book one of the Conclave Of Shadows trilogy. Although Raymond E. Feist is an author I have been aware of for many years, and even have a number of his novels on my bookshelf, I had never actually read any of his work, until now.
Obviously, there were concerns that Talon Of The Silver Hawk would contain back-story elements that would make following the plot difficult for the uninitiated, such as myself. But once I was satisfied that, despite cameo appearances by a handful of characters from earlier stories, it wasn’t essential to have any previous knowledge of Feist’s previous books, I was good to go.
The book begins promisingly enough, in the mountainous wilderness that is home to the Orosini tribe; a people whose culture seems to have been heavily based on that of the Native Americans. Readers are immediately introduced to the story’s protagonist, a young Orosini boy, who has embarked upon a dream quest that marks his transition from childhood to adulthood. During this age old ritual, Orosini youths are expected to ascend the mountain of Shitana Higo and wait there until they receive a vision from the gods that will reveal their true name and true purpose in life.
Having ascended Shitana Higo as a boy named Kielianapuna, four days later he experiences the vision that allows him to begin the descent as a young man who will be known as Talon Of The Silver Hawk among his people.
Barely inches from his nose stood a silver hawk, one leg bent as it rested its talon upon his arm, its claws digging into the skin but not piercing it…
…Kieli’s eyes locked on the bird’s, and then the words came. Rise, little brother. Rise and be a talon for your people. As you feel my talon upon your arm, remember you can hold and protect, or you can rend and revenge.
Though his true name was easy to ascertain from the vision, Talon is not sure how to interpret what his purpose in life is to be, but he does not dwell on it as he makes the return journey to the villages of the Orosini. Predictably enough, Talon returns from his vision quest just in time to witness his tribe being massacred by a merciless raiding party of foreigners. His attempt to intervene proves futile as he is struck down and left for dead.
After such an exciting and fast moving opening chapter, it was probably too much to hope that the rest of the novel would continue in this vein. From this point onward the narrative slows down to a crawl, becoming very ponderous with only the occasional upturn in momentum.
In the wake of the massacre of the Orosini it transpires that Talon is the sole survivor of the attack, making him literally the last of the Orosini. This knowledge helps Talon come to the grim realisation as to the meaning of his vision; that his purpose in life is to avenge the genocide of his people.
While his rescuers who found and nursed him back to health, bringing him to the neighbouring forest lands around Latagore, appear to be an ordinary inn-keeper and his employees, Talon’s instincts tell him that the group have ulterior motives for taking him in. This proves to be the case as Talon eventually discovers that fate has delivered him to the Conclave Of Shadows, a clandestine group dedicated to opposing the forces of evil and tyranny in the world. The leadership of the group wishes to train Talon to join their ranks, and subsequently undertake a long-term covert mission on their behalf. In exchange, the Conclave Of Shadows will provide Talon with the resources to fulfil his obligation to kill every person who participated in the annihilation of the Orosini.
Talon is not able to refuse, as Orosini custom dictates that he must serve the person who saved his life, until released from that servitude.
Although the novel is relatively short, it does span a period of several years, and most of part one of the book is spent chronicling Talon’s studying and training, through his teenage years up until his “graduation” as a twenty-something man, equipped to be an agent of the Conclave Of Shadows.
As mentioned earlier, the narrative is rather slow much of the time, this is particularly true for part one of the book, although the pacing improves quite a bit during part two, with Talon reaching full adulthood and commencing service for the Conclave Of Shadows. Despite the lack of pace the story is never actually boring as a result. What does hurt the book, however, is the fact that it doesn’t really feel like a whole novel. One could make the argument that this is to be expected of the first instalment of a trilogy, but in this instance, Talon Of The Silver Hawk feels more like an excessively long prologue, laying the foundations for the real story to begin in the next book, rather than a complete novel, in its own right.
Upon completing the book, I never really felt that anything of consequence occurred during the story. Even the ending, which sees Talon avenge his people felt almost anti-climactic. It certainly doesn’t have the impact it might have done if it had happened much sooner in the story. But by the end, the extermination of the Orosini had become painted as a case of “wrong place, wrong time”, rather than a malicious act of xenophobia; essentially a small event that was a means to an end, in a much larger political game.
The weaknesses in the plot would have been easier to overlook if I was able to become invested in any of the characters. Unfortunately, with the exception of one background character who plays a minor role in the book, I didn’t find any of the main characters particularly interesting. I can only hope that the sociopathic temptress, Alysandra, plays a more significant role in the sequels. Knowing that this agent of the Conclave is someone who would obey any order given to her, no matter how unethical or immoral, makes her a character that should have more time devoted to her.
In summation, I’m not quite sure how I feel about my first exposure to the work of Raymond E. Feist. Had this have been a stand alone novel I would have been more disappointed than I was. But having said that, Talon Of The Silver Hawk is a well written tale that successfully offered me enough to make me want to read the second book of the trilogy. I suspect that won’t be the case for some other prospective readers, who will not want to continue beyond book one.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.