James Barclay is undoubtedly one of the finest heroic fantasy authors writing today, his Raven series are incredible novels with some really exceptional battles and fight scenes. Rise of the TaiGethen is the second novel in his series that feature those immortal forest dwellers, the Elves - and follows on from the very well received novel "Once Walked with Gods". It's set within the same world as the Raven but with a completely new cast & crew.
This proud race are largely enslaved by their implacable and relentless enemy - humanity and the great Elven cities are now little more than prison camps. The Elves themselves are forced to destroy their own rainforest to harvest the timber for their human masters.
There are a few survivors who remain free but they are fragmented and squabbling pockets of resistance that must unite if they are ever to have hope of freeing their race. Many believe that the battle is already lost, but Auum is not one of them. He knows Men's numbers are great but their tactics are weak; he knows Men think the Elves are already beaten; he is convinced that his people must fight now, or see their race destroyed.
Takaar disagrees. He believes Elven salvation lies in unlocking their magic, not in fighting pitched battles against Man. He is determined to save his people too, but his tactics are entirely different . . . and if some Elves must die now to ensure Calaius will be free of Man in the future, it's a sacrifice he is willing to make.
The Elves must choose sides but whatever the decide victory will win their freedom . . . and failure will mean extermination.
Decades have now passed since the events in "Once Walked with Gods" and the world is a very different place, the author wastes no time at all in getting right to the sort of action that makes his novels so great. This includes fight scenes that are brilliantly choreographed, descriptive and fast paced.
Barclay uses the plight of the Elves and the subsequent battle for freedom to raise some very interesting questions but manages to do so without coming across as overly preachy or condescending. It reminds me of how Avatar "could" have been done if it hadn't been stolen from Ursula K Le-Guin (badly). On the surface we've got the raping of the natural world and lack of sustainability theme but look below this and there is so much more to find including terrorist warfare against an occupied force, slavery and the use of concentration camps, the "caste" system and even drug use / abuse.
Like Andy Remic, Barclay is one of the few authors writing Heroic Fiction today that can match the late King of the genre, David Gemmell and his ability to create tough, larger than life characters is only surpassed by his dynamic and andrenalin fueled action sequences. Rise of the TaiGethen is the authors most accomplished novel yet with a greater depth to the narrative and characterisation.
The characters are a very strong part of the novel, I loved how the author managed to create such dynamic individuals that uniquely Elven and yet have enough human traits to really draw you in. There is also a character who is schizophrenic and he's handled with a great degree of intelligence and thought.
When you factor in the many themes of this book and series you arrive at something quite special, a powerful novel with many messages, powerful characters and above all a great storyline.
Written by Antony, 19 March 2012.