Fuck Off, Feist

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

It finally happened. I’d known that Ray Feist was deeply unlikely to radically improve as a writer for some time now, but I’d honestly intended to see these reviews of the Riftwar Cycle through to the end just to see how stupid they got. I was rewarded with a brutal reminder of a bitter fact: the more you overlook small transgressions from an author, the more likely it is that they will eventually come out with something abhorrent to punish you for your indulgence.

I had long ago written off Feist’s ability to write female characters. Whilst it isn’t true to say that the women in his books – those who aren’t vilified, at any rate – are defined solely by their capacity to give succor and comfort to the men in their life, Feist does have a marked tendency to cast women in support roles – see Miranda, who does sweet fuck all for the entire Conclave of Shadows and Darkwar Saga series until everyone else who could potentially do the job is literally in a different dimension. It is also notable that when Feist presents one of the obligatory bildungsromans he feels obligated to include in all his novels, it’s always that of a young man or group of boys; Feist writes over and over again about young men growing up and discovering, amongst other things, the pleasure of sex, but more or less never gives women the bildungsroman treatment. (The major exception is the Empire Trilogy, but Mara in that doesn’t exactly have the same enjoyable and risk-free and fun introduction to sexual activity Feist gives his male characters.)

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Dungeons & Dragonball Z

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

So, as we previously saw in the Conclave of Shadows series, Pug and pals are busy trying to stop the machinations of Leso Varen, a puppet of the Nameless One, who seems to be orchestrating an invasion of the plane of reality the world of Midkemia exists on by the Dasati, a murderous race from the next level of reality down. It’s heavy stuff, and it’s in this trilogy where the shit finally hits the fan. The Darkwar Saga, as the name implies, focuses on the Darkwar, the third of the five conflicts covered by the overall Riftwar Cycle from Magician onwards. We already saw last time that Feist’s writing has hit a downward spiral, but how far down does that spiral go? The Darkwar Saga might just give us a glimpse of rock bottom.

Flight of the Nighthawks

The first book in the series doesn’t actually involve any actual war at all – in fact, it feels more like a fourth book in the Conclave of Shadows series. Pug and the gang are still trying to work out what to do about an imminent invasion from another dimension when they are alerted to the fact that the Nighthawks, a feared cabal of assassins they believe to be connected to Leso Varen, have been at work in the Empire of Great Kesh. So, Tal Hawkins, Kaspar, and Pug’s son Caleb are dispatched to investigate. Accompanying Caleb are his adoptive sons, Tad and Zane, who through a series of mishaps have ended up discovering the existence of the Conclave and have been pressed into its service. Skullduggery, action, adventure, and multiple viewpoints ensue.

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Chirps of the Reading Canary

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

After the Serpentwar saga, Ray Feist’s career went a little off the rails. I don’t intend to dwell overly much on the circumstances since they’re personal to Feist and he’s laid them out himself for those willing to dig into the matter; suffice to say that the progression of the Midkemian timeline stalled a little. Feist busied himself with two series which are generally considered to be not his best work, and aren’t really mainline entries in the core story of the saga anyway. The Riftwar Legacy, starting with Krondor: the Betrayal, actually kicked off as a novelisation of the video game series beginning with Betrayal at Krondor, and ended up stalling half-finished until Feist penned the recent novella Jimmy and the Crawler to replace the last two books in the series, which were never completed. Didn’t like the game, don’t expect to like the books, cannot be arsed to review. Legends of the Riftwar series was a set of collaborations with other authors detailing side-stories from the era of the first Riftwar, including one volume written in collaboration with Steve Stirling and ahahaha, no, as longterm Ferretbrain readers who remember his brief stint as a commenter here will know Steve and I have the sort of history where it’s best we stay out of each other’s way.

Happily, over time Feist was able to put his life back together to the point where he felt able to actually pick up the threads where he’d left them at the end of Shards of a Broken Crown and continue where he left off. As you may remember, at the end of that book the godlike Pug set up the Conclave of Shadows, a sort of magical spy agency dedicated to fighting a covert war against the agents of the Nameless One, the ultimate god of evil who can steal your soul and enslave your mind if you find out his name is Nalar.

Shit! Sorry about that.

Anyway, this next trilogy is entitled Conclave of Shadows and gosh, I wonder what overbearing magical conspiracy for good will feature prominently here?

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The Reading Canary: The Serpentwar Saga

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Story So Far

Once upon a time Ray Feist was a player in someone’s Dungeons & Dragons campaign, which was based in the world of Midkemia and had a backstory concerning regular invasions from other worlds through dimensional rifts. Inspired by the action of the campaign and the game world’s history, Feist decided to write a novel based on it, and produced Magician. Much to everyone’s surprised, Magician turned out to be an entertaining and cheerful little page-turner without too many goofs aside from the Dwarven glory hole, and Feist was able to spin it into a trilogy (referred to as the Riftwar Saga) which I reviewed here.

Almost all of Feist’s career since then has been devoted to continuing to chronicle the world of Midkemia, with an eye to covering the five great Riftwars from the campaign’s history. So, you’ve got The Riftwar Cycle, which was is the overall series, and The Riftwar Saga which is the opening trilogy, and a bunch of other novels and subseries within it to cover the rest of the material. However, rather than launching into the next war, Feist seemed to want to branch out into covering other parts of the timeline. Thus, in collaboration with Janny Wurts he produced the Empire Trilogy, which dealt with the internal politics of the world of Kelewan (the aggressors in the Riftwar), and off his own bat he wrote the first two books of Krondor’s Sons, which covered the peacetime adventures of the sons of one of the original trilogy’s protagonists.

Then he changed publishers and his new outlet flat-out rejected the third book of Krondor’s Sons, wanting him to produce an all-new series for them instead. So we got the Serpentwar Saga, which is Feist finally getting around to covering the next epochal war of the sequence. Will he get over his bad habit of making the Kingdom (the medieval-Europe equivalent) look like the unchallengeable good guys whereas every other culture he dealt with (which are inspired by various real-world cultures) are bad and evil? Will he develop a plot structure beyond “kid grows up in privilege, becomes squire, has adventures, eventually becomes big man in the Kingdom”? Will he get over his obsession with the main character of Magician, a sorcerer with power unparalleled in Feist’s universe with the unlikely name of Pug? Let’s see.

Oh, by the way, this is also the series where Feist got the whole grimdark grittiness bandwagon rolling in mainstream bestselling fantasy novels, so there’s going to be a certain amount of rape. And murder. Both of which are a mere shot away.

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The Reading Canary: Riftwar – The Next Generation

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Previously In Raymond E. Feist’s Dungeons & Dragons Campaign

The Kingdom of the Isles in the magical world of Midkemia was attacked by invaders from a more original fantasy world, and some stuff happened with dragons and life crystals and dark elves that I forget. Meanwhile, in the plagiarised dimension of Kelewan, a princess fucked a slave boy named Kevin, whilst in our own plane of existence Arthur insists on buying Ray Feist’s books second-hand, at first because of Feist’s failure to acknowledge the influence of M.A.R. Barker’s work and later because Feist simply hadn’t written anything good enough to merit buying full price. Will Feist pull out a story worth paying the full whack for? Let’s see…

Krondor’s Sons: Passing the Time Between Wars

So, as far as I can tell the overarching Riftwar Cycle that connects almost all of Ray Feist’s books (seriously, I think he’s only ever written one book which wasn’t connected to Midkemia/Kelewan) consists of a series of oddly-named wars, which comprise the major, pivotal events of the series, and a large number of books which occur between the wars and cover less interesting bits. So, for example, between the Riftwar Saga and the Serpentwar Saga you have the Empire Trilogy, detailing interesting goings-on in Kelewan (the Dimension of Someone Else’s Work), and you have Krondor’s Sons, which focuses on Midkemia (the Dimension of Generic Fantasy).

And more specifically, on the offspring of Arutha, a major character from the Riftwar Saga who, as you might have guessed, ends up becoming Prince of Krondor, effectively the ruler of the western half of the Kingdom of the Isles. This focus means that Krondor’s Sons continues the practice of the Riftwar Saga in telling the story of the royal family of the Kingdom of the Isles in general, and Krondor in particular, as though these were the bold Men of Destiny whose deeds would shape their world, and all others are chattel, worthy only to the extent that they help out the royal family.

In other words, it’s exactly like most epic high fantasy. But is it any good?

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The Reading Canary On: The Empire Trilogy

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The Reading Canary: a Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF fiction, but distressingly frequently on other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

The Empire Trilogy: a Political Adventure Story

The Empire Trilogy is a collaboration between Ray Feist and Janny Wurts, and is linked closely with Feist’s Riftwar Saga. It is set mainly during Magician, throughout which the Tolkeinesque world of Midkemia is at war with the Tsurani Empire, a unique culture from the world of Kelewan.

The war, while significant, occurs mainly in the background, however: while the Riftwar Saga dealt with the events of the war from a mainly Midkemian point of view, the Empire Trilogy follows the political career of Mara, Ruling Lady of the Acoma family, as she becomes a great power in the Tsurani Empire, a distinctly different fantasy world more inspired by the cultures and myths of South-East Asia than Tolkein.

Incidentally, this marks the place where I bury the hatchet with Feist over the Kelewan/Tekumel issue. (See my review of the Riftwar Saga for a reminder of that.) In the acknowledgements section of Daughter of the Empire, Feist explicitly thanks the designers of the games that the Dungeons & Dragons game which spawned the Riftwar Saga sprang from – and this, implictly, must include M.A.R. Barker, author of Empire of the Petal Throne. In addition, while the Kelewan of the Riftwar Saga was indisputably the same as Barker’s Tekumel, in the Empire Trilogy the two worlds diverge: Feist and Wurts make the world fully their own, and while the similarities with Tekumel remain, their own original contributions finally outweigh them.

Although I have no moral objection to buying Feist’s work first-hand now, I’m still glad that I bought the Riftwar Saga second-hand, and would encourage readers to do so: it’s a fun, light, sprawling adventure story which isn’t quite good enough to be worth deliberately seeking out and paying full price for. At the end of this review, we’ll see if the Empire Trilogy exceeds or falls short of the standards set by the Riftwar Saga.

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The Reading Canary On: The Riftwar Saga

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

What’s this Reading Canary Business Then?

As our esteemed editor pointed out in my last review of books in the Vlad Taltos series, I’m the canary of genre fiction, flapping about in the uncharted territory of fantasy/SF/whatever series and letting you know when something stinks. So I thought “Hey, why not make a thing of it”.

Reading Canary articles are those which deal with reviewing series of books – whether the article covers the entire series or just a handful of books – with the intent of letting the reader know exactly how far they can read (and what spin-off books they should experiment with) before things inevitably start to smell a bit off.

Why I Like Ray Feist’s Riftwar Saga

There are few things more boring than a roleplayer telling you about the cool weekly Dungeons and Dragons game he was in a couple years back. RPGs are not a spectator sport; nobody buys tickets to watch six people sit around and throw dice, nobody logs into World of Warcraft just to watch other people play. They are designed to be fun to the participants (as they should be), not to disinterested outsiders.

It is therefore an especially bad sign for a fantasy novel if it begins to read like the aforementioned roleplayer yabbering on intolerably about the aforementioned game. Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara is especially bad for this: a brick-sized riff on themes hoiked from Tolkein, the book simply lacks merit. If the action and story of your novel resemble something I could have come up with when I was 13 and running D&D for my school friends, I’d say you’ve failed horribly. Of course, if your books were actually based on a D&D game, chances are they’re an utter trainwreck.

Which is why Ray Feist’s original Riftwar Saga – the trilogy of Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon – is so surprising. Based on a game he participated in, Feist somehow manages to write an engaging and exciting adventure story that’s entertaining to read. It is not great literature, doesn’t stand up to the likes of Tolkein or Wolfe, and the prose is competant and readable and absolutely not special in any way, but the books are a fun read regardless. Observant gamers will notice the D&Disms, and will also realise that Feist has pulled a rare trick: he’s talked about a campaign he played in and made us interested in it. If the books do occasionally make me think I’m listening in on a D&D session, it’s at least a totally awesome D&D session.

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