Demonwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist
Practically a year ago, if any of my two readers were reading from back then, I reviewed a book called A Kingdom Besieged by Raymond E. Feist. My relatives were hoping it was some sort of political commentary on how the evil communists are trying to corrupt America, but that’s neither here nor there. A Kingdom Besieged was, at the time, the newest book in what I discovered to be the ongoing Riftwar Cycle, which apparently has been going for thirty-odd years now with a book being published about once a year. Upon discovering that A Kingdom Besieged was just part of a much larger mythos I endeavored to find other books from the series. (Granted, my Discworld and Song of Ice and Fire projects were still running full-throttle at that point so it kind of took a back seat.) The point I’m ultimately trying to convey is that I got the books of the Demonwar Saga, Rides a Dread Legion and At the Gates of Darkness and recently got around to reading them. Why did I pick those two? Well, they were available at the bookstore at the time and I wanted to read a complete saga rather than just part of it.
My overall impression from these two books is disappointment, but I want to explain that as well as I can. My first problem was that other than A Kingdom Besieged, this was my first foray into Feist’s universe so I only understand the lore that is explained to me, I haven’t read all of the other books for context. I believe this is worth mentioning because the book references the events of other, earlier books, and while some of these events are explained, I feel like there’s information I am not aware of which I should know. Honestly it’s fine for a book series to be that way but I now feel like anyone new to the series has to start at the very very beginning to have a complete understanding of the mythos. The only reason I consider it a weakness is with a series of over thirty books it can be intimidating for a new reader to even venture into the books.
My big issue is the plot of the books. In these two novels there are two main problems: the Star Elves or Taredhel are returning to Midkemia after centuries of living on other planets. What is more important, though, is that the Taredhel are only returning because their ongoing war with the Demon Legion is not going well at all and the last worlds of their empire is about to be overrun. Now, the Taredhel are unsavory characters themselves, but if the Demon Legion finds its way to Midkemia there’s going to be a number of other problems.
In a way, the Taredhel represent a lot of what I dislike about elves. They created a planet-spanning empire, subjugating and exterminating numerous other sentient species in doing so. They’re vain and arrogant, assume they’re the best creatures ever and the lives of humans, dwarves, and even other elves are worth no more than the lives of animals. They’re really big jerks and when the return to Midkemia to find it littered with humans they’re determined to kill every single human on the planet to secure political domination. And there are a lot of humans who would be very unhappy if that happened. Anyway, some of the Taredhel elves realize they need the humans to help fight the Demon Legion but none of them are in positions of authority. Most of the ruling caste of the Taredhel are pretty okay with genocide and are planning to do it once they get this new city finished. It’s a persistent problem that I worried about through the entire book but it’s never addressed. I remember the Taredhel still being around in the next book in the overall series, but I’m definitely sure they hadn’t killed all humans. So I’m left wondering what on earth happened with them.
The other main plot problem I had was the “Oh no, demons are coming and this evil wizard named Belasco is helping them!” plot. That’s a really big plot point and a lot of time is spent discovering this, but the stakes keep getting raised every time the protagonists find out more. To clarify, the protagonists initially know nothing about demon lore or what Belasco’s planning. His brother has an idea, but they’re not sure. So they do some research and scouting to find out more information and discover that Belasco is in charge of a demon cult. Well, it appears to be a demon cult but there’s more to it. Every time they find out more information about Belasco and demons the stakes get raised. And it keeps getting raised until the last third or so of the book. There’s a denouement, but I felt like it happened so late in the book that we had no time to come down from the emotional level of the book. Plus, the demon plot overtakes the Taredhel plot in significance and leaves the Taredhel plot unresolved. At the end I felt like these two books were sort of setting the scene for the next and final saga in the Riftwar Cycle, which kind of bothered me because I felt like the first book of that saga was setting the scene for the conflict as well.
I had a few other issues with the book, such as a couple of typos here and there but that’s me being an editor. The other main problem I had was that there were points in the book where characters were discussing information that the reader already knew from earlier in the book. It’s fine for characters to discuss information a reader might not know, but information they read a hundred pages ago? I realize it’s new for the characters, realizing a Taredhel emissary has a secondary agenda, but the reader already knows the emissary has a secondary agenda, we don’t need to be told again. Ultimately these books were for me a handful of Pringles, tasty and leaving you wanting for more but ultimately unsatisfying. I probably will read more of the Riftwar Saga by Mr. Feist, but I’m going to go back to the beginning with Magician so I have some idea what’s going on. If I have any readers who are unfamiliar with Feist as well, I suggest you start at the beginning of the cycle as well rather than jump in the middle.
3 out of 5 nerds
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