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Better than recent Feist, not as good as classic Feist
on 9 January 2003
In "Talon of the Silver Hawk," Raymond E. Feist returns to the saga format of his classic novels after several disappointing novelizations of computer games. The Riftwar Saga ("Magician," etc.) introduced his main characters and the world of Midkemia, and the Serpentwar Saga ("Shadow of a Dark Queen," etc.) added new characters and brought the next phase of the epic battle to a raging climax. Feist then wrote three novels set after the Riftwar, two as book versions of video game plots set in his world but created by the game developers. Perhaps due to the non-linear nature of video game plots or the distraction of a divorce, none of these had the storytelling skill of his previous work.
"Talon of the Silver Hawk" starts a new saga with a new main character, Talon, and as such draws comparison to Feist's two other saga founding books, "Magician" and "Shadow of a Dark Queen." The boy Talon survives the massacre of his isolated tribe, and he is raised by strangers in a more developed society that he must learn to understand. This takes the entire first part of the novel, well told from Talon's point of view, but the narrative plods along as this boy learns the dull lessons of childhood crushes, respect, and social status. This part of story is set in a far eastern area of Feist's world that has not been used before, a chance for the author to develop and describe something completely new, but this region comes off as an ordinary, quasi-medieval fantasy kingdom.
The second half of the novel focuses on Talon's integration into the Conclave of Shadows, the evil-fighting group founded by Feist's heroes at the end of the Serpentwar Saga. The view from Talon's eyes of previous Feist heroes like Pug and Nakor shows a different side of these long-time characters, but they are appropriately relegated to minor roles. Talon's coming of age predictably traces through trials of combat and adolescent love. His few friends are thinly drawn characters present only for short sections of the novel, too short to establish any meaningful relationship with Talon and further develop either character.
Finally, Talon is sent out into the world on a mission, taking up residence in Roldem and fighting in a dueling tournament. As with the far Eastern kingdoms, Feist misses the chance to make this second newly featured locale unique and different, and it feels like a stock medieval city. The action continues afterwards as Talon returns to his homeland to exact revenge, in a typically fantasy hero way, upon the mercenaries who massacred his people. The duels and battles are classic Feist combat narrative, exciting and skillfully written, especially the long finish to the final battle. However, ultimately these clashes don't go anywhere or stir the reader to the larger cause that is being championed.
"Talon of the Silver Hawk," solid on its face, unfortunately falls flat in starting this new saga compared to "Shadow of a Dark Queen" starting the last one. In "Shadow," the new characters Erik and Roo were more thoroughly drawn, their motivations more concisely developed, and their coming of age / training phase didn't have the monotony of Talon's Tarzan-like integration into society. In addition, after this growing phase, the places and tasks Erik and Roo went off to were far more exciting and better detailed than the rather simple and brief mission that Talon is sent on. Also, the greater purpose behind the actions in "Shadow" was clear to the reader and also the characters. "Talon" only sets up a minor villain, with virtually nothing on the major villain who is assuredly behind the scenes, who was trumpeted as such a dire threat when the Conclave was founded. This vague coverage of the ultimate reasons for the Conclave's existence and Talon's actions leaves all his struggles seeming poorly justified.
"Talon of the Silver Hawk" sees Feist returning to the epic fantasy saga, outclassing his mediocre recent video game novelizations, but as an introductory novel, it still cannot compare to the opening book of his last saga, "Shadow of a Dark Queen," and nothing he's written since can compare to the opening book of his first saga, "Magician."