Shadowheart (Legends of the Raven Series #2)

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Overview

The Raven are tested to the point of destruction when a savage war is unleashed across their world and the magical colleges of Balaia tear the land apart in their struggle for supremacy. Can The Raven even survive, let alone triumph?

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Overview

The Raven are tested to the point of destruction when a savage war is unleashed across their world and the magical colleges of Balaia tear the land apart in their struggle for supremacy. Can The Raven even survive, let alone triumph?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Picking up where he left off in November 2010's Elfsorrow, Barclay has no qualms about heaping more misery and catastrophe on his devastated creation. The world includes a complex and rational system of magic that requires the cooperation of mages. One of the colleges of magic uses the near-destruction of a rival as the impetus for a war that brings in all four colleges and leaves the world even more battered and chaotic than it already was thanks to a series of political wars. The Raven, a group of heroes trying to stop the destruction, is battered and damaged as well, its numbers greatly reduced. Frequent perspective shifts give a sense of urgency at the expense of allowing the reader to get fully invested in any single character. Battle scenes are well realized and varied, vital in a book consisting almost entirely of epic conflict. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"Barclay has no qualms about heaping more misery and catastrophe on his devastated creation. . . Frequent perspective shifts give a sense of urgency. . . Battle scenes are well realized and varied."
—Publishers Weekly

"Barclay still manages to superbly build his characterization with a huge cast, and continues to expand the war that rages through the land. . . fans will be happy to see. . . the final victory for those involved."
—Night Owl Reviews

Library Journal
The elite mercenaries of the Raven go from heroes to fugitives when one of their number is condemned to death. In the meantime, a war that pits the four magical colleges against one another leaves the lands of western Balaia vulnerable to attacks from their enemies to the east. The sequel to Elfsorrow delivers more action-packed fantasy adventure with a deeper focus on the characters' interpersonal relations. Barclay's talent for depicting the carnage and frenzy of war gives his battle scenes a realism that brings home both the horrors experienced and the courage of its participants. VERDICT Military fantasy of the highest quality informs this powerful novel, which will appeal to fans of Glen Cook's classic "Black Company" novels.
Library Journal
As rivalries between magical colleges escalate into full-scale war, the land of Balaia suffers under the onslaught of armies and sorcery. Barons jockey for position, and members of the college of Julatsa seek elven mages to regain their connection to the world's Mana (power) flow. Into the fire of battle rides the mercenary company of the Ravens, swords for hire whose fighting prowess can turn the tide of battle, should they survive long enough to do so. Barclay continues his "Raven" series (Dawnthief; Noonshade; Nightchild) with another tale of bravery and camaraderie, battle and brotherhood. Fans of military fantasy and epic tales of warfare and politics should enjoy. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616142506
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 12/1/2010
  • Series: Legends of the Raven Series, #2
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 398
  • Sales rank: 1,435,379
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 11.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James Barclay is in his forties and lives in Teddington in the UK with his wife and son. He is a full-time writer. Visit him online at www.jamesbarclay.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Shadowheart

Legends of the Raven
By James Barclay

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2010 James Barclay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-250-6


Chapter One

The detachment of cavalry from the mage college city of Lystern wheeled and attacked again, charging hard at the defenders holding their positions outside Xetesk's east gates. Targeting the weakened left flank, they sped in, hooves churning mud, swords and spear tips glinting in the bright, warm afternoon sunlight. Thirty horses, sweat foaming under saddles, galloping under the steady control of crack Lysternan riders and led by Commander Izack.

"Come on, this time," whispered Dila'heth to herself, watching the attack from a rise above the blood-drenched battlefield.

Down in the centre of the line, the bulk of the surviving Al-Arynaar and TaiGethen elves were engaged in a cat-and-mouse game, trying to lure the stubborn Xeteskians out of alignment. So far, their efforts had been fruitless. Protectors at the core of the defensive line, so disciplined, so deadly, remained unmoved.

A fusillade of spells erupted from the ranks of Xeteskian mages behind their warriors. FlameOrb, HotRain, DeathHail, homing in on the cavalry as they drove in. Lysternan shields glared and flashed, revealing the rich green depths of the manalattice that held them firm, deflecting the deep blue of the enemy castings.

Dila'heth could feel the pressure of the shields through the spectrum and respected their strength and the ability of the mages who rode while they cast.

Immediately, response came from the elven and Lysternan mages in the field behind the combat line. Yellow and green Orbs, burnished with flares of deep red and orange, soared over the warriors. Two dozen of them, wide as cartwheels, splashed down into the Xeteskian support. Shields creaked, blue light like sheet lightning seared the sky; but they held. It had been this way for twenty days. Probing, watching, feinting and attacking. The battle had barely moved.

"Keep up the pressure!" shouted Dila'heth, her words taken by runners down to the field command. "Let's give that cavalry time."

Izack's men struck, Dila'heth wincing at the impact. Horses snorted, men leant out left and right, swords and maces hammering down, their charge taking them deep into the defenders before they were halted. Even at a hundred yards and more, Dila's keen eyes could pick out individual suffering with grim clarity.

Leading his men, Izack, mouth open in a battle cry lost in the tumult, struck the helmet of an enemy, his blade crushing the metal. The foot soldier collapsed senseless and the hooves of the horse following trampled him into the mud. Further right, a lone Xeteskian pike skewered a horse's chest. The jolt threw the rider over his mount's head. The desperate, dying animal screamed, its hooves flailing. It fell, one shod hoof splintering the Xeteskian's rib cage, its body crushing its own rider. At the back of the charge, an enemy was knocked off balance by the press of horse flesh around him. He spun and staggered, his defence dropped and a spiked mace ripped off his face.

Swords flashed, horses reared, men roared. In the chaos, Dila watched Izack. The cavalry commander seemed to have so much more time than any of those around him. He pushed his horse through the throng, batting aside strikes to both him and his mount. She could see his mouth move as he tried to direct his riders to the point he sensed was weakest.

His horse kicked forward, taking an enemy in the groin. Izack ignored the man's cries, fencing a strike away from his leg and cutting backhanded into his attacker's midriff. He was going to break through. The tide was with him and with those still in the saddle. Protectors were detaching from the centre of the line but they'd be too late. And waiting behind Izack, a hundred-strong reserve, made up of cavalry, Lysternan swordsmen and the AlArynaar. Enough to force the breach wide and open up the Xeteskian support mages to weapon attack. Dila's only concern now was the centre of the main fighting line. It absolutely had to hold.

Feeling sure the battle was about to turn decisively, she swung round to call every able-bodied ally to arms and into the battle. At first, she thought the faintness and sudden nausea she felt was because she'd spun too fast. But she saw her condition reflected in the expressions of the Julatsan-trained Al-Arynaar mages standing by her and knew it was something infinitely worse.

"Oh no."

The chain of focused mana cells holding together the powerful, elven, linked Spell- and HardShields collapsed. It was a sudden and violent shifting in the flow, as if every casting mage had simultaneously lost the ability to maintain the simple shape. But this was no mass error. Dila'heth had felt it. Every mage carrying the linked Julatsan construct was left helpless as the power in the spell scattered back into the individual castings, shattering them instantly.

Dila rocked with the referred pain of three dozen backfiring spells. Out in the field, mages, their minds threshed by flailing mana strands, clutched the sides of their heads, fell screaming to the ground or dropped catatonic from the shock. And two hundred swordsmen and as many in the support lines were left exposed to anything Xetesk could throw at them. There were nowhere near enough Lysternan shield mages to cover everyone.

A cataclysmic event had disrupted the Julatsan mana focus. It had been brief and the question of what had happened had to be faced, but right now hundreds of elves and men were terribly vulnerable. Dila'heth began to run down the slope toward the battlefield, calling mages to her, those that could still function at all.

"Shields! We must have shields!"

But the push was falling apart right in front of her. Nervousness had spread through the fighting force like cracks on thin ice. To the left, Izack hadn't broken through fast enough. He couldn't yet threaten the enemy mages and the Xeteskians had picked up on the crisis engulfing their opponents. Their warriors put more power into every strike, their arrows flew in tighter volleys and their mages ... Tual's teeth, their mages cast everything they had.

Dila'heth tried frantically to gather the shape for a SpellShield while she ran but it eluded her. The mana wouldn't coalesce to give the shape its protective form, but was always just beyond her grasp, like a butterfly on the breeze. Scared more than she dared admit, she slowed to a stop then started to reverse, simultaneously seeing Izack breaking off his attack and the arc of the first Xeteskian spells surge across the sky.

"Clear the field, clear the field!" Dila'heth shouted, half turning, almost running.

She could see knots of mages trying to cast, others helping confused and comatose victims. More mirrored her own fear, unsure of what to do. Xetesk's first spell impacts made the decision for them.

More FlameOrbs than Dila could count fell at the back of the allied line, detonating in the mud and splashing mage fire over defenceless men and elves. And where that fire touched a Xeteskian SpellShield, it flared brief cobalt and dissipated harmlessly. Safe behind their defence, the enemy just stood and watched.

A FlameWall erupted along the combat front and panic tore the allied line to shreds. Burning, trapped and terrified, the line disintegrated, men and elves scattering left, right and back, anywhere that the flame might be less intense. Here and there, pockets of Lysternan shields provided shelter for anyone lucky enough to get under their protection but the overwhelming reliance had been on the Julatsan-based elven construct and too few could find sanctuary.

Everywhere she looked, Dila'heth could see burning swordsmen running blindly away, heading for the camp and the help that would be too late for so many. Flaming corpses littered the ground and the air was filled with the screams of the dying, pleading for help and relief. But in places, field captains were beginning to call their men and elves to fledgling order. Dila shook herself.

"Come on, we've got to help them!" she yelled into the roar of flame and the shrieks of agony all around her. She ran to the nearest victim, trying to force the simplest healing conjuration into her mind. Anything that would extinguish the mage fire that burned his clothes and covered his bare arms, eating at his flesh.

The shape formed slowly, frustratingly so, but at least it was coming. But then, so did the HellFire. Columns of superheated blue scorched from the smoke-filled sky, each one targeting a single soul. Scant yards away, one struck the central figure in a group of mages. The deluge consumed his body in an instant, the splatter took the other five in a flood of flame and the detonation pitched Dila from her feet.

What little order there had been developing in the retreat was destroyed. With FlameOrbs still crashing to earth and HotRain beginning to tumble from the sky in fist-sized tears, the rout was complete.

Dila'heth lay where she had fallen, bleeding from a cut on her forehead. Beside her, the swordsman had died, his cries fading quickly as he succumbed. She raised her head to see DeathHail slashing across the field. It would be a miracle if anyone escaped alive.

Only Izack remained in control. Dila watched him lead his cavalry across the front of the Xeteskian line, blunting any move, the shields surrounding his men flashing deep green from repeated spell impact. But the enemy had made no effort to move forward. Shorth take them all, but there was no need. They had already won the day. Chances were, the battle was theirs too.

Dila dropped her head back into the mud, tears of pain and frustration squeezing from her smarting eyes. Clouds of smoke billowed across the field, muffling the sounds of defeat and triumph all around her. Somehow, they would have to regroup but first they had to understand why their magic had failed so catastrophically.

Exhausted and aching, bleeding and strained, Dila pulled herself to her knees and began to crawl from the battlefield, waiting for the moment when the DeathHail ceased and she could run. Bodies lay thick on the ground before her. Some were moving, most were not. To her left, a further detachment of cavalry galloped out to support Izack. But on the rise in front of the camp she could see a line of men and elves just standing and staring in disbelief at the disaster that had swamped them all.

Yniss himself would have to smile on themif they were to turn the tide now.

The great hall at the top of Lystern's squat, wide college tower felt chill despite the warmth of the day and the sunlight streaming through the ornate stained glass windows that overlooked the huge circular table.

In an arc surrounding the Lord Elder Mage, Heryst, sat the four mages who made up the law council. All old men, all trusted advisers of the relatively young college and city ruler. Opposite them, The Raven were gathered around Darrick, who stood at their centre while they sat, listening to the charges laid against him. Otherwise, but for fifteen college guardsmen and a gaggle of clerks and monitor mages, the hall was empty, its spectacular domed and timbered roof ringing hollow.

Hirad Coldheart couldn't shake off a fundamental sense of wrong. It pervaded his every sense and had settled like a cloying web over his body. He had already been reminded twice of court protocol and now The Unknown Warrior left a restraining hand on his shoulder, keeping him in his seat. He had been promised his say but he couldn't shift the notion that it would be after any decision had been made in the minds of those opposite him. Not Heryst, the law council.

Darrick, of course, had remained impeccably disciplined throughout. Former General of the Lysternan armies and now accused of desertion, treason and cowardice he had returned to the college of his own free will to answer the charges. And nothing The Raven could say about the timing of his decision, and which priorities they felt he should place higher, carried any weight whatever.

He was a deeply principled man and for him, clearing his name transcended any action The Raven wanted to undertake. Those principles were one of the things that made him such a valuable addition to The Raven. But they were also a frustration Hirad found difficult to bear. So much remained to be done and he felt they were wasting time. Events were moving fast and they couldn't afford to be left behind.

Heryst looked round from a brief whispered conversation with the law mages. Two were frowning, one shaking his head, the fourth impassive.

"At this juncture," said the Lord Elder Mage, "we will drop the charge of treason. It is clear that your intention was not to act against Lystern. Indeed your assertion that our alliance with Dordover at the time was the potentially more treasonable act is one we cannot counteract with any great surety. Endangering the men under your command by virtue of that treason is therefore also dismissed.

"But the charges of desertion and cowardice must stand and you will answer them."

Hirad opened his mouth but The Unknown squeezed his shoulder.

"Ridiculous," muttered the barbarian.

"I know," said The Unknown.

"I laugh at any suggestion of cowardice," said Darrick. "But within the laws of Lystern, I am guilty of desertion. That is not in dispute."

"That is not a clever opening to your defence," said Denser.

Darrick looked to his right long enough to spear the Raven's Xeteskian mage with the stare that had sent a thousand raw recruits' pulses stuttering before he continued.

"It was desertion," affirmed Darrick. "But the circumstances mitigate my actions and indeed made my decision the only honourable one."

"There is no precedence for mitigation," rumbled one of the law mages, a heavy-jowled man with eyes sunk deep into fleshy sockets.

"Then precedence must be set by this hearing," said Darrick, betraying no hint of his emotions. "Because this was not desertion through cowardice or fear. Neither was it desertion that in any way increased the risk to the men in my command. In peacetime, it would have been considered resignation on principle."

"But this was not peacetime," continued the mage. "And you were facing an enemy."

"Even so, the circumstances will be heard," said Heryst.

"You are swayed by your personal friendship," said a second law mage, grey haired and long nosed.

"And by his previously unblemished record of service, courage and honour in battle," said Heryst. "We are not trying a conscript here." He smiled as he turned to Darrick. "Make this good, Ry. There's a heavy penalty attached to your unmitigated guilt."

"I am only too aware of that," replied Darrick. "And that in itself is the first part of my defence—that I came here voluntarily to answer this charge. There was little chance of my being arrested with war at our borders. I need to clear my name so I can take my part without looking over my shoulder for college guards carrying warrants."

"I'm sure you have all our thanks for offering yourself up without our needing to divert resources," said the long-nosed mage dryly.

Hirad scowled and tensed. He wasn't happy with the atmosphere. The four old men were clearly intent solely on establishing guilt. Only Heryst seemed truly interested in the possibility that Darrick took the only decision open to him under the circumstances. The question was, did he have ultimate sanction in this forum?

"The docks at Arlen, those three seasons ago, were a place where not just I but every Lysternan was betrayed. It was where some of those empowered to determine control of the Nightchild abandoned their morals and put her under sentence of death. And not just her, but also her mother, Erienne, who sits at my left."

"We are perfectly—"

"You will let me speak uninterrupted, my Lord Metsas," said Darrick. There was no anger in his voice.

Metsas's face darkened but he said no more.

"As has been documented, I found myself commanding cavalry that, far from preventing a ship sailing at the behest of the Lystern-Dordover alliance, were in fact defending it from Xeteskian aggression. And that is because it contained Dordovan mages in cahoots with BlackWings. BlackWings, gentlemen. The ship also contained a hostage: Erienne."

Darrick gestured to Erienne and Hirad saw remembered pain flicker over her features. She laid her head briefly on Denser's shoulder.

"Dordover was using her to get to Lyanna. Her daughter. And then the mages would have cast her to the BlackWings to be murdered while they did the same to the Nightchild. It was an inhuman tactic for which Dordover deserves nothing but eternal contempt. And if any here present were in tacit support, that contempt is yours too.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Shadowheart by James Barclay Copyright © 2010 by James Barclay. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted November 29, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    another great entry by James Barclay

    The hostile debate between the four colleges of magic finally explodes into open warfare as Xetesk seizes the opportunity to take the first rung on their vision of dominion with an assault on the depleted Julatsa, who sacrificed so much in the Wesmen wars (see Chronicles of the Raven trilogy). The Julatsa know they must find a way to survive the invaders, but to do so they will need the interred Heart of Julatsan.

    The other two colleges Lystern and Dordover discuss what to do when a somewhat depleted Xetesk turns to them and how to control what is left of the Raven. They forge an alliance with a plan to invade Xetesk after it wastes much of its magic, but to do so they must lock away or assassinate the Raven survivors. However, way to the west, a power is surfacing whose vision is that of a Balaian continent with no magic or eastern mage-rulers. In a ploy to conquer the other three colleges and thereby the continent, Xetesk has turned to the Balaian as an ally especially with the alliance and Raven in the way of their manifest destiny.

    The second Legends of the Raven fantasy (see Elf Sorrow) is a terrific middle tale as the hostilities that remained outward towards the anti-magical Black Wings (their mass grave as described in this thriller is simply grim and eerie) turns inward between the colleges. Readers will appreciate the continual saga of the Raven as the exhilarating story line is filled with action, but it is the political intrigue that makes for another great entry by James Barclay.

    Harriet Klausner

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