Friday, February 6, 2009
Review: Light Stealer
When I received my huge shipment of PS Publishing Books Light Stealer by James Barclay was the one I was most eager to read. I’ve read several stellar reviews of both Barclay’s trilogies; The Chronicles of Raven and The Legends of Raven and thought Light Stealer would be a great introduction to his world. Light Stealer takes place several hundred years prior to the events of the trilogies. It’s The Hobbit of the Raven World if you will.
Light Stealer focuses on the famous mage Septern who is referenced quite frequently throughout the Raven Trilogies along with four of his students. From all accounts the legend of Septern the Mage is one of the lynchpins of Balaia’s history and as such you would think we would get some great character development for this historical figure. Unfortunately this is not the case.
Barclay’s work is oftentimes criticized for how one dimensional his characters are and after reading Light Stealer. I have to agree whole heartedly. The characters never take on any depth or feel real. Rather they all feel rather cookie-cutter. Barclay doesn’t do much beyond the superficial to distinguish one from the other. We the readers are given a brief description of each of the four student’s physical traits which would be fine if a more in depth look at what made each character tick followed but it doesn’t. All we glean of the characters is that Janeth is quick witted and the teacher’s pet, Sandor is a big lug of a farm boy and so on. Yet none of this makes us care one way or the other about the characters. Not even Septern feels fully fleshed out.
With Septern, Barclay is going for the whole concept that the mage is a brilliant genius yet very naïve when it comes to the ways of the world. That’s fine but it just doesn’t ring true. Here we have the most brilliant mind in the entire world and we’re somehow supposed to believe that he has absolutely no inclination that his discovery of the Dawnthief spell (the equivalent of a Doomsday Device.) is going to lead to problems?
I could see if the guy didn’t have the best interpersonal skills or has trouble fixing a broken wagon axle but to not realize that when there is a war of attrition going on that a spell that could easily wipe out the opposition in one fell swoop is going to cause him some trouble? Well I’m sorry but that is just completely moronic.
To be fair to Barclay I think there just weren’t enough pages to tell the story he was trying to tell. The book felt very rushed as we were constantly jumping ahead and skipping large chunks of time. The book clocks in at 89 pages and in my opinion another 100 pages were needed in order to tell the story properly.
The one redeeming quality I found in this novella was the system of magic which Barclay introduces. It’s a very unique system in that it has a scientific basis. Magic like psychology and science in our world has its own distinct Colleges which each have their own distinct lores and spell books. Spells don’t pop out of thin air in this world; there is trial and error until the mage comes up with the result he’s looking for.
When magic is used there should be consequences and risks associated with it. Barclay does this perfectly as the mages are worn down by both the duration of the spell, its difficulty and the size of the spell. The longer the spell lasts the more stamina that is drained from the mage. For example, the size of the spell the mage chooses to cast could completely drain him in a matter of seconds leaving him completely vulnerable. There’s nothing else to say on this matter other than Barclay has done a superb job developing a realistic magical system for his world.
Despite the fact that I didn’t like this novella it doesn’t deter me in the least from pursuing Barclay’s other work. I have a feeling he can do some real damage with a full length novel. There were glimpses of a spectacular story here in this book and a great magic system however the lack of character development was a real turn off for me. It just never found the mark for me.