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April 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Talon of the Silver Hawk- Conclave of the Shadows: Book One by Raymond E. Feist
Avon/Eos HCVR: ISBN0380977087 PubDate: April 2003
Review by Ed Carmien

400 pages List price 38.95
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Reading this book brought forth a flush of nostalgia. Once upon a time I served as an intern at TSR, back in the days when a small crew of designers was putting the touches on a 12-part AD&D adventure called Dragonlance. The key designers were working on a project as an afterthought—novels based on the role-playing game “modules,” as they used to be called. Only collectors can put their hands on the role-playing products, but to this day Dragonlance-derived novels are thick on the shelves.

Start with Tolkien, salt heavily with a fantasy role-playing sensibility, stir in decades of American fantasy, and voila, Talon of the Silver Hawk. This is not a bash; one must acknowledge bloodlines to fully appreciate Feist’s work. Here there be elves and magic users and powers of dark and light, and heroes with talents superhuman.

Our hero (ominously introduced in a chapter sub-titled “orphan”) is a boy or young man of the mountains we first meet in the midst of his coming-of-age vision quest. Alone on the mountain he sees trouble from afar and rushes home to help. He stuns himself in a fall and has his vision unexpectedly—granted to him in the very physical form of a silver hawk, who prompts him to be a Talon for his people.

Talon obliges but is nearly killed defending his village from genocidal mercenaries. He is saved by a shadowy group of people led by a man who has read his Kipling. Talon is found to be intelligent and capable; the people who saved him train his powers of observation. It is clear they have a Purpose in mind for our young Talon.

He is to be an agent of Good against the intractable powers of chaos—Evil, as it were—and to this end he is given all manner of training. Talon has a moral streak a mile wide, however, a side-effect of his mountain upbringing, and he carries with him his sworn oath to avenge the death of not only his village but of all of his people, killed, as it turns out, as a sideshow in the political circus of nations.

Given the rules of serial fiction, Talon can’t be expected to prevail against the greater Evil he has been recruited to fight by the powers of Good. However, he does begin fulfilling his oath of revenge. This sub-plot and the engaging story of his early training and early success as an agent of Good make for a very readable first novel. The reader is left to wonder many things, as is only proper in serial fiction.

Feist’s work states many things some readers might prefer to discover for themselves, but I suspect some if not many of the things characters say as being matters of fact will turn out to be untrue. One senior agent of Good assures Talon that the powers of Evil are not aware there is an organization devoted to Good working against them.

Really? They don’t have a clue? Hmm. One imagines the powers of Good might be a bit cocky, and that the powers of Evil will prove that assumption to be untrue, perhaps in book two. This and other “suspicions” are the reward for readers who exercise a keen eye. Feist is putting in a foundation for a larger edifice. Readers must not imagine that he is writing a clear blueprint for all to read.

Readers fond of  rpg-influenced fantasy will appreciate Talon of the Silver Hawk. Feist gets a lot done in this series-opening novel. Talon comes of age, learns a trade, and serves up the first course in what promises to be a banquet of revenge (served cold, naturally). The major players on the side of Good are introduced, and foes serving Evil are spotted on the horizon. This is all accomplished in a smooth, fast flowing prose style that is the hallmark of successful series fiction.

Watch out—if you read this one, you’ll want to read the next one, and the next one, and the next one….

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