Raymond E. Feist's new trilogy, 'The Conclave of Shadows', is a return to the world of Midkemia, albeit half a century after we last left it. The first book, 'Talon of the Silver Hawk', told the story of one Tal Hawkins - an agent for the Conclave of Shadows, a group fighting evil across this world and others.
'King of Foxes' picks up where 'Talon of the Silver Hawk' left off, give or take a couple years. Tal is still determined to see himself revenged upon Kaspar, the Duke of Olasko, and comes up with a convoluted plan to do so. Instead of just happily stabbing him in the face during one of his many opportunities Tal decides that his best course of action is to swear an oath to the Duke, and serve with all his heart. His reasoning is that the Duke will eventually betray him and then Tal will be free to seek his revenge, and will be in a position to do so.
This essentially sums up the first half of the book, and it's quite a satisfying read. Feist takes the time to shed some more light on the eastern kingdoms and their relation to both the Kingdom of the Isles and Roldem. Luckily the politics never get too convoluted and Feist makes the intrigue manageable. It's also nice for fans to read a passing reference to Erik von Darkmoor and Duke James, and thankfully they don't become involved in the plot.
The second half of the novel comes after Duke Olasko's inevitable (and not very well thought out) betrayal, and is the beginning of Tal's true quest for vengeance. This half reads just as well as the first, with Feist throwing plenty of obstacles Tal's way. Although the end is never in doubt the mechanism of its means are intriguing, though they seem a little too contrived at times.
Throughout the novel Tal's character continues to develop. Although he's always unquestionably superior to his adversaries, his motivations undergo dramatic and believable changes. Though Tal's desire for vengeance never wavers, it takes on different aspects as the book progresses. The character growth is well handled and adds to the novel's appeal.
The secondary characters are better developed this time around, exlcuding Pug and the other members of the Conclave. Tal picks up a new manservant, an accomplished assassin who's plenty of fun to read about. Duke Kaspar is explored much more deeply than in the previous book, and Feist does a good job of not making him a cardboard villain. Kaspar is actually pretty likable, but there's a hard streak running through him that's entirely believable.
More than in the first book of the series, 'King of Foxes' ties into the previous history of Midkemia. It's disheartening to see yet another mention of the lifestone after it's been a pivotal point of so many convoluted plots and storylines. Only hinted at in 'Talon of the Silver Hawk', Leso Varen join teh fray. He appears to be another re-incarnation of a mad magician who's dedicated to evil. Even though Feist doesn't allow Pug to Leso to come face to face, the novel still has too many overtones of battles we've read about numerous times before.
Perhaps the finest aspect of the book is it's sheer readability. Feist jumps from one well-scripted action sequence to the next, filling the spots in between with engaging dialogue and backstory. 'King of Foxes' is a fun book to read - there's always something happening, and that 'something' is always interesting to read about. Feist actually manages to make scenes in which the protagonist cooks great to read. Now that's truly a skill. The novel might never achieve a truly intense pace, but it never bogs down either.
With 'King of Foxes', Feist narrates a rousing action-adventure, and does an excellent job of it. Talon, or Tal Hawkins, is a great hero, both simple and complex at the same time. 'King of Foxes' works the same way. It's built on a complex story told in many variations through any number of books, but the general narrative tells a simple tale: A classic fantasy adventure with a likable protagonist and plenty of adventures. 'King of Foxes' is just plain fun to read, and pretty hard to put down.