Raymond E. Feist returns us to his world of Midkemia with 'Talon of the Silver Hawk', the first novel in his new trilogy 'The Conclave of Shadows'. Feists' world is a complex one, revealed in a multitude of books and garnering millions of fans across the globe. A new novel is always eagerly anticipated and almost always delivers. 'Talon of the Silver Hawk' is no exception, and although it's not Feist's best work to date, it's an entertaining read nonetheless.
The novel tells the tale of Talon of the Silver Hawk (who would have guessed it?) Talon was a young boy of the Orosini, a tribe living in the mountains far to the east of the Kingdom of the Isles. After completing his ritual of adulthood, Talon returns to his village to find his friends and family being slaughtered, and almost dies in an effort to save them. His wounded body is stumbled upon by a pair of travellers, and Talon soon finds himself recuperating and owing a life debt to his benefactors. He eventually learns they are members of an organization called 'The Conclave of Shadows', dedicated to fighting evil throughout the world. As payment for his life, Talon takes service with the Conclave, exhaustively trained to be the perfect operative.
The boy of the Orosini is transformed into a charismatic noble, unmatched at bladework. His assignment from the Conclave brings him into contact with the notorious Duke of Olasko, the man responsible for giving the order that slaughtered Tal's tribe. In single-minded pursuit of vengeance, Talon is determined to take the Duke's life, but not before he kills his murderous captain - Raven.
Feist spins a story that's by no means unique, but he manages to infuse it with a sense of creativity nonetheless. Talon's training takes up the first half of the book, and as such the novel gets off to a bit of slow start. It's still an interesting start however, as Feist shows his usual flair for developing likable characters and dropping them into unusual situations. The book picks up steam in the later half, but never quite manages to reach the level of intensity seen in previous works. The closing action sequences are written very well, and act as a strong climax to the book while also leading into 'King of Foxes'.
The principal problem with 'Talon of the Silver Hawk' is that it doesn't set itself apart from previous of Feists' novels, and can't compare to the best of them. A good fifty years after the Serpentwar, Pug and Miranda are in charge of the Conclave, with the help of Nakor and Pug's children. These familiar characters have almost godlike powers, and for Feist to continue to use them he has to impose all kinds of restrictions, relegating them to a small part in the backstory. All though these characters are loved by readers, at this point they seem more like caricatures - there's no development and their actions work only to further the plot.
It would have been better if Feist had made a clean break with his older novels and continued the story of Midkemia with an entirely new cast of characters. Failing that, a bit more distance from his previous novels would have been appreciated. As it sits, 'Talon of the Silver Hawk' works as a new novel that can't quite leave the old ones behind, and as such the entire story revolves around a tired and often-used overarching plotline.
Regardless, Feist manages to keep things interesting and adds enough intriguing material to make the book enjoyable. There's very little to do with the Kingdom of the Isles, which is a departure from Feists usual fare. The eastern kingdoms and Roldem are described in detail, and the novel does an excellent job of expanding the world of Midkemia.
Talon's character is well-developed, although Feists' readers will find him similar in many ways to any number of protagonists in previous novels. Perhaps his most distinguishing characteristic is his thirst for vengeance, and Feist manages to to develop and refine Talon's character and drive extremely well. As previously noted, the supporting cast feels a bit overused. Aside from this sense of deja vu, the majority of the novel is handled pretty well.
In general, 'Talon of the Silver Hawk' is what we've come to expect from Raymond E. Feist, but it doesn't have the same drive and allure as the fantastic 'Serpentwar Saga' or 'Empire' trilogy. It appears the classical view of Midkemia may be running out of mileage, and Feist is working at distancing himself form it. Unfortunately, 'Talon of the Silver Hawk' doesn't go far enough, and although it remains an enjoyable read, it's not a groundbreaking one.