A Kingdom Besieged (The Chaoswar Saga 1) by Raymond E Feist
You remember Gaston don’t you? He and his family have lived in the valley for generations. They planted their vines before we were born and, every year, they harvest the grapes and make the wine. Their wines are famous. People keep buying them, anyway. Well, Gaston is a distant relative of King Thingy III, on his mother’s side which is always unusual. Terrible scandal it was. It all had to be hushed up. And so it goes on.
Raymond E Feist has something of a track-record in a parallel field. He’s an author. Sadly, not related to anyone terribly royal. And the Riftwar Cycle has been wheeling away for nigh on thirty years. It’s a remarkable performance, dealing with the seemingly endless complications between Midkemia and Kelewan, although we are mostly on Midkemia surviving the unstable political situation as the different “states” ally with each other and fight each other and “others”. In fantasy stories, there must always be fighting. This is, of course, complicated by the multiplicity of different races inhabiting these worlds. Where would be be without a few elves and a dwarf to toss when life gets boring. Not forgetting the Valheru and their dragons. You just can’t have a good fantasy without there being dragons, now can you. Which does leave the Pantathians who, being snakes, are naturally cold-blooded killers.
Not that I’m against this kind of thing. After all, many generations of winemakers do make a living out of the same vineyards. But, as the world learns how to make and enjoy wines, buyers can now choose from tens of thousands of different labels. For any one of them to become a recognised brand requires both quality and good marketing. Ah, yes, that vital ingredient. No matter how good a product or service, it will never sell in numbers unless people know about it and understand how good it is. Word of mouth is unreliable but powerful when momentum builds up. What everyone really needs to get them started is someone pushing their marketing pitch.
Well, here we are with the first book in a new series for Raymond E Feist titled The Chaoswar Saga. This first volume is called A Kingdom Besieged. For those of you who like counting beans, this is the twenty-seventh book set in the Riftwar Cycle universe, and the publicity machine is cranking up the fanfares to herald the arrival of this latest title. Not for nothing is Feist an author who gets on to the New York Times bestseller list. Fans and the curious alike must be encouraged to dash to their computers and blitz Amazon into submission until it delivers millions of books to expectant readers.
So is this much-hyped addition to the Feist oeuvre any good? Well, it opens with a bang. The Child Prologue is great fun, but once we get to Midkemia, we hit the inevitable compromise. Like many, I have not read any Feist for quite a long time and I can’t remember who everyone is. In fact, truth be told, with my advancing years, I have difficulty remembering what I did last Tuesday. So Feist plays a game with us, trying to infodump enough of the backstory so we can all enjoy the new version. Except, by my crude reckoning, this adds about twenty pages to the first hundred and really acts like a sea anchor — that’s the variety you throw off of the back of the boat to slow it down during stormy conditions. While a set of brakes is useful in boats and cars, authors should only increase the drag factor when absolutely necessary. That Feist feels he has to include so much background says a great deal about his trust in readers to have good memories or be prepared to flip through earlier books to remind themselves what happened.
Once we’re all up to speed and the characters have hit their marks on the stage, the pace of the story picks up. The invasion fleet sails from below the Peaks of the Quor in the south of Great Kesh. Missing reports from his spies, Jim Dasher smuggles himself aboard one of the supply vessels and begins to get an idea of the scale of the effort, the most northern part of which strays into sight of Pug’s island retreat. That Dasher should end up discussing matters with Kaseem abu Hazara-Khan, his opposite number in the spy business, is an unexpected bonus. In a lone mission, Sandreena is also following the logistics trail. It seems sudden wealth has come to the people of the south of Kesh. As she investigates, she also falls in with an unexpected group. Back at Castle Crydee, Martin and Bethany prepare to defend a siege as the first Keshian boats come ashore, yet they are surprised when the people disembark. Unknown to Martin, his father dies in a skirmish with goblins. This leaves it to his younger brother, Brendan, to try leading sufficient troops to raise the siege. When they finally meet, it’s Martin who takes command as the older brother. Back in Roldem, Hal and Ty find boredom too much to bear and get into the action, but without covering themselves in glory. Finally, in the demon realm, the development of the Child is fascinating as she assimilates ever more information and comes to a better understanding of who and what she is.
In other words, after a slow start, A Kingdom Besieged all nicely boils up to a rather clever invasion plan. Except, of course, it’s not at all clear who’s invading whom with unseen enemies at work to destabilise the status quo. If you’re a long-time fan of Feist, then this flows on with the greater narrative arc. You can skip all the boring explanations at the beginning. Should you be new to Feist, this is not a bad place to start. As the beginning of a new series of books in the same universe, there’s enough background information so you can mostly understand who everyone is and how they relate to each other. Either way, it ends up a good read.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.