Feist, Raymond E.


Flight of the Nighthawks

The Darkwar, Book 1


Well, it’s been a while between drinks, and I vaguely recall enjoying ‘Magician’ all those years ago. Jordan-like Feist is wringing this cash-cow dry: we’ve still got the same hero, but we’re up to grandchildren now.


Has Feist matured over the years? Silly question.


Even my version of the book has on the cover, ‘File under guilty pleasure’ – so at least the publisher is acknowledging that this really isn’t something to proudly endorse.


This book is almost insulting in the clichés it throws up. It’s beyond the trappings of the genre – swords, sorcery, faux-medieval setting – and deep into stereotype and transparent techniques. To get really condescending for a minute, it’s highly adolescent: oooh, look, here’s two teenage boys who link up with a hero, so they get trained to be great fighters, have adventures, and meet beautiful promiscuous girls whose clothes keep unaccountably falling off. The daydream also includes lovely mummies and daddies that pause now and then to give everyone hugs and say how wonderfully they’ve done.


The baddie is the laziest aspect of a lazy book. He has no motive, could be anyone, has unexplained ludicrous powers, and, here’s the best bit, is always available for the next book because when you kill him in a big climax he comes back to life! Since he’d already done this a couple of times before in this book they imply that this time they’ve actually found out how to kill him for good. No, actually, they don’t imply it, they downright say it. So, this climax must be really important, not like the other ones in earlier books that didn’t turn out to be. But, gee whiz, who would have thought it … he does pop up again so you’ll have to buy Book 21b. How transparent is this??


Meanwhile you’ve also got lots of glib dialogue – reminds me of the sort of thing you hear on NCIS (classically adolescent), or in books by Guy Gavriel Kay or the appalling Terry Goodkind. You know, grandiose empty threats, impressive sounding but ultimately stupid observations (eg. “We’d be dead by now if they wanted us to be,” said by the heroes about the supposedly supreme assassins, the ‘Nighthawks’, but:

a)      Ah, they *do* want them dead, there is no advantage to them leaving them alive, and they try to kill them a few times;

b)      Whenever we do meet the Nighthawks they tend to fall down as easily as any other faceless body-count enemies, being slain, for example, by two kids who’ve never actually had combat against trained fighters.)


It’s not as utterly horrible as some other attempts, but there’s the ubiquitous practise of describing people as extremes of intelligence or sophistication or wit or insight or whatever, but never actually having them say anything to justify such praise. For example, we have bit of philosophy from the leading thinkers of several worlds – all about how you good and evil need each other. Riiigght. Nobody quite delving into the implications, “So you’re saying, for example, that someone who looks after their kids really needs the occasional paedophile to come along when their back is turned. Uh, OK.”


Many of the personalities are interchangeable, perhaps understandable for some of the minor characters, but Nakor, for example, is supposed to be key and intriguing. Feist sets him up as this keenly incisive detached observer. How? Did you notice that he says just about every line, ‘with a grin’. Not even occasionally, ‘with a smile’, or ‘amused’, but always, ‘with a grin’. This wears a bit thin after the first few times.


Plotwise, of course, anything could happen any time: gods, bandits, war, hugs. You might even bump into an Irishman or an Aussie. It happens because it feels nice, not to be part of something particularly cohesive. But the nice feeling isn’t ultimately satisfying – the guilty pleasure idea does work if you think of it as a fat bloke on a couch having too many doughnuts – to a point where even the doughnuts don’t give him that much pleasure any more (and, to stretch this metaphor even further, not as much pleasure as someone with some more discernment has sitting down to a rich meal).


Feist is pleasing a market, and ably – doubtless this sold by the tonne. Maybe he’s aware how superficial these things are, but who’s to argue with a guy paying his bills – I know I do some pretty bland things in my day job. Still, it would be nice if he pushed himself to a higher level, I think he’d still sell even if he did write something as good as David Gemmell or Ursula LeGuin.


November 2008