Elves: Beyond The Mists Of Katura (Elves Trilogy book 3) by James Barclay (book review).

February 28, 2014 | By | Reply More

James Barclay has been writing epic fantasy novels for well over a decade now. ‘Elves: Beyond The Mists Of Katura’ draws to a conclusion his trilogy of novels focused on the early history of the elves of Calaius and brings things full circle in the ‘Raven’ universe he has used for most of his books, ending shortly before the action of his first published novel, ‘Dawnthief’.

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The book immediately brings us face to face with one of the fundamental differences between men and elves, when we find out that the action is taking place seven hundred years after the conclusion of the previous novel, ‘Elves: Rise Of The TaiGethen’. Many of the elves who defended the rainforest city of Katura from human attack at the climax of that book are still alive, while every human that we meet views those events as part of ancient history. These different perspectives on time are woven throughout the story and help to explain why the elves seem so very different from the humans they meet.

Although elves live for a very long time, their society does evolve, though probably at a slower pace than humanity. As we join the book, the hidden rainforest city of Katura, saved from destruction at the cost of so many elf lives seven centuries before, is being abandoned. It is just too remote a place to be worth living in and, after all these years of peace, most elves have returned to more comfortable surroundings, assuming that they are no longer under threat of attack.

This turns out to be a major miscalculation. Unbeknown to the elves, the immortal Wytch Lords have decided that they are now strong enough to take over the entire world. To do so, they need to do three things: find the Dawnthief spell, rumoured to be powerful enough to remake reality itself, defeat the four colleges of human magic spread across the northern continent of Balaia and eradicate every elf on the southern continent of Calaius.

When Auum, the three thousand year-old leader of the elite elven warriors known as the TaiGethen, finds out about this existential threat, he agrees to work once more with the foremost elven mage Takaar to take the fight to the Wytch Lords before they come knocking. The problem here is that Takaar is not of sound mind. His concentration lapses frequently, even in the middle of battles, and when criticised, he can respond violently. He and Auum despise each other and it is only because the stakes are so high that they can contemplate joining forces.

When they reach Balaia, the elves find themselves simultaneously having to break a siege of the friendliest of the four colleges of magic, search for the Dawnthief spell and find some way to defeat the Wytch Lords on their home turf. Although every individual TaiGethen warrior has extraordinary skill, there are not that many of them left compared to the hordes of fighters the Wytch Lords have at their disposal. Even Auum wonders whether he has bitten off more than he can chew. Failure, though, is not an option. So how can the elves snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

‘Elves: Beyond The Mists Of Katura’ provides a masterful end to one of the most richly imagined fantasy trilogies I have read in recent years. At the heart of the novel’s success is Barclay’s strength at characterisation. His elves are so much more than just humans with pointed ears. The history, culture and way of life of the elven species have been brought to life in different ways across the entire trilogy. In this book, Barclay shows us what it means to be a three thousand year-old elf through the friendship between TaiGethen leader Auum and his right-hand man, Ulysan. When Auum despairs of success, Ulysan is always there with sound advice or sometimes a cutting joke, ensuring that his friend is not isolated by the harsh realities of leadership but can continue to do what he does best. As the story progresses, we find out why they are such good friends. The revelation of the secret at the heart of their millennia-old relationship brought a real lump to my throat.

Equally as impressive is the portrayal of Takaar, a genius who is also suffering from a serious mental illness. One of the most surprising and upsetting sections of the novel occurs when one of Takaar’s senior assistants argues with him once too often. Takaar’s response is so violent, brutal and unmerited that it completely changed my view of him at that point in the book, turning a deeply flawed hero into a seemingly irredeemable villain. That Barclay can take his readers this far beneath the skin of his elves is a testament to his skills as a writer.

As with Barclay’s other novels, the action sequences are frequent, bloody and beautifully choreographed. He is never afraid of killing off major characters, which has the enormous benefit of keeping readers on the edge of their seats every time their heroes go into combat. I certainly felt an adrenaline rush whenever Auum led the TaiGethen into battle, wondering who would still be alive at the end of the encounter.

The first two books in this trilogy were both substantial affairs, so there are a lot of loose ends to tie up at the end of this novel. Barclay does this with aplomb, creating a clear resolution to the main plotline, answering the other major questions raised in the earlier books and dovetailing this pre-history neatly with the two existing ‘Raven’ trilogies with which Barclay launched his writing career in 1999.

I’ve been a fan of James Barclay’s writing for many years. ‘Elves: Beyond The Mists Of Katura’ is a spectacular conclusion to the ‘Elves’ trilogy and a real testament to a hugely talented novelist who continues to stretch and develop his skills. I can’t wait to see what he chooses to write next.

Patrick Mahon

February 2014

(pub: Gollancz. 358 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08525-1)

check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.jamesbarclay.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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