While I'm mulling over a post on China Mieville's The City and the City, here's a republication of one of my SFX reviews to tide you over: At the Gates of Darkness (2010), by Raymond E. Feist, which first appeared in issue 193 (April 2010). It's the sequel to this, and even less successful.
It’s a cautionary tale. Once upon a time, Raymond E. Feist wrote huge and involving books like Magician, set in a richly-detailed fantasy world that Feist and his friends invented for roleplaying while they were at university. (This was in the days before Diagnosis Murder and even Neighbours, so students had to come up their own lecture-avoidance strategies.) The dialogue wasn’t very good and the characters had only slightly more depth than cardboard, but it didn’t matter: these were fast, fun stories and they sold by the bucketload.
But Feist likes the world so much, and the books set there have sold so well, that he keeps returning to it. This would be fine, if he had new stories to tell. On this evidence, he doesn’t. Gates summons up Feist’s zombified greatest hits to shuffle through the motions one more time: demons are invading Midkemia (again); Pug and a cast of bland sidekicks must save the universe (again). There’s even another thief called Jim. The plot, for want of a better word, mostly involves our heroes stepping through magic doors into a succession of libraries, where interchangeable archivists and/or their books explain the ever duller habits of demons. There’s not a sniff of pace or tension, even in the closing magical battle. Then we learn that – naturally – the whole thing was the forerunner of an Even Bigger Threat.
Characters don’t have personalities, they have spell-caster levels and backstories. The writing is just about functional, although comma issues render some passages incomprehensible and there are several hilarious examples of why unsupervised spellcheckers are dangerous; reading that a bad guy "went ridged and slumped to the floor" was a favourite. Complete drivel.
(Allegedly, the forthcoming Chaoswar Saga will be the last trilogy in the 20+ book Riftwar Cycle. "It’s a challenge," says the author. We bet.)