Reviewed by Ian Lipke
This particular book is Book 2 of a trilogy that began with King of Ashes. The reason why each title was chosen remains a mystery for much of each book, the second more so than the first. In fact, it is not until readers are well into the books, almost at the end of Book 2, that the reason for the title becomes clear. While Book 2’s story is interesting enough, and the cover attractive to readers seeking an exciting tale of high adventure, I believe that a more creative title could have been found, one that means more to both story and reader.
It’s quite incredible that I find myself taking potshots at the work of one of the finest writers of fantasy adventure that our writing community has. Feist is one of my favourite authors and, if I were reviewing Book 1, I would be totally satisfied with the outcome. King of Ashes has an exciting plot, is composed of the usual balance between description and dialogue that makes for attractive reading. Its characters differ in ways that make them identifiable and representative. Queen of Storms is a lesser product in these respects.
That is not to say that Book 2 of the trilogy is a dreadful book. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It has the capability of maintaining reader interest until the end and leaves one waiting impatiently for Book 3. However, what was graphic and absorbing in Book 1 is muted in Book 2. It’s the phenomenon often observed in trilogies (but never admitted) that author interest is high in Book 1 but less so in Book 2 where the author realizes that the story has to have enough wind to last through yet a third volume and tends to compensate by withholding substance in the middle volume.
The plot develops in Queen of Storms so that it has moved forward at book’s end considerably more than in the opening pages of the volume. The book opens with Hatu and Hava leading a relatively unscathed existence as a blacksmith (in modern terminology) and wife. This somewhat bucolic existence is rudely shattered and the story begins its development from there. It tends to get busy, but the impression I am left with is that it is busyness for the sake of being busy. It’s not until we near the end, that Hava’s actions in particular become directed towards a specific goal, and the story’s parameters become defined. Hatu has meanwhile been captured for his own good and is left directionless until his captors make clear to him and the reader what all the dog-paddling in the stream of events was all about.
One of the annoying aspects of Book 2 is the large number of characters that the reader has to keep straight in his mind. Much space is devoted to Declan’s snail’s-pace courtship of Gwen, the inn-keeper’s daughter, and to the slowly developing relationship between Jusan and Millie. Just as we become comfortable with their place in the story, just as we begin to identify with their particular love story, they become irrelevant. One is left wondering why they were there in the first place. The characters, no matter the extent of their relevance, are carefully drawn. Hatu, Hava, Declan, Gwen, Molly, Catharian, Bogartis and so on (I did say there were many!) are all distinguishable, one from the other. This is the genius of Raymond E. Feist. None of these creations steps out of character. Each responds in his or her individual way to the many, many action passages that litter the book. The action scenes are written in a masterly hand and, having the characters responding as individual units, rather than adding to the confusion, strengthens their impact. Authenticity is a major strength of Feist’s writing and, in this respect, longwinded and tiresome notwithstanding, this author is believable.
I use the word ‘tiresome’ advisedly. It applies in particular to Feist’s character Hatu. (As an aside, why the names Hatu and Hava were chosen I hesitate to say. I spent much of my reading time trying to remember which one was the female and which was the male. But this was a problem I overcame in Book 1). In Book 2, there was constant reference to Hatu’s inner rages. I could not understand why the author would create a character who was so choleric, yet withhold an explanation until the book was well on the way to being completed.
At this point I might mention my feeling of being left a little cheated by the cliched overpowering of the crack Azhante at the close of Book 2. These were the crack troops, the best of the best, but they were defeated with ease by a ragtail mob of amateurs.
I have highlighted weaknesses I saw in Queen of Storms. This was deliberate because of the sheer ability of Feist in virtually everything he writes. His list of titles is immense and to say that he hardly ever wrote a bad yarn seems overly generous. Yet it is more true than not. A reviewer has to note the warts as well as the beauty spots. I could have written about the author’s strengths, but then I would have repeated what other reviewers have been recording for many years. Feist is not perfect but I could easily have made him to appear so. There should be no mistake. This is an engrossing, wonderful example of escapist literature that everyone can enjoy. I certainly did.
By Raymond E. Feist