Show Notes – Episode 1.12

Where All My Girls At?: BBE Chats James Barclay’s Dawnthief

Quick Links from this Episode:

  • Not a ton of things to follow up on for this episode, but one of them is James Barclay’s page on Fantastic Fiction. Fantastic Fiction is a family run database of fiction and fantasy book. They rather dubiously claim Barclay is the “most successful UK fantasy writer of his generation.”
  • If you’d like to learn more about Barclay or his books, be sure to check out his personal website.
Dawnthief, by James Barclay (2009 ed, first published 1999)

James Barclay’s fantasy adventure, Dawnthief, is the first pick for Books We Hate in April. Paige first encountered Dawnthief at Barnes & Noble her freshman year of college. Though the cover was less than inspiring, the summary convinced Paige to take the plunge…into hatred. Or at the very least, indifference. For some inexplicable reason, Paige kept this volume despite her dislike for more than ten years and, here we are.

James Barclay is a British fantasy (some would say high fantasy) author born in 1965. Like so many other authors, his desire to write books came at an early age, and took a while to come to fruition. While Barclay did some dabbling in engineering when he first entered university, it wasn’t long before he transitioned to the arts. Barclay has been in several different productions as an actor. However, Barclay is now also a successful author with twelve novels to his name. Dawnthief was his first, published in 1999, and centered around a mercenary group called the Raven. Barclay would go on to write two trilogies about the Raven, along with several others based in the same world.

Themes Discussed in the Episode

Dawnthief follows the exploits of the Raven, a group of elite mercenaries bound together by an unbreakable and rigid brotherly code. When a job starts going sideways the Raven is pulled inexorably into a titanic struggle to save the entire world of Balaia, complete with vengeful Wytch Lords and a spell of nuclear proportions.

  • First point of note that sets Dawnthief somewhat apart from other fantasy books is that Barclay is not afraid to kill off ‘main’ characters. Many stories don’t hold any true suspense because no matter the odds you are certain that the protagonist and company will survive even the darkest times or tightest spots. A caution to any would-be readers, don’t get too close to any characters in Dawnthief. As one reviewer put it, the book resembled a fantastical Magnificent Seven.
  • Barclay has created a weird blend of fantasy with sci-fi elements that doesn’t always seem to work. Similar to what we saw in The Green Empire, there is inter-dimensional travel and dying worlds, however, the magic practiced in Dawnthief is much more science-minded in nature.
  • There are definitely some balancing issues: the pacing is uneven, switching from interminably slow at times, to nonstop action at others. The big baddies of the book, the Wytch Lords, seem unconvincing as well. Supposedly the most powerful beings of ever, the actual process of destroying them seems anticlimactic
  • The main point of contention that comes up in our discussion is the conspicuous lack of female characters in this story. Despite a wide cast, there are only *two* female characters and they were either superfluous or unlikable. Selyn’s asides literally contribute nothing to the story, her only contribution is indirectly, through her death. Erienne, on the other hand, is simply not a convincing female character.
  • A note of praise: Jennifer thought Dawnthief had some great action scenes that did not lead her to automatically tune them out.

Our Final Thoughts

Once again, BBE’s co-hosts had slightly different opinions of a Book We Hate. After reading, Jennifer gave Dawnthief a solid 3.5 stars out of 5. She probably won’t go hunt down the next book in the series, and it is true Dawnthief has some problems, but overall she enjoyed the read.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.13 on The Ghosts of Williamsburg. If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider leaving a review and following BBE on social media. You can also support the podcast on Patreon and get access to our bonus Deep Dive episodes! (All links below). Until next time!

Show Notes – Episode 1.8

Basically, Things Fall Apart: Critiquing Jay Lake’s Green

Quick Links from the Episode:

  • Here are links to Lake’s entry on Wikipedia, as well as the Tor memorial Jennifer mentioned in this week’s episode.
  • Here’s an article from The Oregonian that details Lake’s struggles with cancer and his uniquely positive response. This is also where we learn that Green was inspired by his daughter, though the ebook version also includes a dedication to his daughter (see below).
  • Lake’s blog about his cancer experience seems to have since been archived, but his author blog is still up here.
Green, Jay Lake (2007)

Our first Book We Hate pick of March, the premise of author Jay Lake’s book, Green, seemed promising when Paige picked it up years ago. The cover was intriguing as well, liberally painted with the titular color. The basic plot is interesting enough: a girl is sold into slavery and transported far from her homeland to train and serve as a courtesan of sorts in the Pomegranate Court. Despite being taken from a young age, the girl does not lose her rebellious spirit, and eventually makes her own path, bringing down those are responsible for her suffering. Unfortunately for Paige, the last two-thirds of the book did not live up to the hype.

Jay Lake was an acclaimed author before passing away from cancer in 2014. Lake’s father was a U.S. foreign service officer, so he grew up in a variety of exotic locales, including Taiwan and Nigeria, before finishing high school and attending college in the United States. Lake is only the second science fiction and fantasy author that BBE has reviewed and had a promising start to his writing career, winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction in 2004. Ultimately Lake published more than 300 stories and nine novels. Unfortunately, he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2008, and after a protracted battle with the disease passed away only a year after publishing the final book in the trilogy that Green began.

As Paige points out at the beginning of the episode, Green gets off to a decent start, but rapidly deteriorates after the first third or so of the book. The early writing style is intriguing with image-driven, almost lyrical prose that can be difficult to keep straight, but is pleasing to read nonetheless. The story is told supposedly from the perspective of the character, Green, as a child, but with intercessions into the childhood memories by a much older Green. This odd mix of part-present, part-past makes for an extremely unbelievable child narrator, with an awareness unlikely to be found in a three year old.

Lake credits his daughter as the inspiration for the story in this dedication.

The plot quickly loses its way as Green loses hers. Following her revenge upon the Duke of Copper Downs who was ultimately responsible for the child trafficking Green had been sucked into, she finds that her home is no longer open to her. While taken in by an order of assassin-priestesses of the Lily Goddess, Green remains directionless and the plot itself seems to be random events strung together. More disturbing, however, are the numerous questionable sex scenes that adolescent Green is involved in, including with older authority figures – what we would recognize today as pedophilia and statutory rape.

Green could have been the start to an empowering female saga. The characters in the story are mostly women. In fact, they are predominantly strong women who stand up for their beliefs or for others. However, because of Lake’s dubious choice of age for his protagonist, Green’s exploration of her sexuality into more mature areas such as BDSM and inter-species sex seems inappropriate and is uncomfortable to read. Any arguments about a different age/time/world crumble in the face of Green’s willing participation in her own exploitation by those with power over her.

As if these more challenging themes were not enough, the story really falls apart towards the end of the book. Points that are evidently critical to the story are explained poorly or not at all, the prime example being religion suddenly becoming the center of the plot though it was barely touched on in the majority of the novel. All this to say, Jennifer gave Green two stars out of five – for the merit of the first part of the story – and would not recommend it to any bookish peeps.

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.9. If you’re enjoying the podcast so far, please leave us a review and follow us on social media. Be sure to check out our Patreon for bonus BBE content as well, including bonus episodes (all links below). Until next time!