Rebel Fay by Barb and J C Hendee

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Rebel Fay by Barb and J C Hendee

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Part five in the cycle sees our motley gang of heroes up against the people who have the main character's mother prisoner. Not a good place to start the series, but an episode of what seems a very interesting story.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 496 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1841496016

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Leesil, who is half human, half elf, has to enter the elven lands beyond the treacherous mountains none ever survive. He seeks those who have imprisoned his mother, and the answers to many deep questions - how can he be practically the only such half-breed? What is the truth behind rumours of what led to his very upbringing - as, it seems, a walking weapon?

With him is another half-breed, Magiere - a female human/vampire hybrid. Her abilities allow her to switch between species, so there is little problem in walking about in daylight, but a little trouble for those who don't recognise her eyes changing along with the rest of her as she absorbs the vampiric attributes.

Leading the pair, and keeping the wholly human sage Wynn company, is the intelligent and partly-psychic dog Chap - again cast out by his type, and with important errands of his own.

Such is a good start for any fantasy book, however this is the start of the fifth in this cycle, and to try and jump in at this stage is not what's supposed to happen. Luckily there is enough to grasp on to here and get something out of.

As the quartet leave the mountains via an implausible passage, they meet up with members of the elvish guild of assassin/guardians. This will both help and hinder the whole legend reach its conclusion, as various people from past adventures will crop up again. However, elsewhere a pair of undead hunters seems completely willing for our heroes to enter the elven world - one gets the impression the series will be carried out at such a leisurely pace they won't coincide for several more books.

Pace is not a problem with this volume - the moderately large print means you soon pour your way through the story. There is a little that seems contrived, and sometimes the wanderers appear to meet with flora and fauna that are just there to show what the authors can come up with next, but for the most part the plotting is of a good calibre.

Fantasy readers who know the cycle will get a lot out of this book, I am sure - there is Chap's continuing exile from his spirits, Leesil's approach to those who know the secrets (and those many people in the way of same), Magiere's hiding of her own secrets, and Wynn's, er, presence. She does little for the saga here, or so it seems. The story is strictly for entertainment - there is a hint of a possibility of the half-bred characters being a metaphor, but on the whole this is very much an adventure, concerning innate destiny.

If you know this franchise, buy into it again here - I'm not reading elsewhere of fans being at all disappointed. If you want to start with this book, then more fool you - I think I can recommend the others, but with the best part of 2,000 pages to catch up with, I can't really pass comment. My impressions, for what they are worth, are favourable - a rambling series of books that do their job well, that of having their heroes in some modicum of peril while at the same time embroiled in a generation-crossing story of intrigue, evil, betrayal, retribution, and the undead. They also do the job of spinning this all out a little too well, but what fantasy series doesn't?

I thought the characters worked well together as a group, with enough dynamic both in their relationships, and in the varying points of view thus afforded (although one scene of jump-cuts where Chap learns the truth is too choppy). The writing doesn't really transcend the norm for the genre, either upwards or downwards, but there is nothing beyond the very awkward-to-pronounce foreign names to struggle with. I thought the Elvish leant to Gaelic at times, with a little bit Eastern European elsewhere, but I might be wrong.

I found it more than a bit refreshing for this style of fantasy telling - the unravelling of an entire back story, with the threatened great evil - The Ancient Enemy - to come (or not) in the future too. Settings - the forest location for the most part, which diverts the protagonist like a computer game's edge-of-domain wall - and the almost legal element were also bonuses. The fact that I was ignorant of most of what had been done to solve the mysteries so far did not really cause many problems in my learning what I needed to know to enjoy this volume.

I might suggest that for a fantasy series to be five books in and for me to not have noticed their existence means something has gone wrong somewhere, but I am happy at last to have encountered the quartet. I just dread how many future volumes are left to us! (Only one of this series, then a further trilogy as a sequel, if the website is to be believed.)

Rating a book so far into a sustained cycle is very difficult - this might be a blockbuster compared to other, turgid entries, say, or a long way off par. I think four is fair, as the writing is not earth-shattering, but the concept of the whole cycle worthy of note. My rating will be ignored by any fans of the husband and wife authors, but for those new to the Noble Dead Saga, I am happy to flag it up as a potentially well worthwhile investment.

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