James Barclay's The Raven
I have just finished reading (and re reading) James Barcly's six part series of books about the Raven. A group of mercenary fighters and mages who fight the good fight on the continent of Balaia. When we first meet them they have been together for ten years as a unit, working for whomever will pay their way. But in this last battle they encounter two beings who bring about a change in both theirs and the worlds life. One is a 120 foot long dragon and the other a mage. The first is in possession of an amulet that the second desires in order to piece together an ancient spell.
After using the Raven to ensure his successful securing of the amulet he reveals the threat their world is under that requires this spell to be cast. Thus the adventure begins. At first it seems simple enough, recover the elements needed, go into the heart of the enemies stronghold, cast a spell which has never been done before because it risks destroying the world, and hope to survive. But this turns out to be only the beginning.
The casting of the spell sets in motion a series of events that will see The Raven criss cross two continents, befriend dragons, be betrayed by allies, befriend enemies, overcome a plague that threatens to wipe out the elves, and cross dimensional boundaries in an attempt to save their world's soul from the grasp of demons. It will also see there birth of an ancient magic which combines all the elements of the four disparate teachings in their world, but has the unfortunate side effect of being almost too strong for any mage to handle without their mind being fried.
Sound exciting. Well it is, but its more then just simple sword and sorcery, although there's plenty of that too. Mr. Barclay manages to elevate a rather bored genre into something new. His characters far exceed the usual cookie cutter types we meet in these books, real moral dilemmas are examined, villains aren't what they seem(neither are allies)and things are never just black and white. It's sword and sorcery set in a world similar to ours, with the difference being that the consequences of your actions end up biting you in the nose a lot quicker there then they do here.
With the casting of the initial spell (Dawnthief is its name for its power to destroy the sun) the boundaries between dimensions are changed, and the magic used to cast it is brought back. First a rift between the dragons world and Balaia is opened and has to be closed before they are destroyed by an invasion of dragons, then The Raven must deal with aftermath of the barbarian invasion that necessitated Dawnthief, until finally there is one interdemensioal spell cast too many and the demons who have been lurking in the wings awaiting their chance to invade take advantage of a new rip to threaten dominance so supreme that it will even encompass the realm of the dead. Phew!!!
But spaced over six books it's perfect. Characters develop, friendships grow and never once does Mr. Barclay strike a wrong note. Emotions are never manipulated, but nurtured through the development of people we care for and respect. His characters aren't perfect, but just do the best they can in the situations they are in, in others words they are human (well as human as a 120 ft. Dragon can get, although watching him trying to learn to be funny is wonderful) These are wonderful books which don't demand too much of the reader, but leave you feeling better for having read them.