Review: Once Walked With Gods

Posted: July 18, 2012 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: James Barclay, Fantasy

When I want to treat myself to a good book, or when I desperately need to forget a terrible novel that makes me want to give up on literature entirely, I find that I turn to a very, very small selection of authors.

James Barclay is pretty close to the top of that list.

You see, I know that when I pick up a Barclay novel, I won’t be disappointed. Reading Barclay is like having your favorite steak, cooked to perfection. The first book in his Elves Trilogy, ONCE WALKED WITH GODS (Amazon), is the kind of book where I can forget I’m a critic. I just get to sit down, dig in, and enjoy the hell out of it.

You remember Barclay’s Raven novels? This series is a prequel to them involving the Elves. I know, I know. Elves. Aren’t we supposed to hate them now? Isn’t that the the “in” thing? In most cases I would say yes, but not here. I love the way Barclay writes his Elves, and I was eager to see how he would tackle a book focusing on them almost exclusively. After all, one of my absolute favorite characters of all of Barclay’s works was the Auum.

Imagine my childlike glee when a young–and even impressionable–Auum stepped “on screen” in ONCE WALKED WITH GODS. Awesome. Just… awesome.

I’m sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself. I just get so excited when I read a James Barclay novel. Back on track! ONCE WALKED WITH GODS follows the elves as they struggle for an internal identity. They’ve had a thousand years of peace amongst themselves, and they escaped the Garonin–an event eluded to in RAVENSOUL (EBR Review). But this peace can’t last. The different “races” of elves are mired in racial hatred and at the brink of civil war. And embroiled in all of this are the humans. They want the elven continent, and they’ll massacre everyone there to get what they want.

At the very beginning, we are introduced to one of my new favorite Barclay characters. The elf Takaar. He is an elf torn by guilt and shame over his actions ten years prior to this novel, and yet he still manages to exude a certain menace as a warrior and respectability as a leader. It’s a fine line to walk, and the credit goes to Barclay for not just making it work, but making it awesome.

ONCE WALKED WITH GODS is incredible, and yet I'm left with the feeling that the best is yet to come. Dark and brutal with that glimmer of hope.

While I enjoyed the side characters–and they are well done in the limited time they are given–the draw for me as a reader was Auum and Takaar. The dynamic between the two is volatile–due mainly to Takaar–yet it never feels forced. Everything they say, everything they do… it all feels natural. This has been my main observation of Barclay’s work. His characters always act like they should. Not once have I ever stopped and said, “Huh. I’m not sure he/she would have actually done that.”

As expected, the action in ONCE WALKED WITH GODS is fantastic. Remember, this is a prequel to the Raven series. In those novels the elves had magic, and they were a force to be reckoned with both in martial prowess and in magical skill. In this novel, the elves don’t have magic. They’ve never seen it or heard of it. To see Auum’s first contact with a human mage… man, it was a joy to read. Again, it all feels natural and effortless. Personally, I never get tired of scenes involving the TaiGethen. They are artists in their killing ability, and Barclay writes them as such. While this is the elves first contact with magic, this is also the human’s first contact with TaiGethen. The result is bloody, tense, and absolutely brutal.

Just how I like it.

The last thing I will mention is how much I enjoyed the overall tone of the novel. It is dark, with hope dwindling as each page is turned. Don’t expect the typical book 1 happy ending. Expect things to be at their near-worst, with a glimmer of hope.

James Barclay has never let me down. Ever. And I don’t expect him to. He has written to many awesome novels for me to expect anything short of excellence (no pressure or anything). ONCE WALKED WITH GODS is on par with the best of the Raven books, and we haven’t even gotten to the point in the series with the emotional gut punches Barclay is know for.

ONCE WALKED WITH GODS is incredible, and yet I’m left with the feeling that the best is yet to come.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Infrequent, but strong in a few places. Mainly with humans.
  • Violence: All sorts. This is a bloody novel, but the interesting thing is how it is bloody and brutal from the human's PoVs, and artistic from the elven PoVs.
  • Sex: Rape is mentioned, but never shown

Import only for you US readers, but when has that ever been an excuse to not buy an awesome novel?

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