A review by Nalini Haynes
A Kingdom Besieged by Raymond E Feist begins in a dying demon world that is being consumed by a great darkness that consumes everything in its path as it expands from the centre of the world. Midkemia is a middle-ages style world with several countries whose cultures are styled upon different historical kingdoms or empires as well as nations of mythological creatures such as mining dwarfs, several races of elves and magically-created hybrid creatures. Magic is a significant element in Midkemia. A Kingdom Besieged is the first in the Chaoswar Saga, which is supposed to be a stand-alone trilogy, A Crown Imperilled the second.
Child is a demon born and raised by her mother rather than spawned in a breeding crèche in the dying demon world. Motivated by desperation, Child’s mother breaks the law, killing and feeding her child on another demon before sacrificing herself. Child continues to grow and change, looking more like a succubus. Child acquires a mentor, Belog, who proves himself so useful she does not eat him.
Various people in Midkemia discover that they are under threat of war. In a secluded duchy seated in the town Crydee, on the Far Coast, well away from the capital city, is instructed to muster for war. The duke does so, taking most of his able-bodied men with him. The duke’s eldest son and heir, Henry known as Hal, is studying in the capital city of an allied nation, the Kingdom of the Isles. The second son, Martin, is left in charge in Crydee, tasked with defending Crydee against a surprise invasion. Martin is secretly in love with Bethany, a young woman of a closely allied family who is the intended bride of Hal.
Jim Dasher of many aliases is a spy, a criminal and a Lord at court. Jim’s complex history and relationships with the spymasters of rival kingdoms are briefly outlined as the narrative introduces Jim’s rivals. The spymasters are betrayed by their own networks, surprised to discover coups in their own kingdoms as war breaks out. Each of the spymasters seems to have a rich history in previous Midkemia novels.
Several magicians from various orders behave like rival denominations of churches, complicating international politics with their focus on personal and factional power. A god made Pug, the magician, immortal. I suspect that Pug is the central character in the first Midkemia book, the Magician. Pug’s history is recounted repeatedly for newcomers, with special emphasis on his wife and son dying. Pug’s relationships to other magicians, established in previous books, are the foundations of current politics.
Female characters abound in the Chaoswar Saga, in many roles with a range of personalities. Bethany is a capable young woman who seems more comfortable in breeches than skirts and who handles a bow better than most. Bethany is a leader within her own right, organising civilians during wartime and tending the wounded. Lily, the daughter of a mayor of a village, seems to be a fairly stereotypical girl until she comes under Bethany’s influence. One of the spymasters is a woman, Franciezka, who is ruthless and capable. A princess from the Kingdom of Isles is feminine and courtly; an admirer notes her strength, which is not in the kick-ass style, but is instead a combination of intelligence and political aptitude.
Sandreena, a female knight who travels alone faces many dangers. Once Sandreena was raped and thrown over a cliff to die by the Black Caps: this backstory is mentioned repeatedly. In the Kingdom Besieged, the Black Caps take Sandreena captive once again, starving her and torturing her inexplicably just prior to offering her a deal. There doesn’t appear to be any Stockholm Syndrome at work here, nor does Sandreena seem bothered by fear, stress, a sense of violation or the knowledge that history could repeat itself at any moment. While I applaud Feist for his variety of female characters, Sandreena’s character and journey caused me to suspend my disbelief.
I’m not sure why but of all the female characters in A Kingdom Besieged, I found Child to be the most compelling. However, the epilogue and subsequent changes to Child in the second book caused a disconnect for me, possibly because I don’t have the backstory behind those changes. Again I had the impression this was all set up in previous novels.
An intricate plot unfolds reminiscent of a game of chess but with more opposing factions and treachery within. The Chaoswar Saga is as intricate in its plotting as Game of Thrones only the characters are portrayed as less dark, as better men and women, having less sex, while they fight to defend their homes and kingdoms and seek the motivation behind the machination of war.
Although the Chaoswar Saga is supposed to be a stand-alone trilogy, I had great difficulty reading it without having read all that has come before. Time and time again I felt that a ‘ta-daaah!’ should have accompanied a character’s introduction as that character had obviously featured in previous books. I struggled to grasp the geography and politics of Midkemia without a map to simplify matters. One of my satisfactions when reading a good novel is to pick up the pieces of the story as if assembling a jigsaw, often anticipating the plot, but I felt as if I was reading this story half-blinded by ignorance. I realise my reaction and preferences are personal, not shared by everyone, but I recommend that you at least consider reading the entire series in order to gain maximum enjoyment. I definitely want to start at the beginning, but I’m obsessive like that – I find it difficult to jump into a TV series without having watched every episode in order as well.
A recommended read to fans of George R.R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson, for fans of epic fantasy sagas. The war has elements of Gemmell’s Legend.