Raymond E. Feist confuses me, especially with his latest book, Exile's Return, the third part of the "Conclave of Shadows." I said in my review of King of Foxes that the story of Talon of the Silver Hawk is over and that anything afterward would be extra. Here is that extra. However, it leaves off on a pretty massive ďto be continued,Ē yet I have heard that the next book is the start of *another* series, beginning right after Exile's Return ends. Whatís the point? Why not have a book four? It canít be marketing, as there are many series that go far past book four and are successful. I could even see Exile's Return being the beginning of a new series, as it involves a new character, and Talon is only peripheral. However, the book is what it is, and it is a very good book. Itís interesting, has a good main character who redeems himself in many ways, and introduces an otherworldly threat that will be very hard to defeat.
Kaspar, the former Duke of Olasko before being deposed by Talon, has been exiled to a strange continent on the other side of the world for his crimes. He is left penniless, almost naked, and he is quickly set upon by bandits when he appears there by dimensional shift. Kaspar uses his wits, however, and quickly turns the tide on his captors, escaping into the wild. As he makes his way across the continent, he thinks about his predicament and what led to his downfall, including the lies and sorcery committed by the man whom he deemed advisor, Leso Varen. He is determined to return to Olasko and avenge himself on Talon. However, circumstances get him involved in an artifact from another world, leading him to enlist Talonís help in contacting the Conclave of Shadows for assistance. In the process, Kaspar learns that there is more to life than power, and that he hasnít necessarily led a good one. Too bad that the process of learning that could kill him, and the rest of Midkemia.
My review of King of Foxes criticized Feist heavily for the way the story portrayed women; basically, they were nothing but sexual objects throughout the story. Feist avoids that pitfall this time, mostly by not having any female characters in the book. The two who are in it, however, are much stronger (though very minor). Johanna is a woman whose husband has disappeared after going to the nearest town for market. While she doesnít do a whole lot in the book, we can see that she is quite determined to keep the farm that she and her son occupy successful, despite the fact that there are only the two of them. Kaspar admires her greatly, thinking back to the way he used to treat peasants in Olasko (when he deigned to notice them at all). There is nothing romantic about their relationship at all, and he leaves her farm a better man for it. I really liked her and what Feist did with her. The other female character is the wife of the head wizard in the Conclave, and she doesnít do a lot, but at least she acts like a normal woman.
Most of the characters in Exile's Return are fairly thin, but they serve their purpose well in the story. Kaspar is the protagonist, and this is his story of redemption. He realizes that he was deceived a great deal by Varen, and that Varen is still a big danger to the world. He begins doing the right thing when he is compelled to by the magic around the artifact being carried by the group of men he falls in with, however, that magic eventually disappears, and he still finds himself doing the right thing. A great deal of the first part of the book, especially when heís dying of thirst, is taken up with his thoughts on what happened, his determination to kill Talon, and the realization of what he had done. Thankfully, Feist avoids having him come to all the right conclusions immediately, as his determination for vengeance still rings brightly for quite a while. Kaspar is even more interesting than Talon was in the first two books, which is saying something.
The plot isnít unique, but it serves its purpose as sword and sorcery. The conclave is a bit clichťd, very reminiscent of the wizard councils in various Dungeons and Dragons books, traveling hither and yon through teleportation. The artifact that they have in their possession is kind of interesting, an unstoppable force that shows our heroes how tough it will be if more of those artifacts come into this world. I havenít read the "Riftwar" saga, so I hope that Feist isnít repeating himself with the rifts opening up keyed to the artifact they have. Thereís certainly a lot of action, or at least talking about action, throughout the book, so it isnít very deep. Once Kasparís internal struggles with his philosophy are through, the book pretty much just plows through the plot without a lot of characterization. That does make it a fun read, however, just not very thought-provoking.
This is my first Feist series, and Iím very happy to say that, despite the numerous references to past books, you donít have to read any of them first. Feist does a very good job of filling the reader in along the way, giving just enough information to tell us what happened without dwelling on it too much. Only somebody who has read them can say whether they are too detailed or not, but I valued it.
Fans of Feist will probably love this book, and I definitely think itís better than King of Foxes. If you like some straightforward adventure, then this will appeal to you too. Just donít expect to think a lot.