I have been on record as wishing that fantasy authors would start writing some stand-alone titles. When I started book 1 of the "Conclave of Shadows" series by Raymond E. Feist (Talon of the Silver Hawk), I thought that I was embarking on yet another long, winding series of books. Imagine my surprise when I finished Feist's latest book, King of Foxes, and realized something. It ended! I couldn't believe it. Ending after book 2 is almost unheard of nowadays. That was already one plus for the book. Now, the question was: was the book any good? Much like Talon of the Silver Hawk, the book was somewhat enjoyable if predictable, with a few other problems that manage to bring it down.
Talon, the last surviving member of the Orosini, has successfully taken the first step in avenging his people, having killed the man who was leading the attack on his home. He still has to kill the man who ordered the attack, however: Kaspar, the Duke of Olasko. Talon has been taken in and trained by the Conclave of Shadows, but thankfully their goals coincide. The Conclave wants to get information on the evil wizard, Leso Varen, who has been aiding (perhaps controlling) Kaspar. In order to do so, Talon must swear an oath to Kaspar in order to enter his employ. Talon, being the kind of man he is, cannot swear a false oath, but he agrees to do it knowing that Kaspar will eventually betray him and the oath will be void. Then Talon can kill him. In doing so, however, Talon has to do some things he's not especially proud of. Will he be able to stay the man he is without losing his humanity? Once the inevitable happens, Talon has to face his toughest challenge yet as he fights to bring the Duke and his wizard down.
King of Foxes continues the story of Talon, and thus Feist writes in the same way as he did in the first book. That should be a good thing, right? Actually, in this case it's not. Some of the bits that were delightfully eccentric in the first book (such as starting each chapter with one sentence along the lines of "Talon stared") become increasingly annoying in the second book, as Feist doesn't keep them consistent. These stylistic mannerisms end up drawing attention to themselves and start to grate.
Another thing that I didn't mention in my review of the first book, but perhaps should have, is the portrayal of women. It becomes prominent in my mind by being worse then the first book. There is not one sympathetic female character in King of Foxes. Every woman in the book lusts after Talon (and seems to be promiscuous even away from Talon) and he manages to bed every woman who is actually named in the book. Natalia, Kaspar's sister, comes closest to being fleshed out, but even she is just a tool in her brother's schemes. She reaches out to Talon as a bed-partner because she knows that she will eventually be married off as an alliance for somebody. She claims that the ability to love has been taken away from her, but if there were anybody who could fill that role, it would be Talon. Even the "good" women (that is, the female members of the Conclave) can't resist Talon's lure. I realize that, as part of his "cover" in society, Talon was trained to seduce women, but this was ridiculous.
There are other problems with the book as well. Some characters and events are prominent but then disappear without having any real effect. Alysandra, the woman who hardened his heart in the first book, appears very briefly and is quickly dealt with. A chapter ends with Talon thinking that this particular character is "a very dangerous man," but then we don't hear anything about him again. Also, once again Talon is almost perfect in his planning and abilities, except for one mistake he makes (trusting someone) that was so obvious that there's no way a man even half as competent as Talon has been shown to be would make that mistake.
So far, this has been nothing but complaints. However, I did ultimately enjoy the book once I got past these issues. Talon has always been an interesting character, and he continues to be here. In fact, he becomes more interesting as he sinks deeper and deeper into his role and fights desperately to keep real the good part of him. He starts to have doubts about his revenge and whether it will be worth it. The ending, while anticlimactic and predictable, is fitting for the story that's been told, as Talon comes full circle. Feist definitely knows how to tell an exciting tale, and I read through the last 150 pages very quickly because I wanted to see how everything was resolved. There is one bit left unresolved, though it's not something a sequel would fix. There's one bit of closure that Feist just neglects, which is a shame.
While the book does end on a final note, there is the possibility of a sequel. Be assured, though, that this particular story, the story of Talon of the Silver Hawk, is over. Any further books will just be additions to his legend, or taking another of the characters and doing something with them. This 2-book series is self-contained. If I can't have just one book, I'm glad to have it limited to two. Kudos to Feist for that much.