And yet, having read both Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind and Williams' Shadowplay earlier this year, I decided to wait a while before giving this one a chance. I try to balance everything by reading titles from various publishers -- an attempt to spread the joy, if you will. However, electing to wait before reading Feast of Souls proved to be a dumb move on my part, for the first volume of the Magister trilogy is without a doubt the very best of Daw Books' "big guns" of 2007.
More epic than dark fantasy this time around, Feast of Souls is a compelling opening chapter in a tale which appears vaster in scope than anything C. S. Friedman has written up until this point. Having said that, I feel that it's also the least self-contained novel the author has ever written. Whereas each volume of the Coldfire trilogy was more or less stand-alone -- even though part of an overall story arc -- Feast of Souls is definitely an introduction to a much more ambitious and complex fantasy epic.
Richly detailed worldbuilding intrigues the reader from the beginning. It's obvious that this book is meant to lay the groundwork for what will unfold in the upcoming sequels. As such, it makes for a slower pace for the better part of the first half of the novel. After that, the pace quickens and the storytelling makes it difficult to put this one down.
Characterization is a facet in which Friedman excels. It's a little harder to judge how memorable some of these characters will be, for Feast of Souls is comprised of multiple viewpoints. Hence, since the story reveals itself through the eyes of various POV characters, the narrative is not as powerful as that of the Coldfire trilogy. I'm not saying that the characterization leaves something to be desired, far from it. The author introduces us to an interesting and disparate cast of characters that give substance to this novel. The problem is that she leaves you wanting to learn more, again and again. This is especially true with Kamala, as well as the Magisters Colivar and Ramirus. More will be disclosed in the forthcoming volumes, of course. Sue me for wanting to know more right now!
One word of advice, though: C. S. Friedman now belongs to the school of thought which feels that having characters survive countless ordeals and star in multiple books/series is a somewhat obsolete concept. À la Martin, Lynch and Erikson, she has no qualms about getting rid of main characters when you least expect it. Consider yourself warned. . .;-)
The absence of a map did irk me to some extent. What can I say!?! Maybe I'm too "old school," but I'm one of those people who like to know where the action is taking place.
Imaginative and entertaining, with an ending that I never saw coming, Feast of Souls is probably the most underrated fantasy book of 2007. Give C. S. Friedman's latest a shot, lest it remains this year's best-kept secret!
The final verdict: 8/10