Raymond E. Feist died.
That’s how I’d start his eulogy, if he was dead, because after over 25 novels, he still starts every chapter with the same damn single-sentence-paragraph formula. Pug winced. The wind blew. Jimmy snuck. I’ve reckoned that’s how I’d start his eulogy since I was about 14, and as he hasn’t had the good grace to die yet, I’m getting in there before anyone else does.
And I don’t mind. Because that little formula at the start of each chapter takes me back to lying in bed reading at 3 in the morning with little thought to how tired I’ll be at school the next day. Or reading Darkness at Sethanon under the desk while sitting in class at high school. God knows why I’d enjoy being reminded of my teenage years, but apparently I do.
His first novel, Magician, routinely sits in various bookstores’ top 100 recommended reads. Whitcoulls, may it rest in peace, included it in their Y2K top reads list. It’s generally acknowledged as one of the great fantasy books â€“ which to some may sound like being the tallest midget around, but, you know, fuck them.
The thing is, he’s not that great a writer, and things have steadily gone downhill since that first trilogy, the Riftwar Saga. What once seemed like fascinating hints and twists now cause me to groan, like Pug’s suspicions that “the odd little gambler” Nakor, who “continued to insist that there is no magic” was “possibly the most dangerous man he’d ever met”. Hoo boy! What’s the deal with Nakor, eh?
Ten novels later and it seems like Nakor’s name can’t be mentioned without those qualifications. Apparently it’s all anyone can think about. Nakor the Odd Little Gambler who Insists There Is No Magic Just Stuff and is Possibly the Most Dangerous Man Ever. We get it!
How about Amos Trask? “Arutha, you take all the fun out of life!” Nice way to end a book. Sure, end another one with exactly the same line. And… yes, after Amos is dead, end another book with something along the lines of, “Amos was right, back before he died, Arutha: you do take all the fun out of life.”
That’s how I’d end the eulogy, by the way. Something like, “But unlike Arutha, Raymond E. Feist never took the fun out of life.” Too clumsy, I know. Lacks punch.
So he used characters’ signature lines even after the characters were dead. There’s a reason for that. It’s the same reason that as his novels continue to span generations of families in his fantasy worlds, the descendents of the original heroes sit around and whine about how they themselves, or everyone around them, are nowhere near as awesome as their ancestors.
“Yes,” said Pug. “Your great-grandfather was the finest man I’ve ever known, and I sure wish he was around right now.”
More like Arutha was one of Feist’s favourite characters, and he misses him. And Jimmy.
Fair enough. So do I.
But enough about how amazing Jimmy was. Who rolled the stats on that guy? Fuckin’ 18s all round, and his character flaw is “he’s not quite as good as he claims he is”. (To explain: Feist wrote the books based on a Dungeons & Dragons campaign he played with his friends.)
And still I read them. It’s like coming home. The repetitive assembly-line stories don’t matter. The bad writing doesn’t matter. Midkemia, the Riftwar, the Hall of Worlds, Pug and Macros and Tomas and Nakor, they were such good ideas that they shone through the adequate execution of the earlier novels and provide a kind of inertia that keeps the later ones rolling along.
I still want to find out what happens next. I’m still reading. It still feels like being curled up in bed with a torch under the covers.
And the next one is out now in New Zealand.
(For more hilarious fantasy book cover parodies, click here: Mighty God King.)