Flight of the Nighthawks by Raymond E. Feist

The world of Midkemia was born in the minds of some role-playing gamers. Author Raymond Feist was one of them. Feist has been developing and expanding his Midkemia universe in book form since 1982's outstanding Magician (subsequently reprinted in two volumes titled Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master), predominantly in three-book sagas which share a few perennially-appearing central characters (in roles that vary widely in importance) but are generally complimentary rather than interdependent stories. A minority of these sagas are co-authored (well) by other writers, and accordingly achieve a unique voice. The Darkwar Saga initiated with Flight of the Nighthawks is Feist's alone.

Risking endless digression, I believe some background information regarding this complex universe- developed over more than 20 novels- is necessary for those unfamiliar with this material.

Midkemia is an approximately medieval human world, with different countries, continents, cultures and political entities. In all of these, magic plays at least as important a role as technology. There are many interrelated forms of magic employed by different practitioners in different ways. A hierarchy of lesser and greater gods exists, some of whom appear occasionally as active participants in the stories. Midkemia is one of many planets known to exist, and travel between them is possible through magical means. In addition to multiple worlds there is a spectrum of planes of reality, on one of which Midkemia exists.

Pug, the titular central figure of the original Midkemia novel, once again plays a central role in this saga. One of the most powerful human practitioners of magic in all the known worlds- and extraordinarily long-lived- he heads a secretive, apolitical organization called the Conclave of Shadows, wielding considerable powers and resources both magical and mundane to combat threats posed by the forces of evil.

Another recurring character that figures prominently in this saga is Leso Varen, possibly the most dangerous evil magician in existence, a practitioner of a particularly vile form of magic called necromancy, which has allowed him to escape numerous seemingly certain deaths. Though the Conclave has foiled many of his fiendish plots, an ultimate victory over Varen continues to elude them.

In Flight of the Nighthawks, the Conclave uncovers evidence of resumed activity by the Nighthawks (a fanatical, centuries-old guild of assassins) toward some purpose. Suspecting Varen's hand, they set about discovering this purpose, work toward defeating the Nighthawks once and for all, and ultimately discover an even greater danger.

This danger, the central premise of the Darkwar Saga, is the imminent invasion of Midkemia (and other worlds on Midkemia's plane) by occupants of one of the lower planes of reality. The nature of beings on lower planes is such that simply entering a higher plane causes them to draw life energy from it, wilting the grass where they stand, etc. It's not enough to attempt to defeat them on the battlefield; they can cause the destruction of a world on a higher plane simply being there in numbers. The Conclave must find a way to prevent that from happening- while necromancer Varen does everything in his power to see that it does.

These books are page-turners of the first order. If you don't like them, you probably don't like fantasy novels. They aren't literary masterpieces by any means, but Feist has a knack for quickly establishing characters with which readers can easily identify, and these are no exception. His characters are always memorable, especially those he's fleshed out over the course of many books. Many of these characters feel like old friends to me, having read more than 20 of these books, and when Feist finally puts his pen down (likely not for quite a while) I'll be disappointed.

Though all the Midkemia books are good, some are simply outstanding. Generally the first books of any Midkemia saga are enjoyable, but not the best of the series, and since I've also recently finished the second book in this saga, I know this to be true here. (I actually re-read this book, something I rarely do, to get back up to speed with the plot after a long absence.)

As with all Feist's Midkemia sagas, these books are intended to be read in order. I'd strongly recommend reading Magician (the re-published, expanded single volume, or the two volume reprints) before continuing on with any of the subsequent sagas. (If you never read another Feist novel, read that one; it's outstanding.)

It's also a good idea to read the sagas in the order they were published. It's not strictly necessary, as they stand up reasonably well on their own, but readers would be missing out on a lot of excellent prior character development, and some of the passing references to events would lose a lot of their relevance. The Darkwar Saga immediately follows the events of the Conclave of Shadows saga, so those are especially recommended prior reading. Apart from those reasons, the world of Midkemia is worth reading from the beginning. A comprehensive list of Feist's work, including the recommended reading/publishing order, can be found on his official site.

I read the Eos paperback version of Flight, and I must report noticing some editorial mistakes, which (inevitably) yank the reader out of the fantastic world they're in and drop them right back in the real one, every time.

more information and reviews at amazon.com

Feist's site has a pretty extensive cover art section. Here's some of the best ones for this book:

United States:


This one, from Hungary, is my favorite. It shows (half human/half demigod Dragon Lord) Tomas, a recurring character that plays a very minor role in this particular book, examining one of many dormant Talnoys (mindless soldiers from another plane of reality, comprised of empty suits of armor animated by unknown means):





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