With Flight of the Nighthawks, Raymond E. Feist begins yet another series of books set in the Midkemia universe. Also yet again, he writes a fairly enjoyable tale with a lot of little problems that bring it down to level of just an enjoyable read instead of a standout. One of the problems is the same as it always is, and he has corrected most of the other ones, but this time, some sloppy writing kept throwing me out of the book that I happened to be enjoying at the time.
Itís been two years since Lord Kaspar brought news of the other dimensional forces that are arrayed against Midkemia. The great magician Pug (also head of the Conclave of Shadows) awakens from a horrific dream that is hopefully not prophetic. Leso Varen escaped two years ago, and he is now housed in the kingdom of Kesh, having reformed a band of assassins called the Nighthawks to face the Conclave. Meanwhile, two young boys are coming of age in a small village, sons of a woman loved by one of Pugís sons. Caleb agrees to see that they are apprenticed to a good man, as opportunities for young, fatherless boys in the village are limited. But they get caught up in events, and they end up apprenticed to the Conclave, something that could kill them before they ever truly come of age. Will they be able to stop Varen before itís too late?
Flight of the Nighthawks is a continuation of Feistís ďConclave of ShadowsĒ trilogy, but it has its own series name: The Darkwar Saga. I didnít understand this at the time I read Exileís Return, but now I do. Feist has changed the focus to make it much broader. The back cover copy emphasizes the two brothers, Zane and Tad, but it truly covers the entire Conclave. While I donít mind a limited viewpoint, as in the previous series, it is nice to get information from a bunch of sources this time around. We have not only the boys but Caleb, Pug, Kaspar and Talwin Hawkins all involved in the plan to bring down the Nighthawks. The variety of viewpoints gives the book more of an epic feel.
While once again Feist avoids any potential misogyny charges by not featuring any female characters, the men he does populate the story with are well-drawn and interesting. He gives us some of the boysí training but doesnít concentrate on it as much as he did on Talís in the previous series. And he intersperses these chapters with events elsewhere in the world, so that the training sequences donít slow the story down. The wide number of characters also helps in the fact that the boys just arenít that interesting. These are the only shortfalls in the characterization, though, and the boys could get better once they are on their own a bit. In Flight of the Nighthawks, it seems that their main purpose is to get in the way and to rescue Caleb a time or two.
I also appreciated the tension in this book. Yes, we all know that the good guys are probably going to win (though maybe not right away, as this is Book One), but Feist gives us the action with the possibility that not everybody is going to come out alive. Our heroes arenít perfect, which is also unlike the Conclave books. Talwin is still the best in this book, but since he is not the only character, it is mitigated. The other characters do make mistakes, and itís nice to see.
Unfortunately, this brings me to the faults in the book. The writing is kind of simple, very suitable for a young age (though some of the subject matter might not be). This is not really a problem. However, sloppiness is, and there is a bit too much of it. First, Pug and his wife Miranda are described twice within the span of ten pages, both their physical appearances and the nature of their relationship. Both times it is as if Feist was introducing them, not describing them as they currently are because there has been a change. Thatís not something Iím used to from Feist.
Secondly, Caleb and Marie (his lover) have differing memories of how they got together for no particular story purpose (there is no memory manipulation or anything like that). By differing memories, Iím not talking a detail here or there. Iím talking about how they met, when they became lovers, whether Caleb knew of her husband before he died, major things like that. Both instances are when the character in question is musing about his/her situation, so it canít even be a lie told from one character to another.
Finally, there is a bit of internal continuity that Feist gets wrong. At the end of one chapter, Caleb mentions how hard it will be to tell Marie that heíll be leaving with their two boys without her the next morning. Then, in the next chapter that features them, he has taken her to the Sorcererís Isle and gotten her settled, spending a few days there with her and then he leaves with the two boys. These are all instances easily avoidable, and I am surprised they are included here. I do have a review copy of the book, but I have checked it with a published edition and these errors are still there. All of them threw me out of the book when I noticed them, and it took some effort to get back into it.
Writing errors aside, however, Flight of the Nighthawks is a very good continuation of the Midkemia stories, Feistís bread and butter. It is exciting and it begs you not to put the book down, to continue with one more chapter. Storywise, I think it is stronger than any of the Conclave books. It is too bad the writing issues make it harder to read. I hold out hope that the next book will continue with the strengths and leave the weaknesses behind.