Elves: Rise of the TaiGethen, by James Barclay

Patrick Mahon

Would-be author
Feb 15, 2006
Rating: ***** (5 stars out of 5)


‘Elves: Rise of the TaiGethen’ is the second book in James Barclay’s trilogy about the Elves. It is his eleventh novel and returns us to the world he created in the seven ‘Raven’ books. However, it takes place nearly three thousand years before the start of the earlier series.

Although ‘Rise of the TaiGethen’ is a sequel to ‘Once Walked with Gods’, it’s important to note that it is set one hundred and fifty years after the end of the earlier book. In the intervening time, most of the elves have been enslaved by the humans who invaded Calaia in the first book. They are now forced to chop down their forests so that the humans can export the high quality timber back to the major human population settlements on the northern continent of Balaia. The number of elves who remain free is small and they are divided, leaderless and mostly too busy staying out of the way of the human invaders to think about fighting back.

The free elves have been training their brightest and best to become mages, as it is the humans’ magic that has been the key to their domination of the traditionally non-magical elves. However,the first time the elven acolytes try to perform magic together, they are immediately located and destroyed by the far more powerful human mages. In the process, a sacred elven temple is desecrated. Faced with this blasphemy, the ClawBound – a relatively new and controversial development in elven society, comprising symbiotic pairings of elven priests with panthers – decide that they have had enough, and declare a guerrilla war on every human occupying Calaia.

Other than the ClawBound, the only free elves who retain an ability to fight the humans are the small number of elite warriors called the TaiGethen. However, when their leader Auum finds out that ten captive elves will be murdered for each human killed by the ClawBound, he is put in an impossible position. The few dozen remaining TaiGethen warriors must either stop the ClawBound from attacking more humans, or try to free the captive elves – and risk being annihilated by thousands of human soldiers in the process.

Auum’s mind is made up for him soon afterwards, when the leader of the human contingent on Calaia, Ystormun, declares total war on all elves. He’s had enough of the ClawBound’s hit-and-run tactics and decides that the simplest solution is genocide. He mobilises all his forces and sends them towards the elves’ most sacred city, Katura. Now Auum has no choice: Katura must be defended. But given the odds stacked against them, can the free elves survive?

This is a phenomenally good book. Barclay always writes well, but I’m not sure I’ve seen stronger storytelling from him than in ‘Rise of the TaiGethen’. The characters – both elven and human – are brought to life with such skill that nobody can be seen as mere cannon-fodder. As is his wont, Barclay kills off several of the major characters during the book, and in a couple of cases, the death scenes genuinely brought a tear to my eye. The story is full of drama and proceeds at a good pace throughout. The action scenes are brutal, exciting and very bloody. And despite the book having quite a few sub-plots, everything is tied up neatly by the end.

In conclusion, ‘Elves: Rise of the TaiGethen’ is probably James Barclay’s best novel to date. It’s a hugely enjoyable book to read and a great achievement, particularly for the middle book in a trilogy. I can’t wait to see how he tops this with the series finale.

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