Once Walked With Gods by James Barclay (Elves Trilogy: Book 1)

I’ve made no secret that one of my favourite authors is James Barclay. My personal friendship with the man aside, I think he has exceptional talent that is unmatched in fantasy writing originally pioneered by David Gemmell. While his scope doesn’t always extend as far as authors like Steven Erikson or Joe Abercrombie, Barclay’s action and character driven plots never fail to hold my attention and entertain me.

When James told me a year or so ago that he was working on a new series set in his Raven universe, but set many thousands of years prior, I was excited. That it concerned the elves had me even more excited, because if there was one plot thread that I wish I could have read more of during the Raven series, it was the elves on Calaius.

The series is ‘Elves’. The book is ‘Once Walked with Gods’. And I tell you what, Barclay is back and he might very well be better than ever.

The book takes place several thousand years before the events of Barclay’s Raven series (unsure on exactly how many years). The Elves have only recently arrived on Calaius, running from the threat which we read about in Ravensoul, Barclay’s last entry concerning the Raven. Their hero is in tatters – both publically and personally – and their society is about to be thrown asunder.

I was pleasantly surprised to actually see humans in this book, assuming that they would not have even been around. Whether I didn’t remember points from the original books or not I was excited and interested to see pre-College magic and magic wielders.

There were a lot of elves mentioned in this book, and I only know of one that made it all the way through from this book to the Raven books, and that is Auum. There may very well have been more, but I’ve obviously forgotten their names. Auum’s story is very much subservient to the larger plot, which is nice, because it makes this book not just about Auum and how he’s survived all these years. You definitely see how he has, but it’s not the focus.

The focus, however, is on the elves themselves. Lives are lost and sometimes thrown away (by the owners of the lives, not the author) and the elven society is rent asunder by the end of the book, and flows nicely into the sequel that will come out late 2011. There’s not a giant cliff-hanger, but there are storylines unfinished. You get a picture for what the elves were like, what they are like, and what they might become. You can see that there is a lot of growth for them to reach the place where we first saw them.

Sometimes a writer will return to a universe they’ve created simply because it made them money and they wanted more. It doesn’t often work. When a writer goes back to tell a story that they’ve wanted to tell, however, it does work, and that’s exactly what is happening here. Once Walked with Gods is a brilliant addition to the Barclay universe and left me reading well past midnight once I was in sight of the end.

I loved this book. I loved the characters and the journeys that they took and are to take, and I love the hints of what will come; things that we’ll know of in passing and get to see in full and other things which are totally new. Barclay has managed to return to the world of Calaius and not leave us disappointed.

10/10 Once Walked with Gods is a brilliant addition to the Barclay universe.

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