In a Bronze Age world, a child is born on the first night of Ilun, eight days of darkness. Orphaned, outcast, she is marked for sacrifice, but the shaman defies the tribe’s leaders to keep her alive. He has seen in her power beyond anything he has known, power the tribe may need some day. But will she be allowed to use it?
This is the premise of The Raven, by Aderyn Wood. I read an advance copy of The Raven over the course of three days. I would likely have read it in one in my younger days, when the luxury of reading all day was possible,which should tell you how much I liked it. Wood has crafted a believable, internally consistent fantasy world, with strong characters. The story is a classic conflict between choosing and using magical powers of good and evil, and as such has similarities with other stories in the fantasy genre, but it is neither excessively cliched nor stereotypical.
The tribal, semi-nomadic world that Iluna is born to bears some similarities to Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series, and some to Guy Gavriel Kay’s Dalrei in The Fionavar Tapestry. But these are similarities only; this world stands on its own. Unusually, much time in the book is given to Iluna’s childhood (and therefore that of other key characters), a plot device which promotes both character development and world-building. In Wood’s competent hands the dramas and conflicts of childhood are woven into the larger challenges Iluna’s people face, and as the children mature, the complexity of those challenges increases, mirroring their understanding and role in them.
As Iluna grows to maturity, the scope of her world grows too, and she realizes that her gifts may be of interest and use to her whole network of tribes, and not just her own. Her choices and behaviour are those you might expect from a young girl on the edges of her society but aware of her unique powers, adding to the plausibility – and the tension – of the plot.
I had a few small niggles. There are a few wobbles in the consistency of voice, especially in dialogue, with modern sayings – “Stay safe” mixed in with archaic language – “…recent years have been ill-omened for us.” Wood uses ‘mountain lion’ in the first half of the book and ‘mountain cat’ in the second, apparently for the same species. And, perhaps most seriously, I found the description of the penultimate crisis, a battle scene, unconvincing, lacking in tension and broken by the statement “The fight wasn’t over yet.” Here, I felt, the author forgot the writer’s adage ‘Show, don’t tell.’
Overall, though, The Raven earns a very solid 4 stars. It was an enjoyable read, and one that I really didn’t want to put down. I don’t say that about many books. Available from Amazon.
The author provided me with a pre-publication copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine alone.