S.J.A.Turney's Books & More

Reviews, news and inside the world of books.

Raven Saga

leave a comment »

*Reposted to replace lost posts from 2012*

r1

I was doubly surprised by Raven. I bought it, in all fairness, because I’d spoken to Giles on twitter – he’s a really nice fella – and it had a cool cover. There. Admission of guilt.

I’ve got 3 viking sagas sat in my bookshelves, all unread, because I obsess over the Roman era and I have trouble with Viking culture, because I’ve always thought they didn’t have one. So it took me a long time to get around to braving Raven. So that was my first stumbling block: not been keen to launch into viking tales.

Moreover, opening the book, I discovered that it’s written in first person perspective. I’m not a lover of such. I find that I can read most genres and even novels that are hard work if they’re in 3rd person, but they have to be exceptional for me to bother in first person. Stumbling block 2.

I started reading Raven, teeth gritted against the perspective, expectations of cultural interest low, but knowing that the author is an articulate, intelligent and pleasant man. Thus I persevered… until page 2.

As soon as I turned the page it was no longer a matter of perseverance. I was quite simply hooked. All my expectations, worries and niggling doubts vanished and by the 2nd chapter I was rethinking my attitude to the viking era in general. You see, though I had little interest in the whole Viking thing, it turns out that I love them, but had forgotten it, locking it away deep inside with a label saying: to be opened when you’re busy arrogantly pigeon-holing things. Suddenly I remembered Kirk Douglas as Einar in the Vikings. Suddenly I was remembering Asterix and the Normans. Suddenly I was back by the campfire in the Thirteenth Warrior, listening to the twelve norsemen boast. It turns out that I was blinkering myself.

Raven is an engrossing story, surprisingly taking place mostly on land, despite the longboats in early play. As much of the tale revolves around their Saxon victims/allies/acquaintances in Britain as it does around the norsemen. Raven himself is a fascinating character, built in many layers and continuing to acquire them as the story progresses. The other characters are equally strong: Sigurd the great Jarl, Olaf the second in command, Black Floki (my personal fave) and a cast of many glittering folk. There are twists, magnificent actions sequences that will have you shouting for the brotherhood, gruesome scenes of torture and murder, rousing heroic moments, betrayals, love interest… in short everything you could want from the book.

Along with Angus Donald’s Outlaw series, this is one of few series in 1st person perspective that is not only readable, but simply magnificent.

I am currently halfway through the sequel now and finding it every bit as good as the first. In short, Raven was an attitude changing book for me and has opened up a new genre entirely as readable.

Buy Raven and you’ll want to read the others.

r2

I so enjoyed the first Raven book that I wasted little time launching into the second. It started just as I expected, launching into a continuation of the story from Blood Eye, with just as much ‘oomph’. I was hooked.

However, Sons of Thunder is a different novel. Not what I expected and certainly not just a continuation of the story, though it does do that admirably too.

The first book had been a rip-roaring constant barrage of action and battle, heroics and betrayal, sneak attacks and audacious plans. Sons of Thunder built for only a couple of chapters on the same theme before sweeping all the plans from the table with surprise actions and decisions by the principal characters.

Suddenly I found I was reading more of an epic journey than an action fest. The story slowed into a languid, highly atmospheric and often tense journey, bringing the reader into an intimate understanding of what life would be like among the brotherhood of Sword-Norse aboard their dragon ships. I will say straight away that this was a surprise direction as far as I was concerned for the story to take, though in no bad way. Indeed, it lent a new freshness and interest to the tale.

I did, however, wonder really where the tale was going to go. I found myself thinking ahead and trying to see how the story might pan out, never quite able to work it all out.

And then, again, somewhere around two thirds of the way through the book, the direction changed once more, and suddenly the pace was breakneck, every bit as exciting and action-packed as Blood Eye. Indeed, I would say that Giles packed into a third of this book as much excitement as there had been in the first novel of the series, an achievement for which I doff my cap to him.

The story leaps and turns and twists in so many unexpected ways that I find it hard to describe how much I enjoyed it, and it builds to the very end to a moment that will be a defining one in the saga for me; one of those ‘Lo, there do I see my father’ moments from 13th Warrior (thanks Giles). It sets up the third tale beautifully and makes it almost impossible to pause before launching into that book (which I have just done).

The characters continue to entertain and build, some departing their life in appropriate manners, other previous unknowns coming to the fore. Raven himself continues to become stronger and more sure, and my personal fave remains Floki.

The highlight of the book for me was (without spoilers) the manner in which the Norsemen reacted and adapted to what was, for them, a thoroughly alien environment. It was masterfully done.

Now: On with Odin’s Wolves…

r3

So now I have come to the end of the Raven saga and it leaves me feeling a little sad. Perhaps some time, after his new series has been fully aired, Giles might return and write another Raven story. I hope so.

Each of the Raven books has followed beautifully from its previous bedfellow and has progressed the general tale and the growth of Raven himself, but also each of the books has a very individual character and addresses different themes, issues and emotions.

Odin’s Wolves opens with the wolfpack already off the coast of Portugal on their way to the great city of Constantinople. The first third-to half of the books is to some extent a fascinating travellogue of the western Mediterranean as seen through a baffled Norseman’s eyes.

Indeed, approaching half way through the book, I wondered whether that was the form the book would take.

But then they reached Rome and the real plot truly kicked in and picked up pace. I won’t ruin the plot for you, but where the second Raven novel fitted all the action and adventure of the first into just the latter half of the second, this does the same, but even better, with a tight, well-defined, clever and believable plot, foreshadowing the creation one day of the infamous Varangian Guard.

As a Roman/Byzantine nut, it fascinated me and I couldn’t spot a thing out of place.

But despite everything: the ‘Das-Boot’ tension of the run through the Hellespont, the crumbling glory of Rome, the beauty of the Bucoleon palace (one of my favourite places I have ever walked), the fights, the tricks and the glory… the thing that strikes me most about Odin’s Wolves was the growth and changes in the characters, which were subtle, clever, and helped weave the plot. It was this that led me to conclude that Giles hit his perfect stride in this book. Given that, I cannot wait to read The Bleeding Land.

Bravo again. Odin’s Wolves is a masterpiece

Advertisements

Written by SJAT

May 11, 2012 at 9:24 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: