Elspeth Cooper was kind enough to send me a review copy of The Raven’s Shadow – but the deal still applies. If I don’t like a book, I won’t bother to complete it and I certainly won’t write about it. It’s the reason why I don’t generally ask authors to submit books for review and am very reluctant to take requests unless I’m fairly certain that I’m going to enjoy the book. Did this, the third in this epic fantasy quartet, fulfil the promise of the earlier two books? You can read my review of the first book, Songs of the Earth here.
In the Archen Mountains, Teia struggles through the high, snowy passes to warn the Empire: a war band is poised to invade, and their leader means to release the Wild Hunt – and with it Maegern the Raven, the Keeper of the Dead. In Gimrael, the fires of revolution robbved Gair of a friend and left him alone in a hostile city, unsure even if the Song is still his to command. He has one last duty to discharge, and then nothing will stand between him and his vengeance. And in the Nordmen’s chilly halls, Savin plays out a game in which kings, chieftains and men are but pawns on a chessboard than spans the Veil itself.
Yep. You’re right – it’s vintage epic Fantasy fare. But there is so much more to this excellent series than that. While the setup may not be groundbreakingly original, it is a solidly well-constructed world with plenty of depth and breadth – furthermore Cooper achieves this without pages of exposition.
I gave myself a break between reading the second and third books, as if I read a block of books from a single writer, I tend to find stylistic quirks start to grate and interfere with my enjoyment. But as soon as I opened up this hefty tome, I was immediately whisked back into the world of Teia, Gair and Tanith. The protagonists are vivid, enjoyable and bounce off the page such that I was soon immersed into the experience, relishing and savouring it – the mark of a thoroughly enjoyable read. That said, it isn’t a good book to pick up if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this series. You’d miss far too much of the backstory to fully appreciate the characterisation and exactly why they are doing what. Gair, in particular, has a whole suite of emotional baggage due to his previous traumatic experiences – and neither would you fully appreciate Tanith’s irritation at the insufferable Ailric and his unwanted advances.
Obviously the main task of a mid-series book is to continue the story arc, continue the protagonists’ journeys ensuring the tension pings off the page and while the finale of this particular book cannot wrap the story up, neither can it sputter to an uninspiring close. And I’ve read far too many of those in my time.
Not so in this book – Cooper really lets loose. She has a clean, punchy writing style I really enjoy and when it came to the showdown that had been building from the opening scenes, she ensures she delivers an almighty battle scene that had me rapt. I should have got up and got going on my lengthy To Do list, but I was going nowhere without knowing first who prevailed. And – yes – I really didn’t know, because she has already seen off a couple of major characters that I’d become very attached to. We’re not talking the kind of protag persecution that Martin displays in his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, but nevertheless I was winded when they died. It was a triumphant climax to a cracking Fantasy read that is right up there with the likes of Joe Abercrombie, Kate Elliott and Glenda Larke in my opinion.
I’m really looking forward to the fourth book – and if you enjoy character-led epic Fantasy, then track down this series. It deserves be far better known.