Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Giles Kristian - Raven: Blood Eye (Book Review)

"Raven: Blood Eye" (Amazon: US, UK - preorder- )
by Giles Kristian (homepage)
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Publisher: Bantam Books (26.Feb 2009)

Raven: Blood Eye” arrived in my mail at the best possible time, as a courtesy of Transworld publishing. It was a freezing and pretty miserable day, so it’s no wonder that my only desire was to sit at home and read a good book - but which one? I wasn’t ready for a sprawling epic such as Gardens of the Moon, but I did long for things epic fantasy genre usually provides – adventures, clash of arms, stuff like that – I was wishing for one might call ‘fantasy lite’. "Raven: Blood Eye" , despite being essentially a historical novel, came to be a very satisfying choice and I finished it the same evening (too bad, since that brought back the ‘which one now?’ dilemma).

First three things that I’d noticed were:

-the very impressive cover art

-the fact that it is about Vikings, Norse culture and Norse mythology (which is great, since I haven’t seen a book about Vikings (at least not a fiction one) in a long time now)

-the summary of the book, which was a lot longer than it should be. I still made the mistake of reading it, and even though it gives out no names, it still can be considered a huge spoiler – it conveys the majority of the plot. Yes, that is usually the point of a summary, but I still believe that there should be some surprises left for the reader to discover by himself. Next time, I’ll make sure to skip the summary and rather give in to the joy of not knowing what’s going on.

Blood Eye”’s plot is fairy conventional: Raven is a young man who’s lost his memory and wholly accepted his new life, just to discover that he’s obviously not what he thought he was. When his village is visited by fair-headed, long-bearded Norsemen who wish to trade with Englishmen, Raven is much surprised to find out that he can speak their language, but more surprises are to follow – and not all of them will be pleasant.

Since the historical setting of ninth-century England saves a lot of trouble with world-building, Kristian had the opportunity to focus entirely on the plot, which basically means a story that compels you to read on and never gets boring. This is partly achieved with big time-leaps from one remarkable event to another, which can also be pretty confusing at times. Raven is developing mentally and physically during the voyage, and because of the time-leaps, it looks like he undergoes the changes unnaturally fast. Some of it are not just time-leaps: Raven grows fond of his new life rather too quickly, despite internal dilemma of which god to choose he was coping with at the beginning of his adventure, when him trying to be a devout Christian got interrupted by him being ordered to respect the Norse gods. Even more, he comes to believe that he is kind of trapped between the two religions, which is, seeing how real the gods feel to the people in the book, a surprisingly rational view for someone whose life turned upside down in the blink of an eye and started to fill with pagan deities.

The characters are otherwise mostly well-developed and likeable (except for the ‘bad guys’, of course, who are properly (and predictably) unlikeable), despite their unbelievably high survival rate. There is some minor confusion (e.g. how Asgot keeps changing his mind about Raven, seemingly on a whim, and how Sigurd can make himself understood to his Norsemen and to the British at the same time, despite the fact that most of the Norsemen don’t understand British language and vice versa); the final turn of events is pretty predictable as well, but all in all, “Raven: Blood Eye” is a nice enough read. It’s great to see a novel whose author is not afraid to make his characters a bloodthirsty bunch, yet at the same time manages to convince the reader to accept them, respect them and even side with them. And since Raven’s real journey is just beginning, I look forward to an even better sequel. “Raven: Blood Eye” is a promising debut and if Kristian keeps its qualities and corrects some of the mistakes, the sequel can become even more than just an enjoyable Viking novel.
- Trin -


Marc said...

Hi Trin, have you heard of Bernard Cornwell? He's a very popular author of historical fiction, best known for his Richard Sharpe novels about a British officer in the Napoleonic wars. But he also writes various stories set in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, and he's recently written four books in his Saxon Chronicles, with more to come.

These Saxon Chronicles follow the life of the son of a Saxon Earl, who after the age of 10 is raised by Danish Vikings as a pagan Dane, and who then uses his knowledge of both cultures to obtain a leading role in the wars of the late 9th Century.

These books have been very popular, do you suppose Kristian is trying to capitalize on Cornwell's success?

Keep up the good work with the reviews! You've mentioned that it isn't always easy to frame your thoughts in English, but you and your friends put many native speakers to shame!

Trin said...

Never heard of the guy, but Thrinidir says the Saxon saga is 'good stuff' :) it sure sounds interesting, I'll write it down on my to-read list.

About Kristian and Cornwell ... I couldn't say, mostly because I haven't read any of Cornwell's books yet. If I did, I'd know how many similarities between those and Blood Eye exist, but so ... :) the way you put it, the plot does seem much alike to Blood Eye's, though.

Thanks for the comment, Marc!! And for the compliment about my/our English as well. ;)

Anonymous said...

I love Norse culture and I find lack of Viking fantasy lit kind of disturbing :). A must read for me then (btw, Cornwell is fab Trin, you ought to read it asap!)! Tnx for the reviewing this book, love your site.


Harrison Holtz said...

First off I have to get this out of the way first, I HATE the cover art.

That being said nice review. After reading your review I'm kind of on the fence about whether to read this book or not.

I'm intrigued by a lot of the Norse culture involved and Raven's internal battle about religion (Christianity Vs. North Gods) but it seems like a fairly common historical fiction romp that doesn't really do anything to set itself apart from the herd.

Anonymous said...

Hey Trin. I've just finished Azincourt, another brilliant Bernard Cornwell novel, full of everything you'd expect. Maybe check it out. Also looked up Giles Kristian's website and noticed that Bernard Cornwell gives Raven - Blood Eye the thumbs up. That along with your review is good enough for me to put it on my 'to read' list.
Great site!

Trin said...

@BlotchX, Ric: well I guess I really have to pick up something of Cornwell's :)

@Harrison: why do you hate the art? it seems nice enough to me, especially because the cover arts of the books I've read lately tend to border on kitch and this one is refreshing in comparison (and I like the way how the sail looks like a raven's wing). Otherwise, I'm glad that you like the review :)

Harrison Holtz said...

Hey Trin,

It's really just a matter of taste for me. I don't like this slew of realistic covers that have been coming out. I first saw this cover style on Brian Ruckley's novels and it seems to be popping up everywhere now. Just not my cup of tea.

asrye said...

I just saw our library bought this (it's a big surprise really, that they did because it's in English AND fantasy at the same time - there aren't many people who share my taste in books around here I'm afraid) and had to check immediately if you reviewed it. :) I'm happy that you liked it, it means it's not bad and I can start with it right away. :D


blogger templates 3 columns | Make Money Online