Three moons are rising. They are rising over the snowy Archen Mountains, where Teia struggles through the high passes to carry her warning to the Empire: the Nimrothi war band is poised to invade and at their head stands Ytha. She means to release the Wild Hunt - and with it Maegern the Raven, the Keeper of the Dead. In the desert of Gimrael, the moons are rising over the fires of revolution - flames that have already robbed 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 ultimate goal: vengeance. And in the Nordmen's chilly halls, Savin plays out a game in which kings and chieftains and men are but pawns on a chessboard that spans the Veil itself. Three moons are rising. When the trinity is complete, the endgame will begin.
Comic book publishers encounter a monthly problem, no doubt raised vociferously by unnamed forum-lurkers at least twelve times a year: The problem? Whether or not to include a recap of what happened last month in the beginning of a comic. Given the nature of comics – a new story every month, normally – there is often a problem remembering what happened last month, and heaven forfend if the comic is late. But if comic book publishers include a recap, then maybe they lose sales when new readers don’t feel the need to go back and read previous issues to find out what has happened.
While this particular example is very much a comic book-problem, fantasy series often encounter a similar problem, and for the first third of Elspeth Cooper’s The Raven’s Shadow, I was completely lost.
I really enjoyed the first two books in Cooper’s series – Songs of the Earth and Trinity Rising – but by the time I reached this third book, I had no memory of anything that had come before, except that Gair had gone to the desert. Beyond that, it was all a mystery, and the author kept me in complete darkness for over a third of the book as I tried to remember who was who, who was doing what, and who was friends with whom. Would a one-page recap have helped? Definitely, and I imagine I would have been able to dive into the enjoyable story a lot faster. As it was, I was left floundering around for a long time.
When I had finally found my legs, however, I was reminded just how much I enjoyed this series.
Unlike what I had originally feared, the “inexperienced young boy with magical powers” story did not eventuate, nor did his storyline overwhelm the whole book. The Raven’s Shadow is dedicated almost equally to a number of storylines, some I enjoy a lot more than others. I’m not the biggest fan of Gair, but I love Tanith’s storyline, and the sheer complications that surround her existence. I really love turning the pages to find that Masen has also returned, and call me morbid, but I love it anytime Savin appears.
More than the individual storylines, I really appreciate the way that Cooper managers to weave them together by the end of this book. Instead of a number of separate storylines running vaguely alongside one another, this book brings a lot of them together – and in no way does this make it easier for anyone. Massive mistakes are made, selfishness takes over, and the heroes are fooled.
The Wild Hunt Quartet will wrap up soon, and I’ll be disappointed when that happens, because this series has been really enjoyable. While there are some issues with re-entering this story and its many and complicated storylines, the end result is too wonderful to resist.
Joshua S Hill, 8/10
I enjoyed this epic fantasy novel thanks to its strong compelling characters and character development. Too often in fantasy an unlikely group is thrown together by circumstance and merrily go off on some quest where everything is neatly resolved at the end. What author Elspeth Cooper has managed, is to create some very human characters who are all on personal journeys, asking themselves questions and which direction to take. The narrative forms a multi perspective and the story shifts to different places as the drama unfolds.
This is a world of factions, clans and unsteady alliances. It is also made clear that survival is not to be taken for granted; this is a dangerous and unpredictable world where pain and regret punish every unintentional misstep.
Each character is striving for something: power, conquest, peace, love. Everyone has different motives but all are swept up and affected by the struggle afflicting their world. This takes place on a large canvas and there are battles, harsh conditions and lots of gore (some of the scenes made for hard reading). For all the magic, known here as ‘The Song’, the pain and suffering is all too real and convincing.
Characters like Teia and Gair have to use every ounce of their guile, experience and wits to navigate this potential minefield. Cooper manages to weave a web of intrigue and combine this with tough storytelling and wonderfully descriptive prose, keeping the reader engrossed and engaged. If you are not already familiar with her work, then I implore you to read one of her books, you will not be disappointed.
Daniel Cann, 8.8/10
The Raven's Shadow by Elspeth Cooper
Published 2013 by Gollancz
This week Josh talks to UK author Elspeth Cooper about her fantasy series The Wild Hunt, her latest book Trinity Rising, and all manner of topicsYou can subscribe to our podcast through our RSS Feed or via iTunes. If you have [...]
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