Wednesday, 10 December 2008

‘Raven: Blood Eye’ – Giles Kristian (Bantam Press)


Everything starts to slow down the closer it gets to Christmas (not long now!) and this is definitely the case with my reading. I just can’t seem to get into anything right now so I thought I’d give myself a little kick start by reading something that I wouldn’t normally go for. The only problem was that I wanted to read something with all the elements of heroic fantasy, just without the fantasy...
Luckily for me, I had a copy of Gile Kristian’s debut ‘Raven: Bloodeye’ (out next February) waiting on the ‘to be read’ pile. This piece of historical fiction looked like it would have enough sword fights and derring do to keep me happy and the total lack of fantasy would satisfy my need for something different...

Osric cannot remember anything further back than the last two years he has spent in a village, apprenticed to a mute carpenter and shunned by the other villagers on account of his blood red eye. He doesn’t find out anything about his past either but ‘Raven’ is the beginning book in a trilogy so you can probably expect to find more out at a later date...
It’s the present that matters right now for Osric and this involves him being taken away by marauding Norsemen as their leader, Sigurd the Lucky, believes that their fates are intertwined. This remains to be seen but what we get in the meantime is an abortive attempt at returning home, by the Norsemen, which results in a dangerous mission (which must be undertaken) to steal a holy relic. This would be hard enough at the best of times but this is a small group of Norsemen stuck in the middle of a country that where all the inhabitants would happily see them dead...

Kristian doesn’t waste any time in kicking off ‘Raven’ with a bang, giving Osric the bare minimum of introductions before getting on with the serious business of rape, pillage and plundering as well as the sideline business of chopping the hell out of everyone who gets in your way. The glossing over of Osric’s past is very obviously there to set things up for a big revelation, later on in the series, but in the meantime it serves to fuel an interesting sub-plot where Osric must choose between the life he is leaving behind and loyalty to his new lord. The main plot itself is also a page turner with plenty of twists to keep things interesting.

There is plenty of action in ‘Raven’ which is only to be expected given the subject matter. Not only do the Norse Fellowship fight almost everyone that they meet but volatile tempers mean that they are also liable to start on each other as well! If you’ve come to this book looking for a fight then that’s what you’ll get! Kristian stops things from getting repetitive though by taking the time to get into the team dynamic that the Norsemen enjoy. While they’re all warriors in their own right, and won’t step back from a fight, they’re all (for the most part) happy to soldier under the leadership of Sigurd, mainly to get rich but also because there is something about this character that inspires loyalty.

While I enjoyed reading ‘Raven’, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had read it before. Obviously I hadn’t, what with the book not being out until February next year, but there were elements that seemed overly familiar i.e. the archetypal ‘boy with a mysterious past who turns out to be amazing with a sword’, a quest (another one?) and ‘the hero falling in love with a girl whose station is above him and she hates him but starts to warm towards him eventually’. There’s enough going on in ‘Raven’ to make me want to see where the story goes next but I’ve been left hoping for a change in direction. Having said that though, there is something worthwhile to be said for a book/series where you know exactly what you are going to get. There’s nothing wrong with a comfort read...

My knowledge of history is decidedly rusty (it’s the present and the future that mostly concern me!) but I got the general impression that Kristian was writing with the air of someone who knew what he was talking about. There was one occasion though where I felt that he took a step out of context and placed twenty first century morals on an eighth century character in an attempt to get the reader to identify with him more...
I don’t need to tell you that rape is wrong, whatever period of history it takes place in, but it felt a little odd to me that Osric went through with the act but had an attack of guilt about it the whole way through. Either he should have done it (and be damned) or not done it and been more able to live with himself. The end result came across like Kristian wanted to include the scene but didn’t want to glorify rape and this made the passage feel awkward and stand out even more...

Despite this, ‘Raven: Blood Eye’ is an entertaining read that promises a sequel at least as good (hopefully better). The book ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger and I for one am interested to see what happens next...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

5 comments:

Liz said...

I am a sucker for books like this. Will add it to my "to buy" books.

Ta for the heads up!

L x

ediFanoB said...

From time to time it is good to read books like this one.

Thanks for review.

Will put it on my TBR list.

Dave said...

Sounds interesting, but it looks like Gemmell's UK-edition Troy books. Will keep an eye out for it, though, thanks Graeme. :-)

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Dave,

I've never read any of Gemmell's 'Troy' books but from what I've heard 'Raven' does sound similar in a 'historical fiction' context.

Hey ed,

I'll be running a competition for this very soon so you might want to keep your eye open for that :o)

Liz,

The publisher may have some advance copies left, drop them a mail... ;o)

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that the guy who designed Raven Blood-Eye's cover also did Gemmell's Troy stuff, hence the similarity! Works for me though. Nice and moody. After reading your review I looked up Giles Kristian's website and found that some really great writers have endorsed his book. (Loved Robert Low's 'The Whale Road').
Looking forward to some pillage and plunder.
Cheers Graeme,
Mike