Monday, 9 February 2015

Review: The Raven’s Banquet, by Clifford Beal

This is a little outside my usual area, as it’s historical fiction set in the 17th century. The story follows Richard Treadwell, both in the present (just after the English Civil War) and the past (a couple of decades earlier when he’s fighting as a soldier of fortune on the continent).

The start (in the past setting, which comprises the majority of the story) was a little slow, and it took me a bit of time to get into the story. However, once Treadwell joins the army in Europe the story there gets going and progresses nicely. His fellow soldiers are nicely written, not shirking from their significant flaws and gradually revealing the self-made trap into which he has wandered. Grim realism is the order of the day, with the romance of war soon dissolved by the bitter truth. I rather like that approach.

There is a mild fantastical element, but it is only very slight and presented such that it could be down to his mind cracking slightly under the strain. It’s well-written in its deliberate ambiguity.

The present day (as it were, it’s 1645) starts with more vigour, and although less happens (for most of it Treadwell is a prisoner) the storyline still progresses and the fact it’s a much smaller part of the book means it doesn’t drag.

Dialogue is written in ye olde style, and generally works well, although the odd phrase (break my bollocks!) did make me smile. The cast was pretty small. A little more time to develop people other than the protagonist would’ve helped flesh the world out a little.

I found the setting to be quite interesting and unusual (primarily continental Europe in the 1620s). It’s not really my sort of period, but that added to rather than detracted the story (the novelty of the period intrigued me).

The ending perplexed me. It’s set up to a certain event which then never happens, so abruptly does the story terminate. The book is a prequel, so perhaps that event occurs in the succeeding (chronologically) book, but for this one the end was abrupt to the point of being detrimental to the story.

Overall, I enjoyed it, particularly once I got a few chapters in. My to-read list remains of comically enormous proportions, but once it’s whittled down I’ll consider checking out the author’s other work.


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