Saturday, 12 December 2015

Review: A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica's Rebellion

Date finished: 9/12/2015
2015 • 483 pages (eBook) • Rating ★★★★½

I’ll be honest with you, collaborative works of fiction aren’t something I’m particularly experienced with. If anything I tend to have a prerequisite for them being a weak link in the literary canon. Why, you may ask? Well, prior to reading A Year of Ravens, I was of the mind that a novel constructed of numerous different stories each written by a different author was a recipe for a bit of a floppy narrative. I just couldn’t see how the works of different writers, each with different styles, would gel together well enough to make a coherent and enjoyable story. This book however has proved me wrong and I tip my hat to each of the authors involved in this collaborative work, because A Year of Ravens is an awesome read.

The story as a whole centres on Boudica’s rebellion against the Roman Empire and is told from various different viewpoints; from tribal warriors and slaves to Roman legionaries and queens. It’s pretty noteworthy event in history and it sparked a little glimmer of nostalgia for my primary school history lessons all those many years ago. Plus it’s an interesting little pocket of history which personally, I believe, has been neglected for too long. This however works to the advantage of the book and gives it a fresh new feel, in addition to providing the reader with an experience that is vibrant and exciting.

Sure, it’s violent and brutal as hell but its focus is one of the most infamous rebellions to ever occur on British soil, so there’s bound to be more than a fair share of bloodshed. Maybe it’s a bit sadistic to say I really liked the scenes where everyone was getting their guts ripped out and their heads hacked clean off, but I did. I’ve seen way too much Game of Thrones and Vikings for me to not enjoy a good battle sequence, and the ones in A Year of Ravens were just as awesome. Example:

“I was on my knees. When had I fallen? I was on my knees, rocking back and forth in the mud, sword clutched loose in my hand as I watched my people die.This was not battle. It was slaughter. Every blink of my lashes saw another fifty fall as the Roman swarm advanced into the chaos and left red death in their wake. I saw a small boy fall from the wagons and disappear under the trampling feet of the warriors below. I saw a scarred woman trying to beat her way free of the crush with a broken shield, going down with a sword through her spine. I saw a warrior with lime-washed hair sag, head flopping half severed - My vision skipped. I was still on my knees, limbs stone-heavy, mouth working soundlessly.”

If you love raw, emotional, and vivid narratives filled with blood curdling action then this is for you. If not, then there are plenty more mild mannered books out there, but this is gritty and brutal and filled with enough foul-mouthed characters to turn the air blue, and it’s brilliant.

Collectively the novel has a cohesive feel and I was impressed by how seamlessly each story flowed together. It follows a more or less linear structure with the odd flash back here and there, so when one story ends and another begins you know where you are and where everything is up too. Each author has his or her own hero/heroine who they focus on, but they all pop up throughout which helps to tie everything together. I loved how there were viewpoints of both the Britons and the Romans; it helped to create a panoramic and collective narrative of what the rebellion meant and felt like for both sides.

As for the authors, I was familiar with one from experience and two others in name; Kate Quinn, who is a personal favourite of mine thanks to her amazing Rome series, and Stephanie Dray and Eliza Knight who are celebrated historical fictions writers in their own right. The fellow contributors were all new to me, but I have to add particular praise to Ruth Downie for her short story entitled The Slave whose perception of events is told through the eyes of the young slave girl, Ria. Downie’s character became a favourite and I loved to see how her story continued throughout the other narratives.

I’ll admit, I was worried the individual style of each author would come across too strong, but as it turns out, they all complement each other really well. Granted, there were some stories I preferred to others but I think the novel was written with this is mind. If you don’t like one story, they’ll be another one further on that might take your fancy more. Yet I wouldn’t advice skipping chapters, because the content and the focus of each story are invaluable to the plot and it works brilliantly as a whole.

Some of the authors who worked this novel are actually contributors to another collaborative work entitled A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii which centres on the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Admittedly, this has been on my to-read list for the last year or so since I’ve somehow never gotten around to reading it. Well, I’ll be rectifying this ASAP because the H Team did such a good job with A Year of Ravens that it’s made me eager to read more of what these authors have to offer.

I think that is the key to being successful writer; to possess the ability to make their readers crave more of their writing and this novel not only made me appreciate more the authors I was already familiar with, but want to explore those that are new to me. In that respect, A Year of Ravens is a job well done.

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