I’m one of those people who is a diehard fan of anything Celtic. All you really have to do is say, “Hey, Sarah, this book is obviously inspired by Celtic lore/legend/traditions/etc” and I’m there. So when Pyr emailed me about Mark Chadbourn’s Jack of Ravens, and I saw “Celtic” in the description, I knew I had to read it. Seriously, that’s all it took. Yeah, I’m discerning like that.
Jack of Ravens is a slow burn, and while that might aggravate some, it’s well worth it. Chadbourn doesn’t waste any of his words. In fact, his lyrical prose and descriptions are instrumental in whisking the reader away to other times and places. What is, perhaps, more amazing than anything else is that all his times and places seems to shine and are crafted with equal care. He also uses the slow-ish start to Jack of Ravens to build impressive, yet subtle depth into his plot. Perhaps Chadbourn’s method of telling his tale is another reason why this book is so reflective of Celtic lore, for the tale itself spirals around and around taking the reader down numerous rabbit holes, while keeping the central themes firmly in place.
The tale at the core of Jack of Ravens is nothing new: lovers are tragically torn apart by time and place. However, the telling of this tale is unique, and that’s where it thrives. Jack Churchill, otherwise known as “Church,” is transported from modern-day London to Celtic Britain and, though he’s in a very different time than ours, his determination to get back to his lost love Ruth never wavers, nor does his desire to find out exactly who he is and how he ended up in various places. It does take time for the book to really take off, but Chadbourn firmly establishes Church’s core desire to get back to his lover, as well as several main plot points which are important to the rest of the book.
Jack of Ravens skips around quite a bit as Jack never really finds himself in one time or place for too long. This worked in the story’s favor, but there were several times I wished that Chadbourn had kept his character in one time and place for a little longer so I could get more attached to the characters or learn more about the place in which the main character had found himself. Peppered throughout this book are some wonderfully wrought, and impressively numerous, characters that really add color and vibrancy to the book. In fact, Chadbourn’s carefully crafted times, places and characters impressed me as none of them felt anything less than carefully thought out and detailed.
It’s obvious that disorientation is something that Chadbourn is after in Jack of Ravens, as he switches how he is telling his tale frequently from past to present tense, and sometimes conversations and events are hinted at or talked about rather than taking the reader through them. Though this might frustrate some readers, I thought that Chadbourn really does it well; you can imagine how disoriented Church must feel while time/place-hopping, so Chadbourn tries to carry that feeling through to the reader.
There are forces that Church and the companions he meets throughout his journey have to face, but they aren’t the typical evil forces that one might find in a fantasy novel. In fact, Church’s journey to discover his own identity as well as find his way back to his beloved Ruth are almost as big an obstacle as the actual negative forces standing in his way. This unique combined inner-and-outer journey of the protagonist is very well balanced, and adds a nice depth to the book.
Despite the few issues that some readers might have with Jack of Ravens, it really is a well-crafted book filled with descriptive and lyrical writing that brings Church and his journey to life in the reader’s mind. While the central story of tragically separated lovers is nothing new, Chadbourn’s telling of it is. This is a welcome addition to my fantasy library, and a book I will easily read again and again. Thankfully, this is the first book in the KINGDOM OF THE SERPENT trilogy, so my time with Church isn’t at an end.