on 14 September 2013
You know you have a favourite author when you start to seriously pine for their next book. Books are my thing; they're my comfort blanket. Since last December I've been browsing my fantasy shelves and reporting that I needed to read "more Ellie." When asked what I wanted to read, I'd keep saying "Elspeth Cooper". I've been waiting a long time for The Raven's Shadow. In fact, I've been waiting since Trinity Rising. The single problem with reading your favourite books so quickly is that once they're done, they're done. You can look at the cover, feel the grain of the paper, think about all the wonderful words bound inside, but the book is over. That's how I'm feeling about The Raven's Shadow. I miss it already.
Elspeth Cooper writes beautifully; she's a poet. I usually try not to gush too much in reviews, but when it comes to Cooper and The Wild Hunt, I'm afraid that's quite impossible. She is my favourite author. My absolute favourite author. So, as you can expect, since this hasn't started off with all the signs of a broken heart and the bitterness of a devastated fanboy, The Raven's Shadow was pure magic.
This book feels like a true fantasy epic, yet it never loses sight of its roots in being far more slice-of-life (as I like to put it; yay, anime) than some fantasy novels I've read. The day-to-day never feels forgotten in Cooper's books and by keeping her story close to the characters, the development of personalities, internal/external conflicts and agencies is all the stronger. I know Gair and Tanith and throughout the story, Ailric and Sorchal and everyone else. Even the minor characters such as Ansel. You learn to know these people, who they are and what they are about; and you do so because Cooper never forgets that without her characters, the story would be pale. Yes, you can have a plot-centric story; but character-centric trumps it easily.
Suddenly alone, his mentor gone and violence erupting all around him, Gair is about to undergo the most difficult stage of his life so far. With the Nimrothi riding for the lands of the Empire and the threat not being seriously acknowledged, the clans close to the border will have their work cut out manning the forts and holding back the war band, powered by Ytha and her Speakers. Teia is hurrying to warn the Empire, but heavy with child and with a mountain to face, her chances--and those of her clan of Lost Ones--dwindle day by day. If the cold doesn't kill them, the arduous journey and lack of food will. But she must warn the Empire of the threat, must tell them that only the iron men can stand against the war band. After all, she has seen it.
Meanwhile Tanith is heading back towards the lands of the Empire, leaving Astolar following her failed attempt to convince the Ten that the threats towards the Veil are just as relevant to her people, tucked between a wrinkle in existence between the mortal world and the hidden world in which the Hunt has been trapped, as it is to the humans from whom they distance themselves. Determined to make all haste, Tanith took a route through the Wildwood at the end of Trinity Rising, with a forestal guide. But even with Owyn leading her and Ailric, whom she could not discourage from accompanying her--and whom she wishes she could bury all feeling for--at her side, the dangers of the wood won't keep their distance for long. At this rate, Tanith might never even reach the humans in order to warn them.
But with Maegern's Hounds already freed--even two present a dire threat--and Savin playing his wicked games, there is far more danger afoot that anyone can imagine. The power at the heart of the Nimrothi is about to grow and Ytha might just become unstoppable. And with Teia in the mountains, even she cannot hope to prevent Ytha's schemes.
Gair has his work cut out: getting out of Gimrael will be difficult enough, especially with the nuns he is escorting, let alone the discordant notes running through the Song within him--never mind the fact that Alderan is gone. Carrying grief now three-fold, having lost his lover, his friend and now his mentor, Gair stands upon the edge of a precipice of just giving up and giving himself over to revenge and only revenge. Savin will die and that's all Gair is about. He will deliver his message of Alderan's loss to the Gatekeeper, and then he will find Savin.
There's the matter of the starseed to consider of course, but with nobody seeming to know precisely where it is, the fear of not finding it in time is laced with the fear that the enemy with find it first. In this tense and fast-paced instalment of The Wild Hunt paths finally converge and the result is spectacular.
The Raven's Shadow is easily the best book of the series so far--and that's a high standard to have achieved. It is pacy and deep and keeps a relentless course set upon its goals. Despite the fact that this is a book containing a lot of travelling it doesn't feel like a "journey novel"; it never drags its feet or introduces "random encounters" to make things more interesting. Everything is relevant with no "we're on a journey" side-quests or sagging middle parts. Everything is tight and deft.
The world of The Wild Hunt is vivid and dark but with no stylised grittiness; everything has its place and its reason and it presents a far more realistic pseudo-medieval world than books that try to veer more towards the grittiness, or those than try to avoid it altogether. It has a balance and it holds throughout.
The ante has really been upped with just how the events of The Raven's Shadow play out; the end provides a cliffhanger of an ending that will make your jaw drop. With pieces falling into place across the vast stage of the series, and with each and every character making their own moves and steering others into place, The Dragon House is set to be simply spectacular.
You will not read another writer that compares to Cooper in epic fantasy at the moment; she is a talent that will endure and in ten years' time, she will be a classic. With beautiful prose that presents a brightly-imagined world right at your feet, and a tangled story that weaves and wends without ever losing itself, The Raven's Shadow is a stunning fantasy novel in and of itself--and a superb continuation of the absolutely stellar series that simply everyone should read.
It might show a little, but I loved this book. ∩( ・ω・)∩