The reformed dark mage Corwyn Ravenscroft, Raven, has finally found his place in the world. He has a fiancé, friends, and meaningful work. Yet a shadow hangs over everything. His former master, the darkest and most powerful mage of their time, the man he betrayed, the man he thought he had killed, still lives. William is determined to destroy everyone and everything Raven ever loved. Will Raven find a way to defeat him, once and for all? Or will he see the life he has built crumble around him as William rises once again to threaten the Three Communities, perhaps even the world?
Title: Raven’s Heart
Author: Shawna Reppert
Genre: Dark Urban Fantasy
Date of Publication: February 6, 2016
Number of pages: appr. 233
In my review of Raven’s Wing (Book 2 of Shawna Reppert’s Ravensblood series), I talked about elements that made it an almost letter-perfect example of a gothic novel. So when I received her newest release, Raven’s Heart, I was curious to see if she applied the same tropes. The answer is that she did. And she did not.
This dark urban fantasy does authentically focus on its character-driven plot which starts out slowly but builds with each page until you are racing with the characters to their final confrontation. Reformed dark mage Corwyn Ravensblood—Raven—and Cassandra, the woman he loved and betrayed, have established a fragile but growing relationship. But their enemy, William, while weakened is stalking them with the single minded focus of a powerful hatred that has nothing left to lose. The real question is not whether they can withstand William, but whether their fight will cost the life and love they are trying to build.
Here are some of the main gothic novel tropes and how Raven’s Heart uses them.
- They talk funny. Raven doesn’t know how to speak or interact with the mundane world. Mobile phones and computers are a mystery, especially when they accomplish easily what he is used to doing with effort by magic. His speech is, by comparison, stilted and lacking the contractions of more informally comfortable interaction.
- Here there be monsters: Author Reppert plays with this one too. Humans in this book, especially fathers, behave in monstrous ways. There is really only one actual monster in the book—”The pale-faced, man-shaped thing came out of the shadows at him, nearly skeletal, lips drawn back to show a mouthful of blackened, ruined teeth. It threw itself on him before he could react, horribly strong for such a wizened thing, its hands clawing for his face as though it would scratch out his eyes as momentum carried him backward to the floor, the monster still on top of him. He tried to roll free, but it clung to him, snarling guttural syllables that sounded almost like words.”—but that monster turns out to be a drug-addicted human after all.
- They swoon. Lots. Okay, nobody actually faints. But if you translate “swoon” from the victorian application, it really means to check out of messy, scary, emotional overloaded scenes. Both Cass and Raven do that all the time. They’ve yet to come to term with the loss of their unplanned baby in the last book, let alone with the implications of truly sharing their heritages and lives. When their going gets tough, the tough get emotionally distant. The challenge both face in Raven’s Heart is much more difficult than defeating their archenemy William. Instead both have to open emotionally to each other and to those around them.
- They hang out in a creepy castle. You can’t really describe Raven’s family mansion as creepy, but it certainly is a visual statement of all that distances him from true emotional engagement with Cassandra and the rest of the world. And it also serves as contrast to the fortress William has lost, as well as the crumbling ruins of his family heritage that is all he has left to shelter in. A particularly nice touch shows the villain William, on the run and stripped of his own fortress, staring from the dark into a mundane Dutch Colonial house at the warm little family scene he could never experience.
- Their weather sucks. Okay, I’ll give her this one. (It is Portland after all.)
- Their monsters are NOT middle-class WASPs. Supervillain William recruits his followers from the traumatized sons of the privileged and the desperate sons of the poor. The Guardians and those who oppose them come, for the most part, from the ranks of the middle classes.
I should start out by saying that with each book in this series, author Shawna Reppert’s writing has become more confident and her characters more complex. While you could read Raven’s Heart as a standalone, I don’t recommend it. You would miss the very real development of two compelling and flawed protagonists, and especially miss the backstory that drives the final resolution.
And that story is all about fathers and sons. Fathers who see their sons as extensions of their own ambitions, sons who compete for their fathers’ love even as they compete against their fathers, and father-figures who try to make a difference. In this dark and character-driven story, the rest of the characters might see Raven as an ultimately good man who has repented of the dark deeds of his past. But Shawna Reppert’s genius is in letting us see Raven’s truth. He is like a recovering addict, and his drug of choice is the lure of evil. And like any addict, evil is a trigger that appears all around him if he ventures into the world.
The ultimate conflict isn’t whether Raven will or will not be a match for William—enemy, father-figure, and friend—but whether the dark mage in recovery can resist evil, his drug of choice.
Shawna Reppert earns every one of her five stars in Raven’s Heart—and then some. If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, you are so lucky! You get to read the whole story without having to wait two more years like the rest of us. My advice is to get all three and make sure you don’t have any pressing commitments (weddings, births, Walking Dead marathons…) before you get started.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**