Raven Boy

Raven Boy

Raven Boy was first published in 2013 and is Kateryna Kei’s first young adult book. The novel is a historical fantasy set in Viking times, focusing on a young boy who is forced to wrestle with a terrible destiny. This story is the first part of a planned series – titled The Raven Boy Saga – but at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

After the Viking King falls in battle, it is left to his widow to choose a successor. Although the honour usually falls on a king’s first born son, Turid is concerned for her boy’s safety. Her twin sons have both yet to come of age and are just not experienced enough to lead their village in a time of war. Unable to come to a decision alone, she visits the local runecaster for advice.

The prophecy that the runecaster reveals is somewhat disturbing. While her eldest, Olaf, would make a strong leader, he would not be able to defeat the encroaching foreigners. Her youngest, Hrafn, would stand a chance at winning the war but it would come at a great cost. Hrafn was destined to live a tragic life, finding true love only to lose her forever.

Although Turid is torn between what is best for her people and what is best for her boys, she quickly decides that the new leader must be Hrafn. However, her decision leaves her son in a very difficult situation. As a child, the other Vikings are reluctant to obey his commands. The foreigners far outnumber them and they believe that a warrior is the only one who can lead them to victory. On top of that, Olaf feels as though Hrafn has stolen his rightful place and begins to distance himself from his brother. With war on the horizon, Hrafn must muster all of his cunning to devise a plan to defeat his enemies before his people are completely wiped out.

Raven Boy really starts out strongly as a novel. While the first few chapters are a little heavy in exposition (the final hours of the king are related to the reader as a solid block of narration), it does set the scene nicely for the story by immediately raising a tense atmosphere. Turid’s choice makes for incredibly dramatic reading and I really did empathise with her as a character. The choice between duty and family is a heart wrenching one for her to make and its implications haunt the entire story. Is it really right to act in the best interest of a town if it means condemning a child to a life of misery? While the answer seems like a no brainer, it is still an agonising decision to place solely on the shoulders of the boy’s mother.

From there, the first third of the novel did keep my attention. I was really curious to find out how Hrafn would win the war as everything seemed to be stacked against him. Yet it gradually became apparent to me that there was a weakness in the text that dampened its full impact. While the story was still interesting, it was not brilliantly written. The prose felt very clumsy, with sentences structured strangely and the same descriptions (such as people being referred to as “giant”) being used over and over again. I also noticed a lot of spelling mistakes or strange choices of language, including the Vikings using modern English phrases such as “cool” and “awesome”. I get the feeling that the author may not speak English as a first language but, unfortunately, this can’t be used as a get out of gaol card. It just made it feel like it really should have had a tighter edit before it was released for sale.

The author also made the strange decision to have the second half of the novel told from the perspective of another character. While this isn’t usually an issue, the way that this occurred in the story is very strange as it included a huge time jump. Hrafn’s war is concluded by the halfway mark and the second story focuses on a young woman called Anna as she investigates the fate of her mother. While the two stories do eventually come together as she encounters an older Hrafn (now going by the name of Raven for some unexplained reason), it just made the two halves of the story seem incredibly rushed. Both Hrafn and Anna’s stories were interesting but cramming each into little over a hundred pages of novel meant that they had to run at breakneck pace. It’s a bit of a shame, as both would have made decent full length novels if they had been fleshed out a little. Because of the fast pacing, there was very little time expended doing anything other than expanding the plot.

There was no real descriptive text in the story. I couldn’t tell you what Hrafn’s home town looked like or any physical traits of any of the cast (beside the fact that most are giants). I also really can’t tell you much about the characters personalities. While I liked both Hrafn and Anna, their romance was very sudden and so I never really got a feel for them as a couple. They just fell in love at first sight and knew at a glance they were soul mates. This is a little weak. It’s probably a personal thing but in a story like this I felt as though I really needed to believe in the character’s love. After all, the prophecy said that Hrafn would experience true love only to lose it. Can you really call it true love if they spend a sum total of ten minutes talking to one another?

Beyond Hrafn and Anna, there is very little to say about the cast. Some of them – particularly Turid and Sveinn (Hrafn’s enigmatic sword instructor) – were very likable characters but they did not appear enough in the story for me to get a good feel for their personalities. Beyond them, the cast felt a little two dimensional. While a lot of Vikings got name-dropped, I never felt as though I learned anything more about them than their names and as they vanished from the story in the second half, I found that I forget about them very quickly.

So, all in all Raven Boy was a little disappointing. While I liked the protagonists and thought that the plot was intriguing, it suffered from some weak writing, poor pacing and an unmemorable secondary cast. I’m kind of curious to see what will happen next, as several questions (including whatever Hrafn’s “secret” is) are not answered within this novel, but I feel that the sequel really does need to be edited better than this one in order to provide a satisfactory conclusion.

Raven Boy can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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