Book Review: A Gathering of Ravens, by Scott Oden

A Gathering of Ravens is an intelligent, intriguing, and different kind of fantasy tale. I read it just in time for the release of the sequel, which is now high on my TBR list.

What to expect

Set at the turn of the 11th century, Oden weaves an incredible tale of historical fantasy that brings together elements of Earth’s real geography and culture together with Nordic myths like Beowulf. Having been inspired by Tolkien, he goes further still in exploring the same inspiration behind it and twisting them in a different, original way to produce a unique take on historical epic fantasy.

The main theme is the clash of the new, Christian, faith and Old World remnants straight out of legends. This is packaged around a story of personal vengeance, of travel and growth in unexpected ways. It is both an epic and an intimate story. Oden brings alive a faithful representation of the attitudes of people of the time without value judgement, no mean feat.

What I liked

I love it when authors use real history as a basis for fantasy. Oden has deep knowledge of the Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Irish cultures, social structures, and events at the early 11th century, and he uses it expertly to bring the background world of the story arc to life. I love how he painted the “Elder Days” of myth (the fantasy elements), and their collapse under the advent of the modern world.

In style, the prose is exceptional, much in keeping with the inspirations of classic adventure tales from Beowulf to Conan. It reads like a saga, and is evocatively descriptive in ways that are a pure joy to read for the mastery of language.

What to be aware of

As above, the prose is truly exceptional. This is a book to savour, to enjoy reading for the sake of reading, not to tear through quickly. It doesn’t mean that the plot is slow – it moves at a fair clip – but one enjoys on multiple level, on how the story is told and not just what is being told.

The characters themselves are very realistic for the period, but that does not make them approachable to modern readers. Much of the novel is dedicated to their clashing belief system, the clash of Christianity and Paganism, which may affect people sensitive to religion and its part in history. The end result is a delicate balance, but might not appeal to those who only care about the characters personal journey or a thriller plot.

Summary

I truly enjoyed this book. It is drastically different from Jonathan French’s Grey Bastards (which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago), and since both feature Orcs as protagonists (of sorts) it’s interesting to note the differences. It’s possible to enjoy both for different reasons.

If you’re into historical fantasy, if you’d love to see how the real medieval people would have react to myth coming alive, this a book you absolutely must read — and if already have, then it’s sequel, Twilight of the Gods, has just been released this week!

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