Monday, March 19, 2012

Jack of Ravens - Mark Chadbourn

About the book

A quest of epic reach spanning the globe under the mythologies of five great cultures - and finally crossing the barrier between life and death. 

Jack Churchill, archaeologist and dreamer, walks out of the mist and into Celtic Britain more than two thousand years before he was born, with no knowledge of how he got there. 

All Jack wants is to get home to his own time where the woman he loves waits for him. Finding his way to the timeless mystical Otherworld, the home of the gods, he plans to while away the days, the years, the millennia, until his own era rolls around again ... but nothing is ever that simple. 

A great Evil waits in modern times and will do all in its power to stop Jack's return. In a universe where time and space are meaningless, its tendrils stretch back through the years ... 

Through Roman times, the Elizabethan age, Victoria's reign, the Second World War to the Swinging Sixties, the Evil sets its traps to destroy Jack. 

Mark Chadbourn gives us a high adventure of dazzling sword fights, passionate romance and apocalyptic wars in the days leading up to Ragnarok, the End-Times: a breathtaking, surreal vision of twisting realities where nothing is quite what it seems.

414 pages
Published on: (first) July 20, 2006, (now) March 27, 2012
Published by: Pyr
Author’s webpage

Thanks to Pyr for sending me a copy of this book to review.


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 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 another time(s) and place(s) and 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 as it deals with lovers who are tragically torn apart by time and place. However, the telling of this tale is unique, and that’s where it thrives. Jack, otherwise known as “Church” is transported to Celtic Britain and, though he’s in a very different time than our modern world, his determination to get back to his lost love never wavers, nor does his desire to find out exactly who he is and how he ended up where he ended up. It does take time for the book to really take off, but Chadbourn uses his slow start to firmly establish 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 really worked in the story’s favor, but there were several times I wished 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 perspective, to past/present tense and sometimes conversations and events are hinted at or talked about rather than taking the reader through them. While this might frustrate some, it really added to the frequent switches in time and place really cause the disorientation that Chadbourn was after. Though this may sound odd, Chadbourn really does it well and it adds to the general feeling of the book. For example, you can imagine how disoriented Church must feel 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 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 really nice depth to the book.

Despite the few issues that some readers might have with Jack of Ravens, it really is an incredibly well crafted book that is filled with very descriptive and lyrical writing that seems to bring 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 a trilogy, so my time with Church isn't at an end. 

4/5 stars

(I feel the need to brag. I wrote this review while my  7 month old child was AWAKE! She didn’t even throw any fits the whole time. She just sat in her high chair and watched me. We have turned a new page, people! If things keep going this well, my reviews might hit 4-5 a week again!!)

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