Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder

Title: The Raven's Heart
Author: Jesse Blackadder

Genre: Fiction (Scotland / 16th Century / Royals / Historical Figures Fictionalized / Mary Queen of Scots / Royal Intrigue / LGBT)
Publisher/Publication Date: Bywater Books (9/11/2011)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Looooooooooooved -- top ten of 2012 love.
Did I finish?: Couldn't put it down!
One-sentence summary: In 16th century Scotland, a woman finds freedom and danger in the guise of a boy, and proves her loyalty to Mary, Queen of Scots in an attempt to win back her family's legacy.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- not traditional given it is a royal court-set hist fic, and I'm grateful for that!

I'm reminded of...: Mary Sharratt, Judith Tarr, Sarah Waters

First line: Scotland, 1519, twenty-six years before I was born.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you like good meaty historicals with a fascinating protagonist and wonderful sense of time/place.

Why did I get this book?: Honestly, I think I was curious about the Blackadder surname.

Review: I loved everything about this book. The plot, the places, the people (oh, the people!), the mood, the drama -- everything. I'm not even sure where to start with this gush-fest!

Blackadder's novel grew out of her research into her surname, and while normally family-inspired novels give me the gibblies, in this case, we all win. The historical Blackadders have a story straight out of an opera or Gothic tale: widow violently married off to a vicious noble, evil stepfather marries her daughters to his brothers, and subsequent Blackadders are all murdered before they can foment rebellion against him. In this climate, surviving Blackadder William is re-invented as a merchant sea captain and his daughter Alison -- the Blackadder heir -- is transformed into his nephew, Robert Blackadder.

The novel opens in 1561, with Alison-as-Robert on the ship that is bringing Mary Stuart aka Mary, Queen of Scots, to Scotland. Although Alison has grown used to living life as a boy, her father believes they can better push their cause if Alison becomes one of Mary's ladies-in-waiting, and Alison finds herself away from the comfortable identity (and clothes) she's familiar with and struggling to embody a sophisticated lady at court.

What could be a simple story of a girl-who-dresses-like-a-boy shenanigans -- a little sapphic longing, lots of court drama -- is actually a rather meaty, dense, and evocative historical novel of Mary Stuart's court and a woman's confusing place in it. When Alison's skill at passing for a boy is discovered, it becomes her greatest asset and one that grants her unusual access and power -- and of course, increased danger. While Alison's father is driven to reclaim Blackadder Castle, Alison finds herself more drawn to her Robert persona and all it entails -- right down to romance with women.

Blackadder (the author) created a fantastic main character in Alison/Robert -- I was there, from the first page to the last -- and I fell in love with the world she evoked. Royal court hist fic is not a favorite of mine, but through Alison/Robert, the reader sees a more robust view of 16th century Scotland -- the court and the life of the non-nobles. Being unfamiliar with this era, I can't say how accurate the events are represented, but in terms of pacing, narrative arc, and character development, I was immersed. I didn't want this book to end.

15 comments:

  1. Top ten of 2012 you say? *adds to GR, no questions asked*

    I LOVE how this novel came into being. Awesome, awesome, awesome. I wants it now!

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    1. OH yes -- it is hot and heavy love around here. As I'm leaving in two days, I can't run a giveaway but I think I'm going to do so after I'm back because this baby needs to get into a lot of hands!

      She said she got so sick of Blackadder/Rowan Atkinson jokes that she was prompted to research her surname -- so all that is fascinating -- and she got some amazing writer residencies that blew my mind -- Alaska among the myriad of places!

      Blackadder goes on my list of living authors I'd love to have dinner with!

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  2. This sounds like a fabulous book! I just added it to my TBR list!

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  3. Yet another great review, Audra. I also quite enjoyed this novel. I am somewhat familiar with Mary, Queen of Scots' history and do think Jesse Blackadder pretty much stuck to the facts with this one (always a positive thing for me).

    You can check out my review here: http://confessionsavidreader.blogspot.ca/2012/12/book-review-ravens-heart-by-jesse.html

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    1. Glad to know the history is solid in this one -- that bugs me when it is an era I'm familiar with -- reason ten thousand and seven why I love this book!

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  4. I enjoyed this book too. I'm not familiar with the Blackadder/Rowan Atkinson connection - must do some Googling. ;)

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    1. It's a tv show, I believe -- comedy. I can appreciate why she was annoyed -- I'm not an Atkinson fan myself.

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  5. Hm, I'm not crazy about that time period, but you've made this book sound awfully appealing.

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    1. I'm totally over the Tudors and normally this tangential connection would be enough to normally bore me -- but Blackadder's focus on her family and the unique heroine really made it worth it -- and it was a unique enough angle for me to be quite engrossed!

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  6. I just heard I won this on another blog and I am so delighted. I love the opening line and I know I am going to like this book so much.

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  7. Glad to see you enjoyed the book as much as I did.

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  8. You had me at Mary Sharratt. Sounds wonderful.

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  9. I've never read anything set during that period, so I'm intrigued...especially since you loved it so much.

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  10. I haven't heard about this book until now. Sounds like a good one as I haven't read much about this court.

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