Ravenmarked by Amy Rose Davis – SPFBO Review: And Then There Were Two
|Author:||Amy Rose Davis|
|Release Date:||January 28, 2011|
The SPFBO team have completed their search for a finalist!
Today, only one book remains, as we say farewell to Amy Rose Davis and Ravenmarked.
You can read our review of our first place winner for part one here.
G. R. Matthews: Well, here we are. Our final two. We’ve read a lot of books to get here, some good, some excellent and we’ve had to whittle our 30 down to one. It has been a tough challenge and also a privilege.
Ravenmarked is a good book. It also fits neatly into the traditional fantasy sub-genre (if such a thing exists) and sometimes this is just what you want to read. The basic story runs thusly: A crown is usurped and young girl, the prophesized saviour of the world, must flee to safety. She is entrusted to a mercenary who is marked by the Raven (a goddess concerned with justice and revenge). He is also the son of the Queen of the Sidhe.
A.F.E. Smith: I certainly agree this is traditional fantasy, and I didn’t feel it was any the worse for that. There’s a reason why books like this are still popular! Sometimes you want to go off the beaten track, and sometimes you want to tread a familiar path. I will say, though, that a lack of anything crazily innovative does mean the book has to shine in other areas: vivid writing, awesome action and (most importantly, for me) well-rounded, three-dimensional characters. I felt Ravenmarked succeeded, to a greater or lesser extent, in all those areas.
Laura M. Hughes: When you say “traditional”, I assume you’re referring to the prevalence of familiar tropes?
GRM: You mean the chosen one, or two (as it might be) that appear in the story? I really don’t mind that. In fact, I quite like it occasionally. It is like a warm blanket in winter, a hot cup of coffee in the morning, it just fits the moment. And I think this book does it really well. What others did you have in mind?
LMH: I agree that it suits the story, but yes. There were many tropes I couldn’t help picking up on, such as the ‘coming of age’ ritual(s), the brooding exile fighting against his inner demons, magical all-healing fairies, and the young prodigy who excels at shooting after just a few days of practice.
To be fair, though, I suppose they don’t dominate the story so much as coexist with it. Instead, most of the story is centred on relationships which, unfortunately, didn’t sit well with me either.
GRM: You cynic, you. I quite liked some of the relationships developed in the book. Those that struggle to deny feelings and not act upon them, those that use others’ feelings to get their own way, and those that develop throughout. All of these, to me at least, seem to be part of the world and the characters development. I must admit to being a sucker for a good adventure story. Politics and betrayal are all very well, but give me adventure and action every time.
LMH: See, I disagree. While action and adventure do play their part, I had issues with the overall pacing. The book would draw me in one minute, and then fling me right out again the next. I felt that each time the author succeeded in building tension she either rushed the payoff or let it fizzle out entirely.
This brings me onto the characters, most of whom I found similarly frustrating. I hate to say it, but I found that many aspects of their personality suffered from the same unevenness as the story’s pacing. For example, Mairead’s desire to “tame” Connor seems to crop up out of nowhere, suddenly (and rather perplexingly) becoming a huge issue and then sparking a major plot event. I also disliked how quickly Igraine became defined by her relationship with Braedan. To me, it came across as completely changing/dominating not only her motivations but also her entire personality, and not for the better. In fact, the only character I particularly liked throughout was Braedan.
AFE: Well, I had a completely different reaction. Certainly, Braedan was one of my favourites, because he starts out being presented as the bad guy. And in another story, one that wasn’t willing to play with its tropes, he would have been left there: painted in black and white as the villain. But in fact, as the story went on, he became much more complex and interesting than that.
I enjoyed the female characters. I thought they were realistic and interesting. The other book in our final two, Paternus, is very male dominated – so it was nice to have a more even balance in Ravenmarked. And although Connor could have been a stereotype – the tortured, brooding soul, as you said – I actually found his struggle quite compelling.
LMH: I was too busy struggling with the inconsistencies to notice. The constant back and forth with Mairead and Connor’s feelings; the fact that characters don’t suffer from lasting effects after experiencing trauma, the nebulous (and plot-convenient) magic of the “braids”.
I’m clearly in the minority here. And to be fair it seems that many of my issues are with the story and not the writing itself. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this tale a bit more without the wishy-washy romance; but whether that’s a reflection on the author’s ability to portray romantic relationships or simply my own personal taste – who knows? (Though judging by both your reactions to the book, it’s almost certainly the latter!) That said, I’d also prefer to see stronger characters with more active agency, and less deus ex air-braids.
GRM: Remember though, for some reason, I thought every woman in this book was way too young be doing all the things that the author had them doing. It took you and A.F.E to assure me I was wrong. So maybe I need to go back and re-evaluate a little.
LMH: Maybe. When you say “doing all the things”, are you talking about the “bedding”?
GRM: There was ‘bedding’ going on? I must have missed that. Yes, I mean the bedding of everyone and everything that had a pulse and moved. All right, I know the romance was developing between many of the characters, but it didn’t seem, to me at least, to be the main, forgive me, thrust (LMH: *snigger*) of the book. It was an old-fashioned fantasy adventure. I liked the torn nature of the two main protagonists, and the growth of the other characters.
LMH: I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one before we come to blows. Personally I felt that the book started strongly, but that once the characters began to interact and pair off the plot felt…diluted.
AFE: One thing I don’t think we’ve talked about enough, though, is the strength of the writing. In my opinion, Ravenmarked was one of the two most polished books we saw in the contest (the other being Song of Blood & Stone). We may differ in our opinions of the plot and the characters, which are subjective things, but I think – objectively – it’s fair to say, the writing in Ravenmarked is very good. Professional quality. And though it may lose out to its competitor in terms of style and imagination and quirkiness, we really ought to acknowledge the large amount of work that the author put into making Ravenmarked the best it could be.
We’ve seen plenty of books in this contest that are scattered with typos, bad grammar, lack of flow, simply not quite there in terms of professionalism. But Ravenmarked is really strong in that respect, and that may well be why I could forgive some of its other flaws.
LMH: Totally with you on this one. I may have had beef with the plot, but (objectively) the writing itself is technically very good: smooth, well edited and engaging.
GRM: You’re right. This was such a smooth, polished read that it was hard to put down. In fact, the two finalists both had that un-put-downable factor for me. An occasional, very occasional, lapse in pace, but then it was right back to struggle or action. Ravenmarked certainly reads like it has been edited to within an inch of its life – exact, clear prose style with enough flavour to tell us about the world and let us learn about each of the characters.
JIV: I haven’t read the other nominee, so I have no way of judging between the two. (Nor did I vote on who won. I left that to the experts.) That said, I just wanted to say that I loved the characters in Ravenmarked. They were all different. They all had their own motivations and what they were doing made sense to them. Each had a distinct personality and way of seeing the world that I really liked.
I also think the world and the way magic works was unique. It made sense, but at the same time it wasn’t explained in fine detail. There was still mystery, but it had a logic that you could follow easily. This book is the first in a series, without a doubt. I’ve now read the second book in this series and I am still in love with Amy’s writing and voice.
LMH: Re: being the first book in a series: I feel like it started brilliantly, but lost focus once the prologue ended. The hints about the bigger picture – the Morrag, the Forbidden, the Reliquary, the Sirafi, the Brae Sith – seem almost *too* vague. Having finished reading, I’m still uncertain about what the stakes really are; and having everyone “pair off” (as GRM says) by the end also gave it an odd sense of finality.
The prologue left me eager to read more. Having read more, however, I wouldn’t say I’m in a hurry to pick up the sequel. What about you guys? Would you read more?
GRM: Me? Of course I would. I really enjoyed the book. I liked the sense of adventure, of innocence lost and the struggle to do good against a backdrop of evil and of perceived evil. One of the main characters struggles to remain free, to be true to themselves. I liked that bit. Perhaps it is just one of those books that divides opinion. After all, some folks quite like ASOIAF (or however my initial-alike books are acronymed), others do not. I will have to find time to see how the second book goes.
AFE: Yes, I would certainly read the second book. It’s always impossible to predict what will appeal to any individual person’s taste, but I think fans of traditional fantasy would find plenty to enjoy here.
LMH: To sum up, then: Ravenmarked is a good book. There’s no doubt about it. But, for me, it isn’t a great book. Maybe it’s just me being cynical, but I feel like the SPFBO finale deserves a story with edge and imagination rather than one that is cleanly written but relatively unoriginal.
GRM: Final thoughts? I really enjoyed this book and the story. I liked the interaction of the main two characters, and the torn nature of a few of the protagonists which led to development of motives and outlooks. Yes, there is a very ‘traditional’ aspect to the book, but it works and it is such a smooth read that it is hard to put down.
AFE: Like GR, I thought Ravenmarked was a really enjoyable read with some interesting and well developed characters. But like Laura, I also thought our other finalist had the edge in terms of imagination and originality. For me, it came down to a choice between polish and style, and in the end, style won. However, I will certainly be interested to see what Amy Rose Davis writes in the future.
– – –
The final whistle has blown and the teams are waving to the fans. Up in the grandstand, the dignitaries await the players with their medals and, for the winner, the golden trophy. In this year’s SPFBO, Ravenmarked will be first up the stairs to collect its medal, to wave to the crowd and then watch its opponent collect the winner’s trophy. Second place in a competition this fierce is an incredible feat of writing, imagination and skill.
And there it is. Round One of the SPFBO is complete for all of us here at Fantasy-Faction (as long as you’ve read the other review here that is) and we’ve had a blast. On to the final ten!
In the next round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, each blog in the contest will read the other blogs’ winners (ten books and blogs in total). The star ratings for each books will be tallied and an overall winner chosen! You can follow along on Mark Lawrence’s blog. Also make sure you check back here for more mini-reviews from our judging team.
Good luck to the first round winners, and a great big thank you to everyone who entered!
This review was written by our judges G. R. Matthews, A.F.E. Smith, and Laura M. Hughes.
With a contribution by editor Jennie Ivins.