Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: Raven’s Shadow and Raven’s Strike by Patricia Briggs

Okay, I read this duology some time ago, but this was like reading it for the first time because it turns out I barely remembered anything at all about the story. I knew the Raven duology is used as an example of a story with an older female protagonist. It is indeed a good example once the reader gets past the first section and we jump ahead twenty years, although actually there’s very much an ensemble cast here.

So, the story. Tier rescues Seraph, who is a Traveler (like a gypsy or a Lakewalker, distinct from the general population of settled people) and also a Raven (a natural wizard who works magic freestyle, by intuition, rather than with rituals from books). There is a brief low-key romance. They get married, at least partly out of convenience. We jump forward twenty years or so and the actual story begins. That whole introductory section was a bit generic and boring for me, but when we shift forward in time, the story really picks up and I got a lot more interested.

The opening problem is that Tier has not returned from a trip when expected and is presumed to be dead. Seraph and her three children – Jes and Lehr, who are young adults, and Rinnie, who is ten years old – deal with this loss, discover he probably isn’t dead but has been kidnapped, and the story unrolls from there, with the viewpoint dividing mainly between Seraph and Tier. That problem resolves in the first book, and then they deal with their real enemy in the second book, where the viewpoint divides a lot more.

What makes the story work:

Once the story really begins, both main viewpoints – Tier’s and Seraph’s – become compelling. Tier’s situation is especially engaging. I have a particular fondness for the sort of situation where someone competent is tossed into a crowd, begins to recruit allies, and essentially takes over. We saw that when Miles Vorkosigan took over that Cetagandan prison, and when Torin Kerr took over her prison, and in the Honor Harrington series where Honor has to get a new crew to work together properly, and in a whole bunch of other stories. I always like that trope.

The secondary characters add interest, especially Jes, whose character is the most complex. There are similarities between Jes in this duology and Charles in the Alpha and Omega series; the sharing-your-body-with-a-monster thing is right there in both stories. The Raven duology may be where Patricia Briggs did this first and then she wanted to make that element more central when she started the werewolf series. Anyway, that’s also a trope I like.

Not just Jes, but all three of Seraph and Tier’s children have inherited magic, each one a different kind (there are six inborn types of magic). Plus Seraph is a Raven and Tier, it turns out, is a Bard, so every member of the family is gifted with a type of inborn magic. This is not entirely a coincidence. Briggs has used a method to deal with helpful coincidences that I actually used myself in Winter of Ice and Iron she’s set a force for order into the world, so that helpful coincidences have a reason to occur. Why did Tier and Seraph encounter each other in the first place? Why has every child been born with some kind of magic? Well, this is why.

I think that’s quite helpful. If the author needs helpful coincidences and those begin to strain reader credibility, introducing the appropriate metaphysics can be a great way to rescue the situation. Of course once you introduce a metaphysical force for order, you probably have also introduced a force for chaos, and then that may well give overall shape to the plot as those two forces are opposed to each other. Or in this case, not exactly. Patricia Briggs went for a more subtle situation than that.

But the pov cast is actually bigger than this one family. The Emperor, Phoran, is a neat character in his own right. He would have made a good protagonist for a different story. Hennea is not as interesting to me, though her role is pretty important. And so on. Lots of secondary characters get a little bit of point-of-view time. That’s a somewhat unusual way to tell a story these days, as first person has become so much more common. Briggs does a good job with it.

Overall a fine fantasy duology, well worth picking up, especially if you like ensemble casts and very definitely if you appreciate older protagonists who are in settled relationships and stories that include positive family dynamics.

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3 Comments Recent Reading: Raven’s Shadow and Raven’s Strike by Patricia Briggs

  1. Sandstone

    I always think of this one together with Patricia Wrede’s Lyra novel Caught in Crystal for the mother on a fantasy adventure with children, though the plots are otherwise fairly different (and the mother is widowed but finds a new love interest in Caught in Crystal). I’m feeling like I might need a reread of all three of them!

  2. Allan Shampine

    I picked these up after reading your post. I’m halfway through the second and am liking them a lot. Thank you for the recommendation! I will say, however, that I’m glad they are on Kindle and that you recommended them, because the covers otherwise would have put me off.

    A cover can make a difference. Arin Komins set me up with a copy of David Drake’s “Old Nathan,” which, based on the cover, I never would have guessed was an homage to Manley Wade Wellman. Liked the book a lot. Terrible cover. It’s a D&D painting by Larry Elmore, originally from a Dragon magazine cover. Oddly, David Drake likes it a lot, but it seems to me it has nothing whatsoever to do with the book.

  3. Rachel

    Allan, I agree. The covers make these two books look like generic paranormals or something like that. Woman and Wolf! Woman and Panther! Nothing could be more cliched, and that is so misleading about the books themselves.

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