I didn’t realize (because I didn’t read the promotional email carefully) that The Raven’s Banquet was the prequel to Beal’s first novel, Gideon’s Angel. Which I haven’t read. But I intend to.
This was a riveting historical fantasy set during the Thirty Years War. Richard Treadwell is a younger son, setting out to make his fortune as a mercenary. He gets a lot more than he bargains for.
The novel is told mostly in flashbacks as Richard awaits trial for treason during the English Civil War. To pass time, he records his memoirs.
Not long after he reaches the continent, he and companions encounter a group of gypsies. A comely gypsy reads his fortune and tells him there are great things in store for him. Based on what happens to him, I can only conclude that great things are European equivalent of the Chinese curse about living in interesting times. She also gives him a charm and tells him never to take it off. Good advice as it turns out.
Treadwell is going to need the charm and all the help he can get. Things don’t go as he expects, and by the time the novel ends, he will have been in battles, fallen in love with a witch, and found himself on trial for witchcraft. He will also have conversations with the dead.
The battle scenes in the book were one of the strongest things about it, and that’s not faint praise. Beal gives plenty of detail without slowing down the pace. And since Treadwell is a cavalry man, the pace was rapid.
Another strength of the book is the way Beal utilizes language, mixing modern wording with period dialect. The result is a highly readable story that sounds period without forcing the reader to work too hard.
I also found the sequences which took place in Treadwell’s present to be suspenseful. There’s going to be at least one more book in this series if I’m reading things correctly, which is a good thing. Treadwell is a complex character who is motivated by both greed and the most noble of reasons. At times these motivations are in conflict, leading to in-depth character development. The result is one of the more interesting historical fantasy series out there today. I’m going to have to pick up a copy of Gideon’s Angel.
I’m not sure if there’s a paper edition of The Raven’s Banquet planned. Neither Amazon nor B&N list one, nor is there any reference to a print edition on the Solaris site.
I’d like to thank Michael Molcher of Solaris Books for the review copy.