Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder


Scotland, 1561, and a ship comes across the North Sea carrying home Mary, the young, charismatic Queen of Scots, returning after thirteen years in the French court to wrest back control of her throne.

The Blackadder family has long awaited for the Queen's return to bring them justice. Alison Blackadder, disguised as a boy from childhood to protect her from the murderous clan that stole their lands, must learn to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, building a web of dependence and reward.

 Just as the Queen can trust nobody, Alison discovers lies, danger, and treachery at every turn.

This sweeping, imaginative, and original tale of political intrigue, misplaced loyalty, secret passion, and implacable revenge is based on real characters and events from the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.

"The Raven's Heart" is a breathtaking epic from a bold, fresh voice. Winner of the Varuna HarperCollins Manuscript Development Award, "The Raven's Heart" was published in Australia in 2011.

Click here to watch the book trailer.  

September 11, 2011 | Bywater Books | 464p

My Review

4 Stars

Set in Scotland during the early years of Mary Queen of Scots reign, The Raven's Heart follows Alison Blackadder on her quest to reclaim her family's castle from the powerful Scottish family that seized it a generation earlier.  In a effort to keep her protected from her family's enemies, who would kill her if they knew she existed, Alison lives her life as a boy.  When Mary Queen of Scots returns to her homeland from France, Alison's father, through Lord Bothwell, is able to secure her a position as one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting. Although this position affords Alison the opportunity to raise the issue of her family's lost castle with the Queen, it also means that she must cast off her male disguise and live as a young woman.  Captivated by Mary from the moment she meets the monarch, Alison manages to adapt to her new role with relative ease.  But Alison is keenly aware of the danger she is placed in as a member of Mary's court, and must ensure that she makes no wrong move that would either bring her to the attention of her enemies or cause her to fall from Mary's favour.   

With a quick-moving plot, well-developed main characters and a strong sense of both time and place, The Raven's Heart is a thoroughly enjoyable novel.  Narrated from Alison Blackadder's point of view, the reader is able to fully appreciate the desire for revenge driving her quest to reclaim her family's castle.  Through Alison's eyes the reader comes to know Mary Queen of Scots, a woman used to getting her own way and one who is easily able to charm all those she comes into contact with, including Alison.  While Alison's quest is at the heart of this story, it is set against the backdrop of the early years of Mary's reign.  Although Alison is a fictional character, author Jesse Blackadder has seamlessly inserted her heroine into the actual events that shaped Mary's reign, including her marriage to Lord Darnley, the murder of David Rizzio, and Mary's later marriage to Lord Bothwell, a match that turned most of Scotland against her.  As a result, this novel not only tells a great fictional story, it also brings 16th Scottish history vividly to life.  In Alison, Jesse Blackadder has created a strong and memorable heroine.  While Alison is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the Queen's favour, and thus place herself in a position to gain back what she feels is her birthright, she acknowledges that not all of her actions are honourable.  The author has also done a commendable job with the characterizations of each of the historical figures that feature prominently in this novel, most notably Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, whose portrayals are consistent with history.    The only weak spot of this novel relates to Alison's short love affair with another lady of the court.  While Alison is portrayed as having fallen in love, the reader learns next to nothing about the woman to whom she gives her heart, or what she has done to earn Alison's devotion.  The only thing they seem to share is lust for one another and, as a result, it is difficult to believe that the affair is a great love match. 

The Raven's Heart is recommended to all fans of historical fiction, especially those interested in Scottish history.

Note: A copy of this novel was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

About the Author

Born in Sydney, Jesse now lives near Byron Bay. She is an award-winning short-story writer and freelance journalist, fascinated by landscapes and belonging.  Her first novel was After the Party (2005), which was voted onto the Australian Book Review’s list of all time favourite Australian novels in February 2010. She is writing her next novel about the first woman to reach Antarctica.