3 out of 4 stars
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In historical fantasy Apollo’s Raven, Linnea Tanner weaves a tale of eternal love on a background of political intrigues and ancient magic in 24AD Britain. Celtic princess and warrior Catrin meets strapping Roman Marcellus, and both feel an instant connection and attraction. However, her royal family’s truce with Rome is precarious and their forbidden love affair unleashes chaos. In parallel, her half-brother and his Druidess mother have nefarious intentions, and Catrin uses her magical powers to stay one step ahead while trying to save Marcellus from her own family.
I enjoyed the worldbuilding the most in this story. Tanner easily conjures up scenes of Britain’s countryside, Celtic life, mistrust between the Celts and the ever-invading Romans, etc. There are many graphic descriptions of Celtic ceremonies I will not soon forget. I appreciated the complexity of the political relationships and intrigues going on that made it much more than a romance set in the past. Tanner made me feel like a witness to the deadly games tribes play with each other and with Rome. There is also plenty of shapeshifting, resulting in vivid animal and nature descriptions. The imagery was particularly striking every time magic was involved.
I also liked the pacing as things move along quite fast, but not at the expense of having some character introspection. Catrin and Marcellus spend some time thinking ahead, trying to untangle lies from truth, and figuring out what they want from life. However, the plot moves along briskly, and I liked the balance of thinking with action.
While all this makes for a strong background, what I liked least was both the character development and the dialogues. Most of the characters feel somewhat cliché, and their interactions a bit stilted. There was a lot of exposition done by the bad guys, and I often felt that less telling and more showing would have broken immersion less. Catrin and Marcellus fall almost instantly in love, and although it is explained away by them having been lovers in past lives, it seemed a bit rushed. The writing style itself was unusual in that Tanner doesn’t seem to have encountered a metaphor she didn’t like. It didn’t make me dislike the story, but it did take some getting used to.
There are a few steamy scenes, some profanity, and the editing seems professional. What I feel readers should know about in advance is the graphic violence of some rituals. There are many scenes of skulls cracking open and spilling brain matter, bones breaking, organs being eaten, cutting beating hearts out, ravens pecking eyes out and tearing flesh away, etc. There is also some talk of torture and rape.
Overall I enjoyed this story because the author obviously researched ancient Europe and loves the topic. The worldbuilding is strong and the imagery is vivid. However, I didn’t love the story because of the weak character arcs and interactions. If you can get past that, the story is worth it for the feeling of being transported to the past and seeing ancient Britain’s history unfold. This is a 3 out of 4 stars for me, and I can recommend it to any fan of historical fantasy as long as they aren’t disturbed or offended by pagan magic, violent rituals, or sex.
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