4 out of 4 stars
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Linnea Tanner genuinely deserves all congratulations for Apollo’s Raven, book one in her historical fantasy series bearing the same title. Based on the author’s lifelong passion for ancient history and mythology, the novel makes the readers revel in an enthraling adventure blending mystical experiences with the thrill of sweeping romance and the realism of political intrigue. Set in 24 AD, the story develops in the region of the Southeast Celtic tribes in Britain before the invasion of the Roman emperor Claudius. Since the Celtic kingdoms were already under strong Roman influence in politics and trade, Linnea Tanner exquisitely parallels Roman culture and civilization with Celtic customs, myths and legends.
The novel follows the impossible love affair between Princess Catrin, the youngest daughter of King Amren of the Cantiaci Celtic warriors, and Marcellus, son of the Roman Senator Lucius Antonius. Both beautiful and fearless, Catrin possesses the mystical powers of the ancient Druids; she can prophesy, shape-shift and call on nature’s forces to help her overcome her enemies. Through her raven’s eyes, she sees her half-brother Marrock returning to their kingdom with claims to the throne. Marrock is the son of Amren’s former queen Rhan who was found guilty of treason and beheaded by the king himself. He was banished by his father 7 years before because he had abandoned Catrin to a ruthless death in the forest. Meanwhile, he had married the eldest daughter of Cunobelin, the ruler of the rival Celtic kingdom of Catuvellauni. His thirst for revenge against his father makes Marrock seek Roman support. As a sign of his fealty to the Roman Empire, he promises Senator Lucius to pay additional tribute and to open trade ways.
Faced with the demands of the Roman Senator, King Amren is in an impasse. He needs to go to negotiate with King Cunobelin and the Romans. For the negotiation period, Marcellus is held as hostage in the Cantiaci capital and Vala, Amren’s eldest daughter, becomes the Romans’ guarantee. On the one hand, Catrin receives the task of extracting information from Marcellus about the Romans’ secret plans. On the other hand, Marcellus is mandated by his father to do whatever it takes to make Catrin confide in him and tell him the hidden agenda of the Celtic king. Step by step, the princess and the young Roman get to know each other better and irremediably fall in love. They will soon have to choose between their passionate feelings and their loyalty and duty to their people.
The plot is an enticing avalanche of one revelation after another. In addition, the shifting points of view give us the chance of plunging into different characters’ innermost thoughts and emotions. The narrative focus moves from Catrin and her growing love for Marcellus to the young Roman himself or to the scar-faced Marrock. Linnea Tanner is a master puppeteer pulling the right strings at the right time throughout the story. In the novel, King Amren is afraid of Rhan’s curse saying that he would have a girl that would rise as a raven and join his son, Blood Wolf, to overtake his kingdom. As time passes by, Catrin’s actions allow the curse to rewrite itself as the inscription on the lapin-crested dagger shows. I like to think of this story as a huge metaphor for history rewriting itself through fiction and allowing individuals to take charge of their own destinies.
Multiple narrative threads are used to shed new light on the beautifully woven story. Women characters have a strong presence in the novel. Queen Rhiannon, Amren’s wife, has the same rights as her husband and enjoys the same respect from the common people. In a conversation with Catrin, the queen patiently compares the Roman and Celtic attitude toward women. For the Romans, the paterfamilias has complete control over his family. In her father’s kingdom, Catrin can own property and be a ruler, a warrior, a Druidess or a mother. As the author herself confesses, Catrin might be shaped after the model of the famous warrior queen Boudica who united the Britons in 61 BC and almost expelled the Romans. In the text, she has a complex personality; she is a soul traveler being able to connect with Marcellus on a spiritual level. She reminds him of the alluring Sirens who almost entrapped the Greek hero Odysseus. The star-crossed lovers reiterate the tragic destinies of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet.
Last but not least, this epic tale of forbidden love and mystical adventure is skillfully strewn with both Roman and Celtic myths and legends. The Romans worship Apollo, the almighty god of the sun and divination, while the Celts try to appease their own sun god, Bel, and his consort, Belissama, goddess of fire and light. They all believe in omens, premonitory dreams and the power of magic. The story on the whole portrays a vivid and realistic image of the people’s beliefs as well as ordinary activities.
In the acknowledgements, the author thanks the many persons who helped her write the book in a professional manner. I can only testify to the excellent editing and organization of the book. It includes overenthusiastic editorial reviews, a map of Britannia, the author’s note and a preview of the first chapters in Empire’s Anvil, the next book of the series. Whole-heartedly, I am giving this novel 4 out of 4 stars and I am recommending it to readers of all ages. Well-written and extensively researched, Apollo’s Raven has earned its special place in the historical fantasy genre.
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