4 out of 4 stars
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Apollo’s Raven by Linnea Tanner is book one in her historical fantasy series. The author’s lifelong love of ancient history and mythology is made clear through this adventure story’s delightful blending of mystical elements and a realistic depiction of the politics of the day. Set in 24 AD, the story dives into an impossible romance set in the region of Britannia (current day England) in which the Southeast Celtic tribes thrived before the Roman invasion of the emperor Claudius. The author does a phenomenal job of depicting Roman culture with Celtic mythology and customs.
Among the other thematic currents of mythology and politics, runs the thread of the sweeping romance between Princess Catrin, the youngest daughter of King Amren of the Cantiaci Celtic warriors, and Marcellus, the youngest son of the Roman Senator Lucius Antonius (grandson of Mark Antony). From the moment of their first meeting, their connection is electric. Both characters strong and to use the language of the time, comely, Catrin has mysterious powers related to the raven. She has the ability to see the future, to change shape, and to call on her raven spirit to protect her from evil. Through her raven vision, she discovers her half-brother Marrock wants to claim the Cantiaci throne for himself. Marrock’s mother was King Amren’s first queen, Rhan, who was beheaded for treason. Marrock had been banished from the kingdom seven years prior to these events because of the cruel circumstances in which he was found with Catrin deep in the forest. During his banishment, he married the daughter of Cunobelin, leader of the Cantiaci’s rival kingdom of Catuvellauni. Marrock is hungry for revenge (for the beheading of his mother and for his wrongful banishment) and is willing to go to any length to make King Amren pay. He promises Senator Lucius that if he can help him in his claim to the Cantiaci throne, he will pay additional tribute to Rome and open trade ways.
King Amren is put in a difficult position when Lucius approaches with these demands. His only solution is to go to King Cunobelin and the Romans to negotiate. In order to guarantee that both sides will play fair, Marcellus must stay in Britannia as “guest” (but really a hostage) and Vala, King Amren’s oldest daughter, must go to Rome. Catrin is tasked with being Marcellus’ guide, but also with covertly learning everything from him about the Roman plan that she can. Conversely, Marcellus is ordered to learn any hidden motives of King Amren from the princess. But as Catrin and Marcellus get to know one another, their connection only grows deeper, and they both begin to fall in love. Soon they will have to choose between loyalty to their hearts and loyalty to their people.
The story is a dramatic unveiling of one surprise after another. I also really liked the multiple perspectives from which it was told. It was very revealing to hear the inner thoughts and feelings of all the major characters at odds with one another. For example, the reader gets a sense of Catrin’s growing feelings for Marcellus, then Queen Rhiannon’s experience, then dangerous Marrock and his motives for wanting the throne. The author does a marvelous job of stringing everything together so that just the right perspective is detailed at the right time. Importantly, a curse plays a big role in the plot. King Amren had been cursed by Rhan before she was beheaded, stating that his daughter would embody a raven and join forces with his son to overthrow the kingdom. Yet with time, the curse is rewritten and things do not go as prophesied. I think this can be interpreted as a lovely metaphor for people taking charge of their lives and writing their own stories.
One of my favorite aspects of the story is the strength with which women are depicted. For example, the Cantiaci women have the same rights as their husbands. In an enlightening conversation between Queen Rhiannon and Princess Catrin, Rhiannon compares the attitudes toward women as held by Romans versus their people. In Rome, the paterfamilias (father) has total control over his entire family and slaves. But in King Amren’s kingdom, Catrin can become a sorceress, she can own property, be a warrior, or a mother. Catrin is multidimensional with a complex story: she is a warrior but also a vulnerable young girl; she is a soul traveler who can connect with the raven and with Marcellus on a deep level; and she is compared to the enticing Sirens who tried to ensnare the Greek hero Odysseus.
I am a huge fan of Roman mythology and was very pleased that Apollo was woven into this powerful and mystical adventure story. I loved learning more about Celtic myths and legends as well. While the Romans worship Apollo as the god of the sun, the Celt’s worship the god Bel (sun god) and the goddess Belissama (goddess of fire and light). I was also enthralled by the mystical element woven throughout as seen through the collective belief in omens, magic, and the importance of dreams.
Overall, the author did a fantastic job of incorporating the mystical with the political. I’ll admit that there were a few moments in which I feared the romance was going to get a bit tawdry, because some of the sexual scenes started to feel slightly too descriptive. Fortunately though, as the whole story unfolded and more and more revelations came to light, I realized my fears were unfounded and thought twice about my initial impression. I must say that ultimately, this story is truly stunning! I was very impressed with the editing too, as I found only one tiny error (a missing quotation mark) in the entire story. I easily give this book 4 out of 4 stars and recommend it to readers who love beautifully crafted mythological, political, and romance stories. However, because of the slightly graphic sexual scenes I mention above, I offer a word of caution for younger and/or more sensitive readers. Still, I believe that many readers will find this book well-researched and compelling.
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