4 out of 4 stars
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The Romans have landed in Britannia in 24 A.D. during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius and threaten to disrupt the lives of the Celtic kingdoms. Thus begins Apollo’s Raven by Linnea Tanner, the first book in the Curse of Clansmen and Kings trilogy. Lucius Antonius, the grandson of Mark Anthony, leads Roman soldiers on an expedition into Britannia. Accompanied by his son, Marcellus, he seeks redemption through conquest. Catrin, the youngest daughter of Celtic King Amren, foresees the coming invasion through her raven’s eyes. In the ensuing struggles for allies, Cartin becomes the overseer of Marcellus who is made hostage to assure Celts and Romans maintain peace.
Along with the budding romance between Catrin and Marcellus, palace intrigues and betrayals assure the efforts of King Amren and Lucius Antonius will meet resistance, and they do. Focusing narrowly on her goals, Catrin’s mother makes decisions that ignore the dangers Catrin faces as she struggles against a druid priestess. This priestess maneuvers to compromise Catrin’s powers in an attempt to usurp them for herself. Catrin’s brother, Marrock, is a shapeshifter who arrived with the Romans and desires revenge against his father who disinherited him thus removing him from succession to the throne.
With a young woman as the central character in Roman times, we get glimpses into the differences between Roman and Celtic treatment of women. The Romans consider women primarily for entertainment and procreation purposes. In contrast, Celtic women enjoy a greater participation in their society almost on par with the males. The contrast is more clearly portrayed through Marcellus’s adjustments to Catrin as he grows from seeking her for sexual satisfaction to a desire to spiritually join with her.
Linnea Tanner proves adept at portraying the struggle of a young woman coming of age in a world facing traumatic changes. With threats to her culture, her family, and her identity as a human, she must find ways of dealing with these threats. The author puts the characters in difficult situations and raises the levels of difficulty as the novel progresses. Her main characters include a well-realized Catrin and the frustratingly unseeing manipulative mother, Rhiannon, a character easy to hate. Catrin’s Roman lover, Marcellus, seems too quick to shed his cultural norms to accept Catrin’s, which I found somewhat implausible. The adjustment comes with insufficient reflection on his part.
The book was well edited. The author uses details well beyond just the visual including this description of discomfort: “The stone wall was hard on her back, and drops of water from a lichen-crusted ceiling annoyingly dripped on her face.” The writer’s use of senses other than sight makes this novel especially effective in bringing the reader closer to the action. She writes with a poetic touch that eases us into the story but does not intrude by showing off. At times, it seemed the author was juggling too many strands to fit into a novel of this size. Admittedly, this work is the first of three, so many of the strands unwound in this novel may well be tied together in the subsequent novels. I did have reservations because the villains in the novel seemed to have few to no redeeming qualities. Therefore, they were less believable and interesting. However, the ambiguity of Rhiannon, the mother, who seems villainous at times, gives the novel a disquieting depth.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. The attractive main character makes the novel compelling. When we add the historical period from the perspective of the invaded instead of the invaders, the different perspective makes the novel hard to resist. For readers who enjoy the romance of young female heroines taking charge against the odds, Apollo’s Raven will serve admirably. Readers averse to sexual encounters, even tastefully related, might want to shy away from this book. Finally, readers of historical fiction will find this a comfortable fit especially if they find the Celts of Britannia especially interesting.
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