4 out of 4 stars
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I picked up Apollo’s Raven by Linnea Tanner expecting a historical romance. Neither historical fiction, nor romance are on my list of favorite genres, but something about this book screamed “give me a chance!” That something wasn’t the cover with the half-naked guy looking down while the girl sits beside him, ready to defend whatever is coming. That something wasn’t the blurb, promising something of a historical romance with elements of fantasy. That something was simply a gut instinct, so I acceded.
Apollo’s Raven is the story of a Celtic princess who witnesses the arrival of a Roman party on the shores of her tribal kingdom. Catrin, as she is known, takes quite a fancy to one of the young men in the party, a man named Marcellus. It turns out the Romans are playing the local kings against each other in order to sow chaos. While her father, King Amren, heads off with the Romans for a negotiation with a neighboring king, Marcellus is left behind as a hostage in order to guarantee Amren’s safety. Catrin is tasked with plucking information from Marcellus, while he has been tasked to do the same from the princess. Both have been ordered to seduce their counterpart if necessary, but both find themselves naturally drawn to the other.
I would think Apollo’s Raven would appeal to romance fans. The budding romance between Catrin and Marcellus is an unlikely one. Both come from different cultures. Their stations in life are unequal, though who is above the other depends on whose land they stand upon. The parents of both are clear in their disapproval of anything beyond the information gathering they’ve been tasked with. Underneath it all, you can’t help but wonder at certain times if that “love” really is a cover. Other times, there is a cloud of enchantment hanging over them. Even Catrin questions her feelings, wondering if they’re not the product of a spell cast upon her. All throughout, I was left rooting for these two in the against-all-odds sort of way.
Fans of historical fiction might enjoy this story as well. Though Tanner admits in her notes that there is not a lot of historical research on the ancient Celts to draw from, she does an adequate job of weaving a land and a culture out of what little there is. The descriptions all through this work captivate the mind. They give you a feel for what it might be like to have been in this fictional version of Cantiaci. A few modern words and expressions do jump out at you, but considering the entire English language as we know it today is as alien to the people in the story as the Latin spoken by the Romans is to Catrin and her people, I think we can forgive the author’s occasional word choice.
Fantasy readers might also enjoy this book. Catrin is able to practice some simple magic, and her skills develop as the story progresses. Early on, she is able to enter the mind of her spirit animal, a black raven which follows her around, serving as her protector at times. The raven allows Catrin to see things out of her own range. Eventually, through the raven, she is able to travel to the gates of the Otherworld. From there, she is able to see the “life threads” of anyone she wishes, giving her a glimpse into the future, or into an unfamiliar past. Other characters have the ability to shapeshift into their spirit animals, while another character harbors a secret identity, passed into the body at the time of that soul’s physical demise.
What I enjoyed most of all was the political intrigue. The Romans play the regional kings off of each other to soften the Celtic tribes ahead of a potential invasion. King Amren plays the Romans, and asks his daughter to play Marcellus, so that he might learn of those plans. A neighboring king, though unseen throughout the book, plays the situation in order to secure a marriage and gain a hold on his former rival’s kingdom. Forbidden loves threaten to tear the royal family apart. A local priestess sows discord within the royal family, hoping to pave the way for Amren’s banished son to return and seize control. There is no shortage of drama woven into this story!
Since other readers have honed in on the sexual scenes, I would probably be remiss if I did not offer my own insight. There are a few moments of passion. Tanner does an excellent job of writing them tastefully, so if you’re looking for raw porn, you will be disappointed. The language is flowery and euphemistic to the point where you might find yourself laughing a little bit. Others have complained that the language ruins the mood, but I would argue that the style is really no different than that used throughout the book. I would also argue that the way she dances around describing the acts, Tanner has managed to avoid writing a book that should fall into the “adult” categories. I don’t see a problem with this being 13+. Parents might want to make their own judgements first, but teenagers are likely seeing much worse on television and in movies.
Apollo’s Raven gets 4 out of 4 stars from this reviewer. As a book that falls outside my comfort zone, it kept me glued. I couldn’t help wondering what was going to happen next, and I found many surprises along the way. Linnea Tanner clearly put a lot of thought into her story, and a lot of work into the manuscript. The grammar Nazis will have a tough time picking this book apart.
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