Reviews: deep, mythological fantasy – A Gathering of Ravens

Published On August 16, 2017 | By Misti Cooper | Books, Reviews

A Gathering of Ravens,

Scott Oden,

Bantam Books

To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcneas; to the Irish, he is fomoraig. He is Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent. He is Grimnir, and he is the last of his kind–the last in a long line of monsters who have plagued humanity since the Elder Days.”

‘A Gathering of Ravens’ reads like the re-telling of a legend you should already know, and in a way it is. You may not have heard of Skraelingr, but you have probably heard of Grendel. Or if not Grendel, then Orcs at least. Gods-cursed creatures that live for violence and vengeance and stalk the moonless nights. Even your most earnest prayers and potent charms cannot always keep them out. Grimnir is just such a creature, but he is a lonely creature also. Last of his kind, following in the footsteps of his father, and claiming to thirst only for vengeance he yet seems drawn to paths that force companionship upon him.

Set at a time when Christianity is spreading like wildfire across the kingdoms of the Danes and the Saxons, Grimnir could be epitomised as a last vestige of a more violent and diverse past, but instead Scott Oden presents a uniquely balanced view of the clashing of the new religion with the old pagan ways. The old gods of the Norse pantheon and the even older gods of wood and stone are, in some places, on equal footing with the White Christ of the “hymn-singers” and in the places where they have been outmatched, there is no real violence to the transition, only negation. The violence comes only from the human players on either side, and though he is often indiscriminate and uncompassionate, Grimnir the monster is never so gleefully cruel as many of the human characters he encounters along his way.

Right from the start this book draws you in with its evocative imagery and beautifully-described landscapes. In a subtle way, Oden leads you into Grimnir’s world as he sees it. The rich forests, damp caves, sacred groves and standing stones are each described in such vivid detail that you feel you can sense every facet of the landscape, but towns and villages often feel murky and confused, the buildings feel crowded around you, and yet indistinct, while emphasis is put on the smells and sounds in these places, conjuring a sensory impression of this world.

In ‘A Gathering of Ravens’ the line between fantasy and historical fiction is blurred into mythology. If you like your fantasy Tolkienesque with deep roots, then this novel is for you, and like many legends in truth, it is not exactly a story of justice or redemption, but it is a tale that must play itself out to its very end, a tale you cannot help but get drawn into.

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