Catrin is a princess, soul traveler and mystic. A sorceress cum shapeshifter and the daughter of King Amren of the Cantiaci. The historical fiction of Linnea Tanner, “Apollo’s Raven”, begins with Catrin along with her sisters Vala and Mor, who are trapped in the clash of kingdoms between the tattooed Cantuvellauni people of her Celtic homeland, and the advancing Roman armies. While their combat instructor, Belinus, is distracted by the middle daughter, Mor, and eldest sister Val is betrothed to a Roman for political reasons, Catrin is overwrought with painful memories of her exiled and disfigured brother Marrock. Marrock has returned to her in a vision that can only mean bloodshed and death to all she holds dear.
Catrin’s visions are much more than waking dreams. Her faithful familiar is a black raven that allows her to travel through the skies and into the past or future by taking her vision and allowing her to see what it can see, for better or worse. There is a curse upon the land and her family. Just like the future, this curse can be rewritten so it is up to Catrin and her Roman ally Marcellus alongside her mother, Queen Rhiannon, to outwit Marrock and the advancing Roman army he has maliciously manipulated for his own revenge.
The introduction to Catrin and her powers is quite breathtaking. All at once the reader is taken into the fold of how magic and sorcery is viewed in this world crafted by Tanner, and all at once mystified and humbled. The young princess is new to this power she keeps a secret from others, and we are witness to its bold and reckless enchantment as we see the weakness that transferring your waking mind to another body can hold. With the threats that surround this young warrior maiden, the author weaves a tantalizing push and pull between the free life Catrin could have and the path she treads–for destiny and magic clear the way. Unlike many epic fantasies, the style is quite casual and could be disarming for those seeking a more literary approach to the sword and sorcery of Europe in the dawn of the common era. A smattering of historical figures blend into the background of this landscape which is rich with trappings of the time and while there could be some exclamations or jargon out of place it would take research to verify one way or another. It all blends in, however, as so much of the world inhabited by our hero and her sisters is true to our own. With only a few twists of imagination, a world where we can see through the eyes of another creature comes to life.
Thankfully there are few scenes of romance. The story could surely be billed as a romance story entirely, but I found it much more like a dark fantasy that only edges on a love story. With very few scenes of eroticism, the focus is certainly on peril, bloodshed, mystery, magic and deception. For those who come to ‘Apollo’s Raven” looking for love, they will find maggots, skulls, torture and entrails in all the right places. Much to my delight, this book contains quite a few gory scenes throughout. While each character is entirely their own and distinctly drawn, it seems all characters are quick to temper and are all quite sadistic. Even the most gentle seeming creatures here are proven exceedingly cruel at least once if not chapter by chapter. The raven is a character of its own too, and not without its shining moments of barbarism. Owners of large birds, specifically corvids, will know the author not only researched the time and place in which the story has taken place but the nature of these strange little creatures. Whether playing the jester, faithful guardian or spirit animal, the raven–which has no name–shares the quirks a pet crow would truly display. Something that only one at home with these cold coal creatures would really bring to life.
More time exploring the character of Agrona, the King’s witch who plays a large part in the story and has the bloodiest and most interesting introduction would have done well. The story does well as it is, though she offered something entirely different later in the story in contrast to who she is when first met, the direction she starts off in is fascinating and embodies more of the magic qualities of this world that everyone fears and is warned off but rarely gets to see. Of five stars, this is closer to a four than three-and-a-half. While lyrical and paced well, some of the slang and colloquialisms cause a snag when they don’t ring true. Some dialogue injects mirth where not ought to be had and when the scenario is not meant to be funny. Some of the gravity is sucked out by the misstep of a word or two but the story does recover every time, and instantly. For lovers of animal familiars mixed in with dark magic, this could fly quite high and is worth looking into the next book in the series.
I have taken a position reviewing books from independent authors. While not all are horror, there is a thread of darkness through them regardless of genre. As with honest paid reviews, there will be personal reaction as well as comparative and critical analysis. If you are an author that would like me to review your work, contact me for rates and a summary of your novel, short story, or collection.