The Raven’s Heart – Jesse Blackadder (Bywater Books)

Buy it direct from Bywater Books

One of the joys in life is a big, juicy book; a long story
that maintains its characters as well as its sweep and scope as it works its
way through a complex but not complicated plot. Bonus points if it deals with
royalty, court intrigue, castles, honor, and alternate sexualities. Jesse
Blackadder’s The Raven’s Heart has all this and much, much more.

In Mary Queen of Scots’ absence, Blackadder Castle has been
given to the evil Lord Hume and the entire Blackadder family thrown out.
Descendent Alison Blackadder, who has been dressed as a boy her whole life to
protect her from the Humes, becomes one of Mary’s ladies in waiting upon the
royal’s return. She falls in love with her queen at the same time she instructs
her in the art of male subterfuge, becoming Mary’s most trusted adviser. Can
Alison win her castle back and reclaim her soul from Mary?

Jesse Blackadder is a descendent of the family mentioned in
the book, and her research is impeccable, as is her sense of place. I could
almost feel the chill of coastal Scotland. But research would just be useless
facts if she didn’t have the ability to meld the history with some amazing
characters. Mary is both childlike and icily royal, her personality revealed and
deepened as she grows into her queenly role.

The Raven’s Heart, however, belongs to Alison
Blackadder. A wonder of a character, she begins as a wide-eyed innocent with a
goal and becomes a wise and savvy woman who hates her queen as much as she
loves her. Alison’s transformation is remarkable and wholly believable as she
wins and loses both men and women, learning something about life and
perseverance with each loss. But the supporting cast is equally stellar. Lord
Darnley, Mary’s husband and not-quite-king, is syphilitic and malevolent. Lord
Bothwell, at first Alison’s protector, becomes a land-grabbing seeker of power
and wealth.

Blackadder’s prose is sumptuous and expressive; perfectly
pitched in terms of time and never anachronistic. As stated before, her sense
of place is marvelous—her descriptions are powerful but never overwhelm the
action. And her pacing is a perfect blend of action and exposition that never
drags or lags. Historically accurate and meticulously researched, Blackadder’s
facts are a jumping off point for her fiction and never jar the reader or seem
out of place.

Altogether an engrossing read, The Raven’s Heart is
sure to please both history buff and fiction lover.

 ©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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