Ravensblood is an excellent fantasy but not a completely satisfying romance. The setting, the magical rules, and the world building are impeccable, the plot is clever and suspenseful, and all the characters are well-drawn and interesting – I just wasn’t sure I wanted the lead romantic couple to end up together. Those two are toting way more baggage than fits in a carry-on compartment.
Ravensblood takes place in an alternate version of Portland, Oregon and the surrounding areas. Lately I’ve been stumbling across a whole ton of books that completely by coincidence are set in some of my favorite places. I love Portland and that part of Oregon, and the setting rang completely true. In this alternate version, magic exists. There are magic users and mundanes, and they know about each other and work and live together. Raven is a dark mage who is in league with William, another dark mage who led a rebellion that was narrowly defeated. Cass works for the Guardians, a sort of police force for the same council that William is still schemeing to overthrow. Cass’s position is difficult because she and Raven were once lovers, and she can’t escape being distrusted, insulted, and discriminated against in her job and in her personal life because their association.
Eventually Cass and Raven have to work together to try to overthrow William. This is painful for both of them because their break up was…not amiable. Raven hates himself and distrusts everyone, and everyone distrusts Raven and most people hate him. But Cass and Raven continue to be drawn to one another even as Raven is faced with horrible choice after horrible choice.
If I’m making this seem too angsty, I’d describe it more as intense. It’s suspenseful and exciting and worrying. The reader is dumped right into the middle of the action and expected to keep up, and that gives the book a sense of immediacy. The stakes are high and very personal. I don’t really understand the politics of the world, but that didn’t bother me too much, because I felt like I did understand why we would not want William in charge. And I cared very much about the characters, and wanted them to be OK, and wasn’t sure they all would be (no specific spoilers but not every character we meet makes it out of the story in one piece).
I loved all the characters in the book, but Raven and Cass’s aunt, Ana, seemed more like fantasy archetypes to me than actual people. How can I put this? They felt like people who really existed in this alternate fantasy, but not like people I’d ever meet. It was impossible to picture Ana at Safeway or Raven at Target. Ana is the archetype of the earthy mother figure, and Raven is every single inch a mysterious, broody Byronic guy. No matter what he was described as wearing, I always pictured him in a cape, or, in the very minimum , wearing all black, and listening to The Cure.
On the other hand, Cass and her partner, Zack, seem like people who I actually might run into at Target, although all three of us would prefer running into each other at one of those all-natural, Fair Trade places that Portland is full of. Raven may seem complicated, but his story is pretty simple – he had a terrible, terrible past and he brooded over it until he fell in with the wrong crowd, and now broods over his mistake of having fallen in with the wrong crowd.
Cass is actually much more complicated. We don’t know much about how she and Raven got together, but we do see that she is a person who is lonely, determined, and torn in an awful lot of different directions. She has a lot to feel frustrated or angry or sad about, but she’s no whiner, and she doesn’t brood as much as Raven because she really doesn’t have time. Meanwhile, Zack is a truly stand up guy without being a total stereotype. He’s not one of those guys who’s nice in hopes of being repaid with sex – he’s nice and kind and honorable because that’s who he is.
As much as I liked the plot and characters of the book, what really drew me was the setting. Magical Portland looks just like real Portland, possibly because real Portland already looks magical. The city is so beautifully and affectionately described that not only did it make me homesick, but it makes me care about whatever happened in the plot. I would have liked to have had a better understanding of the history of the rebellion and the structure of government, but all I really need to know is that William attacked Portland before and when he did he set fire to some of those lovely old houses.
Here’s where I had trouble with the book: Cass and Raven are presented as the main romantic couple, and I don’t forsee a whirlwind of bliss in their future. I wanted Cass to end up with Zack and I’m pretty pissed about how that turned out. I think that Cass is good for Raven, but I don’t think Raven is good for Cass, and he’s still very emotionally messed up. They have plenty of chemistry, but Raven is dragging around a shit ton of baggage and I don’t believe he can sustain a relationship.
I believe there is a sequel for Ravensblood in the works. It will be interesting to see if this turns out to be a series of romances, or a series that has romance in it. If Cass and Raven are going to stay together, all I can suggest is that they get lots and lots and lots of therapy – but I wish them well, since I truly loved both of the characters and I want to see them be happy! One thing this book does do well regarding the romance is that it avoids overselling it. Ultimately, readers are given a hope that Cass and Raven will be together, but they don’t suddenly say, “Darling! Now that we’ve washed the blood of our loved ones off our hands, let’s get married! Today!” They seem as though they will be taking things slow, which gives me a little optimism for them.
This is a weird book to grade. Something happens at one point that I can’t reveal, but it made me so upset that I felt like the book didn’t have a happy ending. So as a romance novel, all the world-building and beautiful descriptions and suspenseful plotting in the world can’t save it. But if the book is meant to be a novel about the hard choices of war, with a strong romantic element, then it succeeds at showing the costs of war while still leaving the reader with some hope and happiness. The book was intriguing and evocative and poignant. I just think Cass ended up with the wrong person in the end.