Fantasist & Futurist
- Nov 23, 2002
The year is 1626, and Richard Treadwell is a young Englishman seeking his fortune, who thinks that the wars raging in Europe will gift him with rank and riches.
He is shortly to become very disappointed. And disillusioned. And be left fighting for his life.
He is also about to be visited by the ghosts of his not-to-distant past. Literally so.
Welcome to The Raven's Banquet, a new addition to the 'Flintlock Fantasy' subgenre of fiction.
The Raven's Banquet
The story opens in 1645, after Richard Treadwell's capture by Parliamentarian forces of Crowell's New Model Army, in the aftermath of the Battle of Naseby.
The account is a First Person narrative, as he seeks to shrive himself of the sins of 20 years ago, during the German campaign, while locked up and awaiting trial.
The German campaign provides the main focus for the story, as retold, and shows him signing up to fight for the King of Denmark against the Papist armies of Hapsburg Austria.
After a short series of sieges and battles, he takes shelter among a group of women upon a forested mountain, and the story reaches a supernatural finale.
This is a story which is neither historical fiction, fantasy, nor horror - yet succeeds in holding each of these parts very well.
The historical fiction aspect is fantastic - the use of voice and details makes this one of the most authentic I've come across. The text is easily readable, but rich and inflected enough to give a feeling of period, without causing confusion.
The author has made a painstaking effort to ensure this world is real and believable, and the degree of research and care really shows.
And despite that this is a book about brutality and blood, I never felt crushed by the grimness of it all. We see a dark side to war, but no point is ever laboured. This book is not long enough to allow that.
Additionally, any supernatural element can put me off from picking up a book - I am not a horror reader, and have no interest in blood splatter for the sake of entertainment.
Instead, what we have here is a character who communes with the dead. Or, more to the point, the freshly dead sometimes visit him in visions that Richard Treadwell feels are far too real.
There's more a sense of mouldy, open tombs - even the mythical - than gore about these scenes. And I was minded to think of the character Jack in "An American Werewolf in London". Just without the humour, or the line "I didn't mean to call you meatloaf, Jack!"
Frankly, this is a stunning book in many ways, not least in the telling. However, don't expect anything light-hearted - this is about tragedy, on so many levels, than deliverance.
The 'Flintlock Fantasy' library is growing fast, and I think this book easily stands among the best of them, not least Anne Lyle and Brian McClellan.
As ever, there are niggles - though not many. If anything, the worst criticism is that the character of Richard Treadwell is not developed enough, especially not his Protestant faith. However, Clifford Beal has written him as an unreliable narrator delivering his own account, so even that criticism is moot.
Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this story - the strong voice carried me in immediately, and would not let me go. I felt obliged to keep reading to see what happens next. Despite that I had to read the review arc on my PC, and there are 8 other partially read novels on my desk, including some old favourites.
The only really valid criticism is that this is a little short as a novel - I make the wordcount about 88k. However, the result is a story that is sharp and sweet* (*actually, somewhat bitter), and never gives itself an excuse to wander into tangential characters or events, or languish in the horrors of war too long.
If you're happy to read fantasy fiction with musketeers and cavaliers, as opposed to just knights and barbarians, and are not afraid to read a strong voice, then this is one definitely worth looking at.
Certainly I've added Gideon's Angel to my Gift List, and if the storytelling there is anything like in The Raven's Banquet, then it's fair to say Clifford Beal will remain on my current - and short - list of favourite authors.