Thursday, 10 November 2022
CBR14 Book 39: "An Enchantment of Ravens" by Margaret Rogerson
Rating: 4 stars
CBR14 Bingo: Bird (bird in the title, bird on the cover, love interest turns into a bird, there are so many birds in this story)
Isobel lives in a little town where it's always summer. This is because her town is just on the border of the Faerie lands, and most of the people who live there are valued by the Fair folk because of their Craft (anything that basically involves creating something, be it building, sewing, baking, cooking, or painting), acts that the Fey are unable to perform themselves. Isobel is a very skilled portrait painter and knows just how dangerous and tricky it can be to deal with the Fey. She's rather flummoxed when one of her patrons confides that he has recommended her services to the Autumn Prince, which would certainly increase her status massively.
Rook, the Autumn prince, has been away for a long time and in many ways behaves more politely towards the humans than a lot of the Fey. There's absolutely an attraction between them, and Isobel wonders why Rook seems different than all the other faeries she's ever encountered before. She figures it out shortly before she completes his portrait, and includes the human sorrow she sees in his eyes in the painting. This proves to be a dangerous mistake. Rook returns a few weeks after collecting the artwork and demands that Isobel come with him to the Autumn court to stand trial for her crime - exposing a potential weakness of his for the faerie world to see. Isobel doesn't have much choice but to go with him, unwilling and unable to say farewell to her family.
As Isobel and Rook travel towards his court, passing through the courts of the other seasons on the way, it becomes very obvious that something is wrong and some sort of curse is on the land. They keep being hunted by malevolent faerie creatures and have to alternate between running and hiding. During their journey, Rook comes to understand that Isobel didn't mean any harm with her painting, and he may have overreacted when abducting her. However, with the various creatures hunting them, he may not be able to return her to her home safely. The two end up at the Spring court, where it turns out its prince is someone that Isobel already knows. By this point, it's become clear that Isobel and Rook are falling for one another - but a mortal and a faerie falling in love means certain death for both of them thanks to the ruthless laws of the Alder King (the ruler of all Faerie). Isobel needs to use her unique skills to fight the king, to save herself and her beloved.
I love that Margaret Rogerson writes stand-alone young adult fantasy. That in and of itself is rare in this day and age. I also liked the contrast between faerie magic and their usually rather unpredictable blessings with the skill and craft of the humans. The humans are fascinated by the Fae, and the fair folk are entranced with the Craft of skilled humans, as while they are able to conjure and shapeshift, their magic is fleeting. Humans are able to take raw materials and craft them into something solid and durable, and for this, the Fae keep coming back to make deals with them.
Unfortunately, when it came to characterisation, this book felt very young adult. Isobel (we never actually learn her "true" name, which she must never reveal to anyone or risk being enchanted) is a clever and resourceful young woman, except when she suddenly isn't because the plot requires her to be confused and helpless. Rook is handsome and brooding and can turn into a bird (pretty cool), but I'm not entirely sure exactly what basis their forbidden love springs from. Apart from a few weeks at the beginning, while Isobel is painting Rook's portrait and they chat and flirt with one another, pretty much their entire time together is while they're in danger. Whether this gives them a good impression of the other's true self, which will lead to a lasting foundation for a relationship seems unlikely to me.
I love me some books with faeries in them, the wickeder the better. It's why all of Holly Black's various faerie books, taken to their pinnacle with The Folk of the Air trilogy, where some of the Fey are truly monstrous. These faeries were fine, I guess. I liked that there was a well deep in the woods where humans with exceptional Craft skills could be rewarded by drinking, so they basically got turned into faeries themselves, and the exploration as to whether this was really a reward or a curse. One thing that kept taking me out of the narrative was the fact that in this book, thanking the faeries was no big deal. In almost all the various stories I can think of, you must never directly thank a faerie because it puts you in their debt, which is always a dangerous position to be in. In this book, however, there didn't seem to be any such taboos, but I may just have been indoctrinated by all the other fictional faerie fantasies, and it seemed really odd to me.
I wish the romance between the couple had been better developed, but overall, this was a really entertaining read with some creative twists to previous faerie stories. I will absolutely be checking out more of Margaret Rogerson's books.
Judging a book by its cover: I really like the gorgeous embroidery on the sleeves of the dress the blonde on the cover is wearing. Interestingly, I'm not sure she's ever described as wearing black at any point in the story. Also, you know, big bird.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.