Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review and Author Interview: The Raven Queen by Jules Watson

Publish Date: February 22nd
Format paperback: 544pp


Synopsis (From the Publisher):
"In this dazzling retelling of one of Ireland’s most stirring legends, acclaimed author Jules Watson brings to life the story of Maeve, the raven queen, who is as fierce as she is captivating. 

She was born to be a pawn, used to secure her father’s royal hold on his land. She was forced to advance his will through marriage—her own desires always thwarted. But free-spirited Maeve will no longer endure the schemes of her latest husband, Conor, the cunning ruler of Ulster. And when her father’s death puts her homeland at the mercy of its greedy lords and Conor’s forces, Maeve knows she must at last come into her own power to save it.  

With secret skill and daring, Maeve proves herself the equal of any warrior on the battlefield. With intelligence and stealth, she learns the strategies—and sacrifices—of ruling a kingdom through treacherous alliances. And to draw on the dangerous magic of her country’s oldest gods, Maeve seeks out the wandering druid Ruan, whose unexpected passion and strange connection to the worlds of spirit imperil everything Maeve thought true about herself—and put her at war with both her duty and her fate."


My Review:

In a time rich with mystical beings and brutal living environments, the legend of a great warrior queen is born, a queen who will stop at nothing to protect her people. It is this queen, Maeve, that Jules Watson so vividly brings to life, creating substance out of the legend and enchanting us all with an engrossing tale. 

Having been wed to three detestable men for political reasons, Maeve refuses to be another political pawn once her father dies; she has a claim to her fathers throne and she won't let any man deny her, not even her brother. Strong as she is, Maeve realizes strength lies in numbers, but can she learn to trust those who have hurt her once before? Searching out any means to help her cause, Maeve is wary when she is constantly drawn to a troubled druid. Like her, this druid is searching and reluctant to open himself to others. As Maeve's contact with the druid increases, and war draws near, she soon realizes there is much more to her than she thought possible... that there is much more to life.

While reading The Raven Queen I was pleased to discover that, while my knowledge of Celtic legend is vague, There was never a time that I felt confused or needing more background information. In fact, after reading this novel, I am more intrigued than ever to read more upon this time in history. After a slow beginning, the novel gains momentum quickly and holds the intensity until the very end. As we follow Maeve on her quest for liberation and the crown, we also have the pleasure of knowing this strong and complex woman on a new level. Jules Watson has given this queen a beautiful reprieve from histories cruel slander.

FTC: I received this book from the publisher. As always, these are my own honest opinions.


Author Interview:


What is your favorite aspect of Celtic history?
I think it is the character of the Celtic people, which comes through the writings of the Romans about them, the objects they left behind for us to find, and their own myths. All three sources really show that as a people they were incredibly brave and proud - so proud they would rather die than live under the Roman yoke. That wildness, (sometimes) insane courage, and heroic purity speak to something deep in me. As a storyteller, you want to write about extremes, both to keep readers interested, and to explore parts of the human psyche. The Celts are perfect for that, because their culture is all about brave heroes, defiance against all odds, crazy risks, and flamboyant and heart-stirring displays of fighting, loving and emoting. Perfect characters! At the same time, they clearly had a great love of beauty and art, matched with a deep reverance for the natural world and the unseen spirit world. All in one package!


While researching, what was the most interesting fact you discovered?
Gosh, over five books....I'll have to break it down. One: there is some evidence that among the Scottish Picts, royal blood was passed through their women, not their men. Matrilineal societies, where inheritance goes through mothers, often enjoy a high degree of equality, with women occupying positions of power. That formed the basis of my Dalriada Trilogy. Two: my book The Swan Maiden is about the legend of the Irish maiden Deirdre of the Sorrows. A lot of the action for that book and The Raven Queen takes place at the mythical fort of Emain Macha in Ireland, which has been identified as modern-day Navan. About 95 BC, a huge building with scores of posts holding up a great roof was constructed, then ritually burned down. In my books, I turned this into a druid temple and, of course, had it burn down in spectacular fashion at the end of The Raven Queen. Three: an Irish bog body of a warrior showed he had used an early form of "hair gel" to make his mane stick up, and it had come all the way from continental Europe. This shows that the early Irish had amazing trading links (oh, and vain warriors!) However, probably the most interesting fact is that in the excavations at Emain Macha, the diggers discovered the skull of a Barbary Ape, which must have come all the way from North Africa in 100 BC. I had to put the monkey in, too!


Do you have any book suggestions for those who want to read more on this time period?
I have a huge library sitting at home in Scotland (I am living in the US for the time being). OK, off the top of my head: Check out anything by Miranda Green - she has general books on the Celts as well as a lot on their spiritual life. Also a company called Shire, they have this Shire Series that focuses on things like hillforts, Celtic warriors, or Roman Britain. Small, and easy to read. And scholar Ian Armit has a great introductory book called Celtic Scotland.


On your website, you mention that Queen Maeve has been "branded by history a voracious man-eater and a ruthless war-mongerer". What was your inspiration for giving Maeve a different persona?
Precisely that - the poor woman had a hatchet job done on her by early Christian scribes. Anyone who had attracted that much censure, who was so threatening, must have been one fierce, strong, and amazing woman. I was itching to "re-imagine" her, figure out what the real Maeve could have been and done to freak out all those men so much :) In all seriousness, these early Irish legends were originally passed on by word of mouth for hundreds of years. They were not written down until the eighth century, and then it was by monks, the only literate people at the time. A powerful, sensual pagan queen and warrior-woman was too much of a threat, even in story, to let her continue to be admired by common people listening to their bards around the fire. A new religion was being established, and a new culture that frowned upon free-thinking, strong-willed females. I had to keep Maeve's strength, bravery and to a certain extent, her ruthlessness, to remain true to her myth. But I wanted to give her a heart, too, and theorize about why she gained this reputation. She was a woman trying to survive in a man's world of kings, swords, and treachery. How could I not write about her?

   

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