BY MILLIE THOM
When I finished reading Shadow of the Raven, I put the book aside for a week before writing a review. Not because I had nothing to say, but because it made me think. Most period novels I’ve read make me want to travel to the past and experience what it’s like to live in that time. This book, however, made me very happy to be living in the 21st century.
Shadow of The Raven is the story of Eadwulf, a Mercian Royal who is betrayed by his brother and enslaved by Vikings. What the author, Millie Thom, manages to capture is the horror and uncertainty of everyday life in 7th century Europe. One day you could be a free aristocrat, and the next you could find yourself a thrall to the Danes with no rights and dependent on the master who buys you.
There’s no judgement of any of the characters in the book. Thom puts the reader into the mind of each of the characters and through them we experience the customs and beliefs of that period. I’ve read a few period novels that have traces of 21st century values, and so it’s refreshing to read a book that pays no homage to the current day’s sentimentalities. The characters, therefore, feel authentic.
What I appreciated most about this book was the way the female characters were handled. Several of the protagonists were women in situations where they had no autonomy. Several were to be wed to men they had never met, and one was concubine to an abusive master. When you have characters whose life choices are not theirs to make, it can be difficult not judge their situation, and, more importantly not to identify more with their male counterparts who have autonomy and partake in swashbuckling adventures. However, Thom is careful to ensure her female characters are equally interesting, for she delves into the psychology of these women and their inner dilemmas as they try to justify their life to themselves. In fact, some achieve happy marriages, while others struggle to communicate with their husbands. These women also have rich social lives and long-lasting friendships.
Overall, Shadow of the Raven is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in an authentic spin on one of the darkest and complex periods of European history.