Book: “An Enchantment of Ravens” by Margaret Rogerson
Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, September 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from ALA
Book Description: Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime.
Review: This was an ARC that I nabbed at ALA purely because of the beautiful color and my vague guess that it was probably some type of fairytale…maybe? Honestly, ALA is such a mad house that I don’t think I even got around to reading the book description until I was back in my hotel. But man, what luck! This story was one giant mash-up of all of my favorite things about fairtyales: a relatable heroine, a hilarious and charming hero, and the darker side of magic.
In Isobel’s village, fairies are common customers. Humans possess the ability to make Craft, construct things out of materials, something that is deadly to fairies, and thus fascinating to these long-lived beings. Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist, and as such, as worked with fairies most of her teenage life, becoming quite familiar with the quirks and dangers of these people. In exchange for her work, she is paid with magical favors, like chickens that produce a certain number of eggs each week. But in every fairy gift, there lurks the potential for disaster, so Isobel has gotten quite skilled at carefully wording every request she makes. More so than other in her village, she understands that even the ultimate fairy gift, a drink from the Green Well which grants immortality and is reserved for only the most special cases of humans who posses Crafting talent over and beyond the usual and who come along maybe once every century, is not all its cracked up to be. So when whisked away by an unhappy fairy prince client, Isobel knows that her trip to the fairy realms is rife with potential disaster.
Isobel herself was one of my favorite parts of this book. From the very beginning, we see that she has grown wise through her experience with the fairies. She doesn’t trust them and sees the loss that immortality has inflicted upon them. They can’t seem to relate to others or feel real emotion about anything. In fact, the presence of emotion is what makes Rook stand out to her, and the painting of it is what gets her carried away. And even then, trapped in the fairy world with a volatile prince, Isobel never loses her head. The relationship she develops with Rook over their travels develops in a natural way and Isobel always retains her common sense about the dangers this is presenting to both her and him, since relationships between humans and fairies are forbidden.
Rook, too, was exactly the type of romantic hero I love. He’s lovably arrogant about his own kind, a trait that both amuses and exasperates Isobel. There were several laugh out loud moments for him throughout the story. He’s also given a strong backstory to justify the differences between him and the other fairies. But never loses his inherent “otherness.”
As readers of this blog know, my favorite fantasy stories often mix a good dash of darkness and horror into the story (see: “The Beast is an Animal”). Here, the fairy court is like a brilliant confectionery cake, but once you cut into it, you see the mold. Time has not been kind to beings who live forever. There is madness, isolation, and loneliness mixed behind every aspect of the fairy realm. At the center of it is the Summer King, the ruler of the fairies, who has withdrawn from the world, but whose madness lurks and has begun to trickle into the human world as well.
For a fairytale not directly tied to re-telling any of the tales we are familiar with, “An Enchantment of Ravens” reads as a staple in the genre. Magic, adventure, danger, comedy, and romance are all balanced in this story, held together by two protagonists you quickly grow to love. I can’t recommend this enough to fans of fairytale retellings!
Rating 9: What a wonderful surprise! Sometimes judging a book by its cover has a massive upside!
Find “An Enchantment of Ravens” at your library using WorldCat!