Thursday, August 14, 2014

“The Raven’s Banquet” – A Fitting Prequel to “Gideon’s Angel”

Last year I reviewed Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal, an example of historical fantasy at its best, set in the seventeenth century during the English Civil War. This year, Clifford Beal released the prequel to Gideon’s Angel titled The Raven’s Banquet. The prequel sheds light on the early backstory of Richard Treadwell, the series’ heroic protagonist, in another tale that wonderfully blends historical detail with the supernatural.
Love the shout-out from fantasy legend Michael Moorcock!

The story begins during the English Civil War, after Colonel Richard Treadwell has been captured by Parliamentary soldiers, accused of treason against England (Treadwell supports King Charles Stuart, who fares badly during the war and the forces of Oliver Cromwell). This is not too soon before the beginning of Gideon’s Angel. But then the story flashes back to Treadwell’s youth, when he was a young noble’s son seeking fame and fortune in Germany during the war between the Protestants and the Catholic Hapsburg Empire. While portions of the story return to the older Treadwell’s imprisonment in the Tower of London, the bulk of the novel concerns Treadwell’s origins, if you will, and it’s here where all the story’s action takes place.

As we learned in Gideon’s Angel, Treadwell has “a skill for finding the Underworld like a pig finds truffles.” In the Raven’s Banquet we discover that Treadwell, as a child, could see and speak to the souls of the dead, and that accursed skill returns in earnest once Treadwell joins up with a Danish army opposing the papists. The twenty-one-year-old Richard Treadwell is travelling with Samuel Stone, one of his father’s servants, who harbors a dark secret about Richard’s father and a boatload of resentment too.

Historical fantasy at its best!

Richard eventually meets a gypsy girl named Anya who gives him a talisman that supposedly protects him from harm. Anya makes a brief appearance in Gideon’s Angel, so I was expecting her to play a larger role in the prequel. Instead, her appearance in this story is equally brief, which makes me believe there is more to her and Richard’s tale to be told. The remainder of the first half of the novel focuses on Richard’s unscrupulous brothers-at-arms, as well as the aforementioned Samuel Stone, and the moral dilemmas for Richard that ensue.

The core of the story takes place after a battle in the German woods ends badly for Richard’s company, and he and one of his dangerous and unruly companions named Christoph are saved by a mysterious group of bow-wielding women. No men live among them, and soon Richard discovers he’s among a coven of witches. Richard’s relationship with one of the women, named Rosemunde, is central to the tale, while a particular dead soul begins to warn Richard of the growing danger surrounding him.

Overall, The Raven’s Banquet (at just 235 pages) turned out to be a fun, quick read. Richard Treadwell is a likeable and complex character, and I enjoyed spending this time with his adventures, even if the story’s plot is simpler and less spectacular than Gideon’s Angel. I believe there is room for a sequel to The Raven’s Banquet and yet another prequel to Gideon’s Angel to bridge the wide gap between the two books. But whatever Clifford Beal chooses to do, I’m sure it will be a worthwhile read.

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