Friday, April 1, 2016
The Raven Series, by Richard Kirk: A Review
In mid-2014, I picked up a fantasy book entitled Raven: Swordmistress of Chaos for a quarter at a used bookstore and finished it on August 11. I would have stopped there, but I discovered to my delight that the author, Robert Kirk, was merely a house name for the writing team of Angus Wells (1943-2006) and Robert Holdstock (1948-2009). Though I confess I am not familiar with Wells, Holdstock was the author of Mythago Wood, one of my top five literary fantasies of all time. With that tidbit of information, I made the decision to read the entire series.
The next three books in the series were gifts from Eric Hinkle, a friend of mine who shares my interest in fantasy and is a wonderful writer in his own right, and I devoured them as soon as he found them and sent them to me. The first book in the series was written by both Wells and Holdstock as a team, but the second and fourth books were the sole works of Holdstock, while Wells worked solo on the third and final book in the series.
I polished off Raven: A Time of Ghosts on November 24, 2014 and then had to wait five months for the next book in the series: Raven: The Frozen God (April 28, 2015). The fourth book followed quickly: Raven: Lords of the Shadows (July 20, 2015) and this morning I finished Raven: A Time of Dying. From start to finish, as the books (which are out of print) were acquired, it took me a total of of 1 year, 7 months and 24 days to finish the series.
One side note before I continue: Ignore the cover art as displayed above. Wells and Holdstock know their stuff and though the series is clearly R-rated, Raven is first and foremost a warrior. When she walks around, she is fully armored.
Though written for a male audience and though the books are clearly a product of the late 1970s, toward the end of the series, Wells and Holdstock found their respective voices and broke free of the chainmail bikini mindset into one that began to explore the greater themes of purpose and free will.
The first book was pure pulp, but in the final book, Wells almost touched more upon epic fantasy with lyrical writing that was not present in the opening volumes. And unfortunately, there is no more. The series ends with none of the larger questions answered.
The entire series is narrated by Spellbinder, half human and half mage, trained in the magical arts by the mages of Kharwan, an island in the middle of the sea that is concealed and protected by magic. In the books, he wanders a world that has lost almost all vestiges of civilization and though in the series, he is Raven's tutor/lover/bodyguard, he walks the world alone speaking of Raven in the past tense. His hand is heavily bandaged and the implication is that it was badly maimed by a friend, but the series ends with none of these questions answered. It simply ends.
And unfortunately, we will know no more. Both Wells and Holdstock have unfortunately passed away and it is clear that Ace Publishing never had any desire to continue the series after the fifth book. So we will never know why the mages of Kharwan chose Raven, a former slave, to be their Worldchanger, the ultimate agent of Chaos, or why they even meddled in the affairs of the world to begin with. The post-apocalyptic world in which Spellbinder wanders telling his tales to anyone willing to listen is certainly not the end the mages strove for. We will never learn whatever happened to Raven herself or her other companions, Gondar Lifebane, the pirate, or Argor, outlaw and leader of a band of mercenary horsemen.
And though the Raven series is not high fantasy in any understanding of the genre, I confess I feel cheated as a reader. A series should come to an end that brings a modicum of satisfaction, so instead, I will simply ponder the mysteries of what might have happened and move on.
The world is full of books and there is never enough time to read a good tale.