Friday, December 21, 2012

The Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder — 464 pgs

Alison Blackadder has lived in the shadows for years. Given by her father into the service of Mary Queen of Scots when she was but a child, Alison lives as Robert, a serving boy. This gender deception has gone on since Alison’s early days, for as one of the last surviving Blackadders, she is next in line to inherit a castle that has been overtaken by the Hume clan. As long as no living Hume knows of Alison’s existence she is safe; but life at the castle proves to be more inveigling than she had first thought. Powerless against Queen Mary’s charm, Alison is soon unmasked as a female. This delights the queen, who wants to learn to dress as a man and go about freely into her territory. When Alison finds love with another servant, she soon realizes just how entrapped she has become to the queen, and when eventually Lord Bothwell, a great friend of her father’s, comes to court, Alison becomes the plaything of a man more wise to ruse than she is. Soon, it seems that Alison isn’t safe anywhere, especially the castle, and when the border lords begin to clamor for war, they are aided by the queen’s new scheming husband. Though there are two people who vie for the queen’s trust, there is only one that is true to her, and in her guise of spy, servant, reveler, courtesan and young woman, Alison risks her life again and again defying the Humes to preserve her right to the stolen castle. But soon the risk becomes too great for her to shoulder alone. Will she agree to align with the enemy to protect the queen she is so enchanted with? In this dramatically tense and powerfully rendered tale, a young woman must disguise and unmask her heart over and over again to secure the fate of her captor, the unlucky Mary of Scots.

It’s been awhile since I’ve really felt invested in historical fiction as a genre. The last two were probably Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. It was with pleasure and intense enjoyment that I read Jesse Blackadder’s tale of one heroic girl tangled in the spiderweb of the Scottish court. I have to say that this was an unusual tale, and some of what I will share in my review was novel to me. I grew to be very invested in Alison’s story and the magic with which Blackadder told it.

First off, I must mention that this is the first time I have ever read a historical fiction book where the lead character was a bisexual woman. Alison, forced to grow up as a boy, grew also with the lusts of a boy. It was clear to me that she was totally besotted with the queen, and though others came into and out of her heart and bed, the queen was her enchantress again and again. Theirs was a chaste love, but it was powerful nevertheless. When Alison firsts realizes that she can never attain and possess the queen as she wishes she could, she takes another lover of the same sex, and the two embark on a tragically short lived but passionate affair. Later, Alison takes a male lover and revels in the similarities as well as the vast differences. I liked seeing that the author bent the lines when it came to the sexuality of her main character. It was different, and gave the tale a more vivid and replete feeling.

I was touched deeply by the winding wrenches of Alison’s heart. Her dilemmas were excruciating and exacting, but never did she waver in her loyalty to her kin or to her queen. This left her very open to manipulation, though she herself could never see it, or believe it. Most of the people that Alison interacted with were merciless in exploiting the boy in her, and the girl in her, never stopping to see that beyond all this, she was a person with deep feelings and a very passionate nature, be it in her hate or in her love. The agonizing tale of Mary Queen of Scots was told through Alison's love-clouded eyes, and while the queen was tormented, Alison was haunted.

The last bit of this tale that I found extraordinary was Alison’s loyalty to her father: a man who had forsaken her and repeatedly tried to hurt and disengage from her. He was on the wrong side of a losing battle, yet he too, was loyal where most men wouldn’t be. His desire to once again be the owner of Blackadder castle caused a lot of tension and reprehensible feelings to be passed from one family member to another. In my heart, I believe that all Alison wanted was her father’s love, but his blood-clouded eyes could see no further than the stone that made the castle walls. In the end, his misbegotten affections were no balm for our heroine, as she had paid so dearly to hear them aloud.

I loved this book for its bravery in placing a bisexaul character into a historical setting and for its free flowing lucidity in what was a bizarre situation. Those who aren’t familiar with the story of Mary Queen of Scots will revel in this tale for its brashness and uniqueness, and those who have heard of the fate of the queen before will see it anew from the vantage point of a character who will wring every drop of compassion from their hearts. Highly recommended.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

18 comments:

bermudaonion said...

If I'd seen this in a bookstore, I'd never consider it, but yours is the third review I've read that makes this book sound fantastic!

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Your review certainly intrigues me and I'm adding it to my TBR list. Thanks!

Amy Meyer said...

I rarely get very invested in historical fiction and so I don't read a lot of it. The book may be one of the few exceptions because your review has me mezmerized and amazed by this ever-changing story. Alison's life unstable and stressful. She doesn't seem able to truly trust anyone which seems like it would make her pretty insecure.
A wonderful, fascinating review :o)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't think I've ever read a book with a bisexual protagonist! Interesting!

Jenners said...

Well that makes it a bit more spicy and interesting!

Suko said...

This does sound very intriguing--wonderful review!

Marie said...

this sounds really great! i know a little bit about mary but i'm intrigued by the premise and i love that you enjoyed it so much :-)

kay - Infinite Shelf said...

The main character makes it sounds really intriguing. I hadn't heard much about this book until now but I might have to add it to my wishlist!

Aarti said...

I too haven't felt very invested in historical fiction for quite a while, especially not with the era this book is set in. But if you liked this one so much, I think I'd probably give it a go - great review! Like that the character is bisexual, too, to bring a new dimension.

Athira said...

Oh this definitely sounds different from a lot other historical fiction titles I come across. I will be eager to check this one out primarily because of its very different narrator. Great review!

Beth F said...

This does really sound good. I've read a few books (fiction & non) abut Mary. ow I think I need to read this one.

Beth F said...

Stopping by again to say Merry Christmas.

jennysbooks said...

Hmmmmmm. I'm interested in reading more historical fiction, especially over my Christmas vacation, but I also am not the hugest fan of Mary Queen of Scots. She was an awful nuisance to Elizabeth I. And on the other hand, I'm intrigued about a novel that places a bisexual woman at the center -- that's unusual for any genre, it seems to me!

Kaye said...

Hi Heather, just wanted to pop in and wish you a very happy, healthy and peaceful new year. {{Hugs!}}

Marie said...

Sounds like a very intriguing book. You don't see bisexual characters that often. Thanks for reviewing this, and Happy New Year! :-)

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

WOW! I have not heard of this one but it sounds so compelling! You make me want to rush right out and get it this very moment...and I'm not a big fan of the King/Queen European historical fiction...

Quirky BookandFilmBuff said...

This sounds terrific! The fact that it features a bisexual character piques my interest further. I'm off to add this to my list. :-)

Lisa said...

This sounds fascinating and again you're introducing me to another book I' m definitely going to want to read.

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